Sesame: What began as a little seed and a little shop became the start of something big

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SHORT AND SWEET Sesame is open from Friday to Sunday, typically featuring about five items on the menu.

A hand-painted watercolor of the day’s menu sits on a tabletop at Sesame’s front door. The images look like preliminary sketches for a baker’s new cookbook. Like all of the images, the shortbread cookie at the top of the list is true to life. Delicate slices of quince have turned a translucent orange, recalling last summer’s lost nectarines. A gluten-free walnut-and-buckwheat brownie is split down the middle diagonally, crowned with a single nut. The ginger cake, frosted with white buttercream, reveals a bottom layer of poached pears.

Marykate McGoldrick is the baker, owner and resident watercolor painter at Sesame, which she describes as a “tiny bakery.” She admits she had a hard time coming up with the name, but in the end, “Sesame just felt right.” It’s an ingredient that the former Camino pastry chef loves to play with. “I always made sure to put it on the menu in some fashion,” she says. Her bakery has its own doorway, but the small space is a converted pantry that leads into Russ Moore and Allison Hopelain’s The Kebabery.

While McGoldrick worked at Camino for Moore and Hopelain for the last couple of years before they closed, she also cooked, off and on, for Suzanne Drexhage at Bartavelle. “I started there as a savory cook,” she says. “Then I came back later to help them jumpstart their pastry program. Suzanne’s goal was to try to make everything in-house.”

McGoldrick is a self-taught baker and chef. “I have no training,” she says. “Just learning from people and various jobs and reading a lot of books.” She started working as a short-order cook in college and then became a teacher. When she was in her 20s, she got a job as a baker and thought, “Wow, baking. This would be fun.” McGoldrick says that when she landed in the Bay Area, she felt like she’d arrived “in the restaurant world for real.” She worked as a pastry chef for the Lee brothers at Namu. “I haven’t gone back to teaching since. That was probably the entryway,” she says.  

Explaining the idea behind her bakery’s name, McGoldrick says, “It was this tiny little seed and this tiny little shop, the beginning of something.” Currently, Sesame is open from Friday to Sunday, typically featuring about five items on the menu. She deliberately wanted to start something small, “something that was manageable, that I could wrap my mind around.” While friends help her at the front counter, McGoldrick is the sole baker, kneading and mixing and gathering all of the ingredients.      

Sesame isn’t a Middle Eastern, French or American bakery, per se. The desserts, McGoldrick says, are simply inspired by the freshest fruits in season. The @sesametinybakery feed is filled with tantalizing pictures of peaches, cherries and plums—all lined up to be sliced, stewed and baked into cookies, cakes and galettes. 

“What’s tasting the best—then I go from there,” she says. She infuses her ginger and poached pear cake with fresh ginger from the Tuesday Farmers’ Market. “It’s so good you barely need to peel it,” she says. “I puree it into the cake along with spices and herbs, and powdered ginger as well.” McGoldrick cleverly adds some of the pears’ poaching liquid to her buttercream frosting, which tempers the overall sweetness of the cake.

McGoldrick started Sesame as a pop-up and as a special-order cake business. And, because of her previous working relationship with Moore and Hopelain, they asked her if she wanted to make cookies and cakes for their new restaurant The Kebabery. It was an ideal opportunity for customers to become acquainted with her baked goods. When The Kebabery recently moved to a new location on Shattuck Avenue, McGoldrick was offered a space to bake in the kitchen during the restaurant’s off hours. “It’s so nice to be baking with other people I really like,” she says. “I don’t have to pack everything up and drive it some place.” Being part of a shop “feels pretty great.”

Sesame, open Friday to Sunday from 10am to 2pm, 2969 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. sesametinybakery@gmail.com, sesametinybakery.com.