Driftwood Baking’s founder wants to keep things small

Deirdre Feeley’s monthly Oakland pop-up delights with small batch, seasonal pastries and cakes.

This month’s Driftwood Baking pastry box includes a slice of peach leaf tree cake slice and a pistachio raspberry pluot mini cake. Credit: Driftwood Baking

Deirdre Feeley of Driftwood Baking has always had a fondness for California: When brainstorming names for her pastry pop-up, she thought back to the coast of her home in Northern California, realizing that driftwood not only represented her origins and her mission to let seasonal produce guide her pastries. “In baking with California’s seasons and bounty, ‘Driftwood’ feels fitting,” Feeley — who speaks in passionate and poetic bursts when it comes to her business  — said. “It floats calmy along the current, and embodies the circle of life.”

A Bay Area native, Feeley grew up in El Cerrito and started baking in childhood. Though she dreamed of a career in pastry, she fell into biology in college, earning her degree in sustainable agriculture and food systems from U.C. Davis. During her time at Davis, her love of pastry was solidified when her co-op housemates started an underground supper club, where Feeley joined as the pastry chef. She learned dough lamination, then started making her own croissants. As the project grew, she started selling those croissants, and Driftwood’s first iteration was born.

Deidre Feeley’s background in sustainable agriculture and food systems informs the pastries she makes for her pop-up project. Credit: Driftwood Baking

That cottage business was successful enough that Feeley was inspired to pursue baking as a full-time career after graduation. “My mentor in the viticulture lab I worked in told me this: ‘We have to chase our dreams to either make them our reality, or to kill the dream — chase it and realize we do not want it, and put it to bed.’ So I set off,” Feeley said.

Since then, she’s baked at spots like SF croissant destination Le Marais, California’s iconic Tartine Bakery, and Oakland’s Pizzaiolo. When the pandemic hit, Feeley was working at Acme Bread. Though she was able to keep her job, she felt she needed an outlet for her creative pastries and became inspired by the talented chefs creating their own pop-ups.

“And I remembered — ‘Wait! I used to do these! Why not bring them back?’” Feeley said of the pop-up mentality. “I also longed to create my own ideas, build community, and work on my own terms.” That’s when Driftwood returned.

Feeley’s passion for California’s seasonal produce lies at the core of Driftwood Baking, so much so that she relies on the season’s bounty to guide her pastry creations with each pop-up. In addition to considering the delicate flavor profiles of the produce, Feeley said many of her pastries are intended to evoke specific sensations.

“I love to create pastries inspired by feelings,” Feeley said. “The feeling of a perfect, breezy spring day turns into a light, green-tasting cake with soft clouds of cream and bright, juicy tangy berries. The feeling of a cozy winter evening becomes a dark, rich chocolate hazelnut tart with soft poached pears in warming spices.”

Currently, she sources from both the Monterey Market and the farmers markets in South Berkeley.  In addition to the fruit in her cakes and tarts, Feeley often adorns her treats with fresh herbs or edible flowers from local growers.

“My time in Davis, as well as my education in agriculture, taught me the pure excitement of falling into rhythm with nature. To eat what has just been grown is to connect deeper with the earth. It just feels right,” Feeley said. 

“Of course, it is more sustainable — we are strengthening local food networks and communities, ensuring the land around us remains planted rather than paved, and celebrating farm workers for their oft-ignored hard work,” Feeley said. “This is how I live my life, and thus how I operate my pop-up.”

Driftwood’s peach tree cake incorporates the fruit’s flesh, leaves and pit. Credit: Driftwood Baking

Each of Feeley’s desserts also hinges on a careful balance of sweetness, saltiness, acidity and bitterness, all while aiming to use and highlight the entirety of the fruit she selects. Take, for example, her peach tree cake on this month’s pop-up menu: Olive oil chiffon is layered with pastry cream tinged a pleasant light green from peach leaf, with fresh pieces of peach and nectarine throughout. As a finishing touch, the frosting is flavored with peach noyaux (the pit), creating a cake that is laden with peach flesh, floral from the olive oil and nutty from the almond flavor of the peach noyaux.

In addition to the peach tree cake, Feeley’s August menu will also include an ice cream sandwich with sumac-roasted strawberries and a savory corn and feta galette dolloped with zhoug, a Yemeni vibrant green sauce of parsley, cilantro and cardamom. The pop-up will also be featuring vegan, Palestinian snacks from Oakland’s own Mishmish Souq.

Driftwood Baking pops up in North Oakland once a month, and Feeley accepts special orders for cakes. But unlike some local chefs’ side hustles, Driftwood will always remain a pop-up, and Feeley has no plans for a brick-and-mortar. Feeley has many interests and aspirations outside of pastry, she said, and keeping Driftwood a pop-up lets her express her passion for pastries on her own schedule.

“I found myself held back from pursuing a new field when I was still full of the what-ifs … all the ideas I had yet to execute, the creations I had not yet shared. And so Driftwood came back, mid-pandemic, to address those,” Feeley said. “I think Driftwood allows for a great balance to my life, and I enjoy making special desserts for kind people to celebrate with,” she said. “I do look forward to continuing Driftwood in this small capacity, and without desire to scale up and grow.”

The next pop-up for Driftwood Baking will be in North Oakland on Aug. 21st from 12-3 p.m. Pre-orders are sold out, but a limited amount will be available for walk-ups at 629 66th St. in Oakland. For updates on upcoming Driftwood Baking pop-ups, follow Driftwood Baking on Instagram.