Two friends with a shared passion for pastries, cakes, and artisan breads—all handmade in small batches—join forces at this excellent bakeshop.
story & photos by Bakery Boy
Just two flour-dusted people, that’s all. When I realize this, I’m even more amazed by the wide variety of baked goods displayed at Crème Patisserie & Confectionery and the superb quality of every item I see or taste.
Multi-talented and multi-tasking owners Jennifer Jacobs and Jitra Neal run a tight ship. They’ve worked out a system where even though both stay busy in a production room visible from the retail area, only one at a time is involved in a baking process that can’t be interrupted, such as shaping bread dough when it’s ready or pulling something hot from the oven before it over-bakes. That leaves the other able to assist customers, pausing from less-pressing matters by setting down a pastry bag or frosting spatula.
After four years in business, two years now in Merrimon Square, a strip mall in Asheville, North Carolina, these dedicated bakers still do literally everything themselves in small batches, by hand, with self-imposed high standards and no hired helpers.
PARADE OF PASTRIES
Even before introducing myself to Jennifer and Jitra, I am already salivating over Crème Patisserie’s overflowing showcases.
Competing on surprisingly equal terms to become my breakfast are Vegan Blueberry Streusel Muffins ($2.25), Vegan Cinnamon Rolls ($2.75), Caramel Nut Tartlets ($3.25), Cream Cheese Danish ($2.75), and Lavender Scones ($2.25). Silently convincing me that I should pack them to take along for afternoon snacks are Chocolate Éclairs ($2.75), Orange Blossom Brulee ($4.25), Salted Caramel Cakes ($3 a slice), Chocolate Banana Nut Bread ($4 per mini-loaf), and hazelnut-currant sandwich cookies ($10 a half-dozen).
Across the room, larger delights look fully prepared to double as dinner-table centerpieces before volunteering themselves as desserts. Just to name a few: 10-inch Blackberry Streusel Tarts ($25), 4-inch Apple Pies ($10), 4-inch Chocolate Hazelnut Cakes with mascarpone filling (Crème Patisserie’s best-selling creations at $12), and a selection of 4- to 10-inch layer cakes ($18-$38) including Carrot Cakes with walnuts and dried figs, Apple Cakes with caramel filling a brown sugar butter-cream, Coconut Cream Cakes, Lemon Ginger Polka Dot Cakes, and Pinstripe Cakes.
It’s enough to make even a lifelong Bakery Boy’s head spin.
When I get to the back room, I realize Jennifer and Jitra have a whole line of artisan breads underway as well (most priced in the $3.25 to $4.50 range). I see Italian-style baguettes, shiny with olive oil; cheese rolls oozy with a blend of mozzarella, cheddar, and provolone; and multigrain dinner rolls crusty with oats and cornmeal.
They’re also making soft pretzels ($2 each) from dough rich with butter and milk, using the traditional and painstaking method of basting the still-rising dough in a fizzing water-and-baking-soda solution before baking them. It happens to be a Friday, but I learn that other days I would see crusty semolina baguettes, country white loaves, marbled rye, flat discs of focaccia, and many more artisan-bread selections.
I watch as Jennifer carefully braids challah, brushes each bulging loaf with egg wash, and sprinkles them with poppy seeds. The North Asheville neighborhood, she explains, includes a considerable Jewish population that appreciates what Crème Patisserie is doing and has made challah the bakery’s most popular bread. Before long I realize I have in my camera the makings of a good slide show on the topic of braiding dough. (Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post featuring images of Jennifer braiding bread.)
Standing at an adjacent table, where she can watch for customers entering the shop, Jitra meticulously decorates a tray full of White & Chocolate Key Lime Tartlets. The two women never stop working as we talk about bakery life.
“We met in 2005 in a pastry program at A-B Tech [Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College],” says Jitra, who grew up in Warner Robins, Georgia. “I graduated from the culinary program right before the school started a full-scale pastry program, but I stayed and took some of those classes too.” Jennifer, a North Carolinian with roots in Cullowhee and Asheville, completed the pastry program.
“We each worked at other places for a few years,” Jitra continues. “I was at the Richmond Hill Inn, which later burned down, and at Carmel’s in downtown Asheville.”
“I worked downtown at Café on the Square, also now gone, and at Rezaz, the Mediterranean restaurant in Biltmore Village,” Jennifer says. “Eventually we wanted to follow our own ideas and have our own place.”
“So we decided to go into business together,” Jitra says. “For two years we worked out of my house. Then we got this storefront in Merrimon Square. We make all kinds of artisan breads, petit desserts, whole cakes and pies, cheesecakes and tortes, dipped chocolate truffles, and other confections.”
“I describe our style as a combination of French, because of our formal training, and Southern, because we were raised on pies and other comfort food here in the South,” Jennifer says.
FOCUS ON INGREDIENTS
Part of Crème Patisserie’s success, the two women insist, is a focus on making everything from scratch and using only the best ingredients available, especially anything they can find locally from sources devoted to organic practices.
“We use no artificial ingredients,” Jennifer says. “We get eggs and fresh fruit from Farside Farm Market right up the road in Woodfin, honey from Haw Creek Honey in Asheville, apples from several apple orchards in Hendersonville, and milk from local organic sources. We get rye flour, whole-wheat flour, and cornmeal freshly milled at Lindley Mills in Graham, North Carolina. The only bread flour we use comes from King Arthur Flour because it is never bleached or bromated, because our breads always come out better, and because King Arthur is an employee-owned company like us and we appreciate that.
“We also make all of our own icings and even the graham crackers that go into our graham cracker pie crusts,” she says. “The coffee we grind fresh to serve here comes from Tribal Grounds Coffee on the Qualla Boundary [the Cherokee reservation west of Asheville]. We like the fact that Tribal Grounds’ beans are sourced from indigenous growers all over the world who are paid a living wage for their efforts.
“We care about things like that,” she concludes. “It’s part of what made us want to go out on our own, work for ourselves, and do things our way.”
Crème Patisserie & Confectionery
640 Merrimon Avenue, Suite 201
Asheville, NC 28804
828-350-9839 or email@example.com
Look for Crème Patisserie upstairs in the two-story Merrimon Square shopping center, which also holds Circle in the Square Pizza, Urban Burrito, Rise ‘n Shine Café, The Hop (ice cream cafe), Zen Sushi (Japanese restaurant), Asheville Realty, Cartridge World, and other businesses.
For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com
For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com