Tag Archives: Asheville NC

Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers Festival, Asheville, NC

Challah from Creme Patisserie in Asheville, NC

Sample great bread and learn a few baking techniques during an extraordinary convergence of bread bakers on April 2.

by Bakery Boy

A variety of loaves from City Bakery in Asheville, NC, will be among those available to sample during the Artisan Bread Bakers Festival's "Showcase" event April 2.

If you’re a big fan of good bread, you need to be at this gathering.

For baking enthusiasts, the Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers Festival—April 2, 2011, in Asheville, NC—might as well be Shangri-La, Paradise, Nirvana, El Dorado, and Heaven all rolled into one. It’s an all-day tribute to crusty, chewy, aromatic, wholesome, air-hole-laced breads. It’s a participatory ode to time-honored, Old World, slow-rise techniques, and top-quality natural ingredients. It’s a showcase for dedicated bakers who consider their vocation to fit somewhere between an art form and a religion.

Expect to hear plenty of talk about wild yeast, whole grains, sourdough starters, wood-fired brick ovens, fermentation, organic ingredients, and other bread-centric topics. Also join in conversations about sustainable agriculture, organic farming, the slow food movement, and related subjects.

The two-part festival starts with bread tasting during a Bakers’ Showcase to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Whole Foods Markets’ Greenlife Grocery, 70 Merrimon Avenue. You’ll find loaves for sale too, ranging from baguettes to brioche, challah, ciabatta, focaccia, rye, walnut, raisin, spinach-feta, and whatever else bakers representing as many as 16 area bakeries bring to their tables. Local millers, cheese makers, and brick-oven builders will be on hand doing demonstrations. Admission to the showcase is free.

An afternoon series of workshops and lectures ($10 admission per session) takes place from noon to 6 p.m. at nearby Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech), 340 Victoria Road. This year’s featured presenters include:

Didier Rosada of Uptown Bakers in Hyattsville, MD

• baker Didier Rosada of Uptown Bakers in Hyattsville, MD (near Washington, D.C.), who will show home bakers how to make his signature pear buckwheat bread and share techniques for making sweet breads such as one he calls German almond butter bread

• baker, author, and Johnson & Wales University (Charlotte, NC) teacher Peter Reinhart, who will demonstrate making bread with sprouted whole wheat flour

• baker, author, and chemist Emily Buehler, who will lead a workshop about the chemistry of bread dough—explaining what actually happens during the mixing, kneading, rising, and baking stages—and demonstrate hand-kneading techniques

• baker Jennifer Lapidus—director of the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project linking local wheat farmers, millers, and bakers—who will talk about bread’s journey from planted wheat seed to steaming loaf, with emphasis on all that happens before the baker takes over for the final stages

Walnut-Sage bread from La Farm Bakery in Cary, NC

• baker Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery in Cary, NC (topic to be determined, but one look at the gorgeous breads he makes, such as those shown at right, and you know it’ll be worthwhile)

Now in its seventh year, the festival was initiated by Steve Bardwell, an artisan baker who runs Wake Robin Farm Breads in the western North Carolina community of Sandy Mush. Area bakeries planning to participate in the Showcase tasting include Annie’s Naturally Bakery, Sylva, NC; Bracken Mountain Bakery, Brevard, NC; Carolina Mountain Bakery, Hendersonville, NC; City Bakery, Asheville, NC; Crème Patisserie & Confectionery, Asheville, NC (click here to see the Bakery Boy Blog profile of Crème Patisserie); Hillside Bakery, Knoxville, TN; Farm and Sparrow, Candler, NC; Flat Rock Village Bakery, Flat Rock, NC; Loaf Child Bakery, Marshall, NC; Rising Creek Bakery, Morris, PA; Simple Bread, Asheville, NC; Stick Boy Bread Company, Boone, NC (click here to see the Bakery Boy Blog profile of Stick Boy); Underground Baking Company, Hendersonville, NC; Wake Robin Farm Breads, Marshall, NC; West End Bakery, Asheville, NC; and Wildflour Bakery, Saluda, NC.

Festival sponsors include the Bread Bakers Guild of America; Lindley Mills in Graham, NC; Whole Foods Markets’ Greenlife Grocery; the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project; Slow Food Asheville; and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

For more information visit www.ashevillebreadfestival.com or contact key organizer Steve Bardwell at wakerobinfarmbreads@main.nc.us or 828-683-2902.

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World’s Best Carrot Cake, Asheville, NC

With “world’s best” in the name, does it live up to the claim?

story & photos by Bakery Boy

The World's Best Carrot Cake company stacks its signature treats mighty high.

It takes gumption to name any business “world’s best.” Avi Sommerville and her husband Morgan showed just such spunk when they launched World’s Best Carrot Cake from their home in Asheville, North Carolina. “We feel very confident in that name,” says Avi, who comes from a long line of foodies and was a professional cook, baker, and caterer before discovering her calling with carrot cake. “The idea actually started with our customers. We kept hearing over and over about how we made the best carrot cake they’d ever eaten, how it must be the best in the world, so we decided to go with that as a company name.”

Production manager Hannah Layosa, whose parents founded World's Best Carrot Cake, makes hundreds of the rich, moist, tasty, organic-carrots-filled cakes each week.

Based on a recipe from her mother-in-law, Juanita, Avi developed several variations and tinkered with them until she was satisfied. “We only use organically grown carrots,” she says. “All the ingredients—the milk, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, and soy products—have to be the freshest and the best available, especially the carrots,” she says. “The proportions have to be just right. That’s what took the most effort to figure out. And moisture is key. I don’t like a dry cake and won’t ever make a dry cake. The carrots themselves provide the moisture that makes our cakes so good.”

The bold name seems to be holding up over time. “In the five years we’ve been doing this,” Avi says, “we’ve had countless people agree that we make the world’s best carrot cake and maybe two people say, ‘Well…maybe.’ But in those cases, they were siding with a wife’s or a mom’s cake.”

DELICIOUS DETAILS

The larger cakes weigh in at five pounds apiece.

Each 8-inch-round, 3-layer cake weighs 5 pounds. There are 6-inch, 4-inch, and cupcake versions too, all made from scratch, daily, in small batches, by hand.

• ORGANIC CARROT CAKE The bakery’s original and still bestselling online cake has rich vanilla cream cheese and walnut icing between layers and covering the top and sides. It’s garnished with crushed walnuts ($49.99 plus shipping).

• GLUTEN FREE CARROT CAKE Carefully processed brown rice flour from a gluten-free mill forms the basis of this version produced for gluten-free purists. Again the use of fresh, organic carrots and the same vanilla cream cheese-walnut icing as in the original keeps both moisture content and taste factors high. Garnished with a few walnut halves ($35 plus shipping).

• CHOCOLATE GLUTEN FREE CARROT CAKE This one contains no wheat—for gluten-free fans—but plenty of carrots plus melted chocolate in the batter as well as in the velvety cream cheese icing. It’s garnished with an equal mix of chocolate chips and crushed walnuts ($38 plus shipping).

• ORANGE CITRUS VEGAN CARROT CAKE This version is entirely dairy-free (no eggs, butter, milk, or cream cheese), features natural orange oil, and is garnished with hand-grated orange zest ($38 plus shipping).

For more about these and other products visit www.worldsbestcarrotcake.com.

DELIVERED FAR & WIDE

It takes a lot of cake pans to make as many carrot cakes as get made regularly at World's Best Carrot Cake.

Anyone can walk in and buy a carrot cake from the small retail counter at the front of the World’s Best Carrot Cake production facility in Woodfin just north of Asheville. Or find a slice at local health-oriented eateries such as The Green Sage Coffeehouse & Café downtown. Or mail order home-delivered cakes via phone or web site. But by far most of the hundreds of cakes produced each week supply two key wholesale accounts that distribute them all across North Carolina and neighboring states.

“Our carrot cakes go to 21 Earth Fare stores and 21 Whole Foods Markets in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee,” Avi says. “An Earth Fare representative found us at the Organicfest one September in Asheville’s Pack Square, started ordering a lot of cakes, and asked us to develop the gluten-free option.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR

“When you have something that's really the best, that's all you need.” - Hannah Layosa

Avi’s daughter Hannah Layosa joins in as production manager. She previously worked at the now-defunct Picnics Restaurant & Bake Shop and as a short-order cook at Nick’s Grill, both nearby in the Woodfin community just north of Asheville.  “I’ve been baking carrot cakes now for five years,” Hannah says. “My mom and grandmother come in every day. My dad [who works as regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy] is involved in the operation. My husband Jason is the purchasing manager. Our friend Heather is our ‘icing master’ and handles retail sales. We all manage to have fun doing what we do—making cakes by the hundreds.”

Cupcake versions of the Chocolate Gluten Free Carrot Cake (left) and the original Organic Carrot Cake.

As for the family business’s super-confident name, Hannah says: “When you have something that’s really the best, that’s all you need. We believe in our cakes and we stand by the name.”

Avi harbors ambitions to expand the family’s line of food products. “I want to be the New Age Sara Lee,” she says. “I’ve always been a food person. I cut back on cooking and catering to concentrate on carrot cakes, but eventually I want to add other healthy and all-natural lines and get them into as many stores as possible.”

BAKERY BOY WEIGHS IN

Employee Heather Taylor, affectionately dubbed the Icing Master, also handles retails sales.

So are these indeed the world’s best carrot cakes? I’ll say this: I thoroughly enjoyed the ones I sampled at the World’s Best Carrot Cake headquarters. They were, as advertised, perfectly moist, plenty tasty, stacked high, and beautifully presented, both the whole cake and the cupcake versions. Because I haven’t personally tasted every carrot cake in the world for comparison (which sure would be a fine goal to pursue!) I can’t say with absolute certainty. Still, I firmly believe these desserts rank way up high in the hierarchy of carrot cakes. Here’s my suggestion: Order one or two and decide for yourself.

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World’s Best Carrot Cake

175 Weaverville Hwy, Suite V

Asheville, NC 28804

828-658-2738

www.worldsbestcarrotcake.com

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For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com

For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com

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Crème Patisserie and Confectionery, Asheville, NC

White Chocolate Key Lime Tartlets

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

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Jitra Neal (left) and Jennifer Jacobs own and operate Crème Patisserie & Confectionery.

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.

Blackberry Streusel Tart

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.

Caramel Nut Tartlets

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.

Apple Pies

PARADE OF PASTRIES

Even before introducing myself to Jennifer and Jitra, I am already salivating over Crème Patisserie’s overflowing showcases.

Vegan Blueberry Streusel Muffins

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).

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Marscarpone Filling

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.

BREADS TOO

...and braiding challah

Jennifer scoring baguettes...

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.

Multigrain rolls

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.

Challah

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.)

CONFECTIONERY COHORTS

Jitra decorating tartlets...

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.

...and slicing cheesecake

“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.”

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Crème Patisserie & Confectionery

640 Merrimon Avenue, Suite 201

Asheville, NC 28804

828-350-9839 or cremeasheville@gmail.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.

Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

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For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com

For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com

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Braiding Challah at Crème Patisserie, Asheville, NC

SLIDESHOW: See Asheville baker Jennifer Jacobs braid beautiful loaves of challah. Story & photos by Bakery Boy

Braiding bread can be fun once you get the hang of it. T he gorgeous results never fail to attract compliments. When I dropped in on Crème Patisserie & Confectionery recently in Asheville, North Carolina, (click here to see a separate article about Crème Patisserie) the bread dough was already mixed and rising. During the course of an interview, I watched baker and co-owner Jennifer Jacobs braid traditional Jewish challah loaves. Take a look at the slide show, be inspired, and try this yourself sometime with any yeast-risen dough you prefer. Getting beautiful bread like this takes practice, but it’s well worth the effort.

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Crème Patisserie & Confectionery

640 Merrimon Avenue, Suite 201

Asheville, NC 28804

828-350-9839 or cremeasheville@gmail.com

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Short Street Cakes, Asheville, NC

Coconut Cake

A social worker by training and a “cake lady” at heart, Jodi Rhoden combines her love of baking with her determination to help people.

story and photos by Bakery Boy

Certain women identify as Cake Ladies, and she is one of them, says Jodi Rhoden of Short Street Cakes.

Jodi Rhoden identifies as a cake lady. Make that Cake Lady, capitalized. There are certain women, she contends, who find a profound sense of purpose in making cakes. Whether as professional bakers filling customer orders, café owners diversifying menus, or homemakers baking for family and friends, they revel in the pursuit of perfect layers and beautiful frosting. Most importantly, they cherish the pleased reactions their edible artwork elicits.

Jodi—the founder, owner, and head baker at Short Street Cakes in Asheville, North Carolina—is so taken with this idea that she has written a book, due out later this year, about some of the many Cake Ladies she admires.

SOCIAL WORKER TURNED BAKER

Using no food coloring to be more natural leads to earth-tone cupcakes. Jodi’s husband, Duncan, painted the sign.

Although she learned a few things about baking from her mother and grandmother while growing up in Marietta, Georgia, Jodi became a serious baker through, of all things, her career as a social worker. After earning a social work degree at The University of Georgia, she moved to Boston and was involved in a program to help people get out of poverty by learning job skills. “I took a bakery training course along with them and learned to make artisan breads,” she says.

Following two years in Boston she moved to Asheville about 10 years ago to continue doing social work. To make ends meet she waited tables at restaurants and worked at West End Bakery, where she discovered that making cakes suited her personality. There she learned from two of the best: Cathy Cleary, one of the founders of West End Bakery, located about a mile from Jodi’s Short Street Cakes on the same street, Haywood Road in West Asheville, and April Moon, who now runs Sunny Point Café, located between the two bakeries and also on the same street.

Vintage finds add to the homey setting at Short Street Cakes.

“When my son Jasper was born five years ago, I started baking cakes at home so I could be with him,” she says, seated at a 1950s aluminum table in her bakeshop. Orders picked up and she outgrew her kitchen, so she took a business class, got a loan, found a former barbershop from the 1920s available, and opened Short Street Cakes in 2008. “The name comes from the street I live on. I see the bakery as an extension of my home.”

Some of her mom’s old aprons brighten the walls.

A homey atmosphere permeates Short Street Cakes. Some of Jodi’s mother’s vintage aprons hang on the walls, plus paintings by a friend, artist Hannah Dansie (aka Two of Hearts), who also works there as a baker. Jodi’s husband, Duncan McFarlane, painted a folk-art-style cake shop sign (see photo). An antique cupboard and salvaged dinette sets grace the place. Wooden and glass cake stands and flea-market-find Milk Glass lamps add to a simple-living setting.

FROM SCRATCH, WITH LOVE

A slogan printed on Short Street’s menus and business cards reads: “Fresh, Natural, from Scratch, with Love.” Jodi is indeed devoted to baking from scratch with all-natural ingredients. Consider the cupcakes. Most cupcake bakeries present a splashy rainbow of colorful icing. Her muted color palette holds mostly earthy shades of dark brown, creamy caramel, and off white. “I don’t use food coloring,” she explains. “Whatever’s in the icing, like chocolate or butter cream, is what you see.” She also uses fresh local ingredients whenever she can: eggs from Mountain Sunshine Farms in Asheville, organic flour from Lindley Mills in nearby Graham, fruit in season from farmers’ markets.

By the slice or whole, coconut cake is Short Street’s bestseller.

Cakes are this bakery’s main attractions. Simpler versions include Sour Cream Pound Cake (add almond flavoring by request), Mexican Chocolate Cake (with cinnamon and cayenne), and Ashevelvet Cake (naturally reddish-brown). Classic offerings take in Sweet Potato Spice Cake (cinnamon cream cheese icing), Coconut Cake (see photo), Carrot Spice Cake (carrots, raisins, walnuts), and Georgia Hummingbird Cake (pineapple, pecans, strawberries, bananas). Jodi gets creative with deluxe options such as Bacon Apple Cake (pound cake with bacon drippings, fried apples, bacon crumbles), Wedge Brewery Community Porter Cake (chocolate cake with a local brewer’s porter baked in), and Mardi Gras Queen Cake (pineapple butter cake with a bourbon soak and coconut-pecan custard icing).

Hungry yet? There’re also Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Flourless Chocolate Gateau, and custom-made birthday and wedding cakes.

Artist and baker Hannah Dansie painted this portrait seen at Short Street. See the bacon and cigarettes in the hair?

As for the love part of from scratch, with love, Jodi shows it in a big way through her support of non-profit groups, an extension of her social-worker soul. “I donate cakes to just about any group that asks for them for fundraisers,” she says. “It’s how I’m able to tie my bakery work to my community involvement.” In return she gains loyal customers and plenty of goodwill. She gives cakes to Bountiful Cities, an urban agriculture organization that promotes affordable food for low-income communities (and where she’s on the board). She gives cakes to the YWCA of Asheville, where she’s glad they offer free child-care service for women struggling to hold onto jobs. And to Mountain BizWorks, which helps entrepreneurs launch businesses in under-served communities. And to Our Voice, a women’s crisis center involved with domestic violence and sexual assault issues. And other organizations she believes in.

CAKE LADIES

Jodi says her book—working title, Cake Ladies—should be in print later this year from Asheville publisher Lark Crafts, a division of New York-based Sterling Publishing Company. It includes profiles of women who, like Jodi, hail from the South and identify as Cake Ladies, plus some of their recipes.

Door’s open, come on in!

“I met all these women through providence,” Jodi says. Younger women in business to earn a living. Older women baking at home for family. Women baking everywhere from the Qualla Boundary Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, to her hometown in Georgia, to New Orleans, where her good friend Elyse Manning bakes at New Orleans Cake Café & Bakery. Their stories, she says, are about why they bake as much as what they bake, and about being Cake Ladies.

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Short Street Cakes

225 Haywood Road, Asheville, NC 28806

828-505-4822

www.shortstreetcakes.com

Read Jodi Rhoden’s blog, My Life in Cake, at http://shortstreetcakes.blogspot.com.

From I-240 in Asheville take Exit 2, go east on Haywood Road, which in a few blocks veers sharply left, and find Short Street Cakes on the left.

Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday

That’s Jodi—bright colors, bright smile, bright outlook.

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For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com

For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com

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Filo, Asheville, NC

Greek treats rule at this combination bakery, café, art gallery and cozy hangout.

story and photos by Bakery Boy

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Filo could hardly be more Greek. Aromas of fresh-baked spanakopita and baklava waft through the Asheville, North Carolina bakery. The name itself—a variant of phyllo, the multilayered dough stretched into paper-thin sheets for famously flaky Greek pastries—adds a suitable cultural reference. And when the owner introduces herself there’s no doubt, because you won’t find many names more Greek than Maria Papanastasiou.

Filo owner Maria Papanastasiou with spanakopita

“I grew up immersed in Greek culture in an extended family of Greek immigrants,” the North Carolina native says. “Our house was always full of people cooking and baking. Everything we ate was Greek. It was only natural to see a whole lamb roasting or deep pans of orzo baking or big trays of baklava coming out of the oven. My mother, Helen, is an excellent cook and baker. My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other relatives are good cooks. Some were even in the restaurant business.”

Baklava

That tasty upbringing and a lot of world traveling to improve upon her inherited culinary talents are Asheville’s gain now that Maria owns and operates Filo as a bakery and café where artwork lines the walls and people linger coffeehouse style.

Spanakopita

MARIA’S PATH “I went off to college with no interest in the food business,” Maria says, a little embarrassed now by the diversion from what has become her passion. “I studied anthropology and biology and thought about going into rehabilitation therapy. Then I remembered how much fun it is to be in a kitchen full of people who love cooking and baking.”

Cranberry Orange Scones

Memories of extended trips at age 8 and 18 to Greece, spending a month on the Greek mainland (her mom’s roots) and a month on the isle of Cyprus (her dad’s homeland) helped solidify Maria’s interest in all things Greek. “Later as an adult I traveled four more times to Greece, four times to France, and once each to Spain, Italy, and Germany to learn about the cuisine,” she says.

Chocolate-filled Croissants

She completed the pastry program at the prestigious French Culinary Institute in New York and worked for five years in Manhattan restaurants such as Orso Restaurant (Italian), Tabla (Indian-American fusion), and the trendy Lipstick Café. She also arranged a six-week stint in a bakery in Beziers in southeastern France.

Greek Wedding Cookies

“I came home to Asheville ready to have my own place,” she says. “I opened Filo five years ago in a sturdy stone building that used to be an American Legion Post, right across the street from the Veterans Administration Hospital. My brother Nick owns the East Village Grille, a restaurant and sports bar beside Filo. I live in the same house I grew up in, along with my mother, and Nick lives in the house next door, so you can see we’re a very close-knit family.”

People like to linger and mingle at Filo

DIGGING IN People settle in and linger at Filo like they would at a friend’s living room or a good coffeehouse (Maria brews fresh-ground beans supplied by Counter Culture Coffee in Durham). Conversations drift from couples and small groups gathered at café tables. “I try to create a sense of community, like what I saw in small bakeries and cafes in Greece and France,” Maria says. “I love it when any kind of local organization decides to hold meetings here, especially if they like what I’ve made for them to eat.”

"I have a lot more cookbooks at home too," Maria says

Showcases teem with goodies, Greek and otherwise. The spanakopita features spinach, feta, and eggs, of course, but also leeks (Maria’s secret ingredient) and Swiss chard when she can pick it fresh from her own vegetable garden or find it at the nearby Black Mountain Farmers Market.

Flourless Mocha Torte (with coffee bean accents)

She makes Greek wedding cookies loaded with butter and rolled in powdered sugar. There’s kourabeides (a sweet shortbread); galaktoboureko (baked phyllo layered with custard and baked again); kataifi (shredded phyllo soaked in syrup), and baklava (the classic Greek pastry with layers of phyllo, chopped nuts, honey she buys locally from Haw Creek Honey, and clove dots on top for accent). On Tuesdays she makes whole-wheat pita bread to go with her mother’s always-in-demand hummus.

Rose Geis prepares veggie calzones for Filo's lunchtime

Beyond her signature Greek specialties, Maria also makes excellent flourless mocha tortes, chocolate mousse cakes, blueberry almond cheesecakes, cranberry walnut pies, key lime tarts, a variety of brownies and biscotti, crusty baguettes and more. At lunchtime oven-fresh calzones made with basil-and-rosemary-laced dough folded over roasted red peppers, red onions, mushrooms, artichokes, collard greens, ricotta, and other fresh ingredients create an irresistible aroma. By special order, she even mounts amazing wedding cake projects.

Cranberry and Pumpkin Seed Sticky Buns

WHAT’S THAT? When I visited, Maria’s changes-daily sticky buns came piled high with cranberries and pumpkin seeds or with raisins and walnuts, the bottoms oozing baked butter and sugar.

The beignets, denser and chewier than most and with swirling layers inside, took me by surprise. What’s her secret? “They’re made from leftover croissant dough, balled up and deep fried and tossed in powdered sugar,” Maria explains.

Another innovation, based on something she discovered during a trip to Barcelona, Spain, involves candied spaghetti squash wrapped in croissant dough, deep fried, and rolled in granulated sugar.

“Clearly I like dealing with sugar more than with protein,” she says, flashing a mischievous smile. For that, the sweet-toothed say thanks.

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FILO

1155 Tunnel Road, Asheville, NC 28805

828-298-9777

www.filopastries.com

Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

From I-40 in East Asheville take Exit 55, go briefly north on Porter Cove Road to a “T” intersection, turn left on Tunnel Road, go west about 1.5 miles (passing the Blue Ridge Parkway) and look for Filo on the left in a stout stone building.

Filo fills a sturdy stone former American Legion Post building

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For more about Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com

For more about North Carolina: www.visitnc.com

Maria with Flourless Mocha Torte