The art of pastry

Danish and croissants are big sellers at Bennison’s Bakery.

In recent years, sugar arts have held much of the spotlight in many retail bakeries across the U.S. But globally, bread and pastry are still classic staples in retail bakery, and the skills required to produce them include science, artistry and physical strength. Lest we forget, bread and pastry require just as much care and artistic expression as any item in your bakery’s case.

Winning an international competition like Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (the Bakery World Cup) at the Europain show will elevate a baker to international visibility — not to mention elevating the quality of product and foot traffic through the door.

Jory Downer, owner of Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston, Illinois, competed in Viennoserie in 2005 for the Bread Bakers Guild of America Team USA, taking home the gold that year. Downer has seen improvements in the quality of his product, as well as the foot traffic of customers, ever since.

But you don’t need to elevate your breads and pastries to global recognition in order to improve your products and increase sales. Downer offers a few tips on simple, day-to-day steps for producing your best quality breakfast pastries.

Located adjacent to two train stations in a suburb of Chicago, Bennison’s Bakery places a high emphasis on viennoiserie, as the bakery caters to many business commuters in the area. “Some bakers get excited when they pick up a wedding cake they can sell for $600, but that business is so competitive, and it’s distorted by television. Customer expectations have become unrealistic, so it seems like we always end up under-pricing the value of our cakes,” Downer says. “In our bakery, the viennoiserie business just has a way of happening. We have our days like anybody else, but for the most part, it goes off without much trouble. Everyone here is comfortable in their routine”.

Keep in mind that viennoiserie is considered to be simply a breakfast pastry, be it yeast-leavened or not. Think of a sidewalk cafe in France. Whatever type of pastry the customers are enjoying with their espresso — scones, muffins, croissants or brioche — falls into your viennoiserie category.

For his customer base, Danish and croissants are huge sellers at Bennison’s. Because of this, these are some of the last product to go in the ovens in the morning (5:30-5:45 a.m. for a 6 a.m. opening).

A big reason is because Downer uses all butter in his scratch-baked viennoiserie products. “Butter has excellent flavor and eating qualities,” he says. “But it does not always guarantee a good moisture retention property.”

Baking his all-butter products just before opening ensures his early-morning customers will have the best possible pastry for breakfast.

In our fast-paced, instant-gratification society, Downer still takes the time and effort to create products from scratch, such as Bennison’s croissants, one of the bakery’s top-selling breakfast pastries. Using all butter to create scratch-made croissants, of course, comes with a few important caveats. Downer shares a few. 

Be sure to use a high-quality butter that is high in fat. This will ensure the best possible flavor.

 Age the dough for about 16-18 hours before laminating the butter into it. When laminating, you want the butter to be at the same consistency as the dough. “Not necessarily the same temperature,” Downer says, “but the same consistency.”

Once you shape the croissants, freeze them for no more than a week. “Once they’re laminated and shaped,” he says, “they won’t hold up in the freezer for more than a week.”

Pre-ordered Treats

Piccione Pastry, a leading Italian pastry shop in St. Louis, recently invited guests to make the holiday season a bit sweeter with the simplicity of pre-ordered treats that are perfect for holiday gifting or entertaining. Customers can taste the flavors of the season with the new lineup, which features whole cakes, Italian cookies, pies and other freshly made novelties.

“Authentic Italian treats are the perfect addition to any celebration, whether your gifting 1½ pounds of cookies, creating a beautiful dessert display or enjoying cake in festive colors,” says Sandia Hoormann, Piccione’s pastry chef. “We love to continually bring guests new ways to enjoy Piccione’s Pastry’s year round.”

This year, Piccione Pastry offers cakes to please a crowd, including the Tri Color Cake, Cannoli Cake, Cassata Cake and Ricotta Cheesecake. Cut into the Tri Color Cake to reveal a festive red and green interior with layers of rich almond cake cookies, separated by sweet apricot jam, and topped with a silky chocolate ganache. Indulge in the Cannoli Cake with 16 cannoli and one pound of authentic Italian cookies.

The full-size Cassata Cake is available in sweet and savory flavors: Mocha Checkerboard, Pumpkin and Orange Champagne. The price of Piccione Pastry’s full-sized cakes vary from $25-$55 per cake and require 48 hours’ advance notice. 

Guests can also enjoy Whole Italian Pound Cake for $15. And, back by popular demand, Piccione Pastry offers Petite “P” Pies in Pecan, Pumpkin and Chocolate Chess flavors. Enjoy “P” Pies for $3 each or grab four for $10 and share.

Italian cookies come packaged in a holiday gingerbread house carrier, with a gift tag already attached for convenience. Let Piccione Pastry fill the cookie carrier with 1½ pounds of assorted cookies to try authentic favorites like a Raspberry Thumbprint, an Italian Tri-Color, flavored macaroons and more for $12.50. Or try seasonal specialties like a Spiced Rum Baba filled with Piccione Cream ($3.75), Peppermint Shortbread Cookies dipped in white or dark chocolate and topped with crushed peppermint ($10 per pound) and Peppermint Meringues (two for $1.50). Piccione Pastry offers vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free cookie options to please all guests.

For the perfect combination of cookies and cannoli, select one of the shop’s Party Boxes. Piccione Pastry can fill each Party Box with Italian Cookies or a variety of Mini Cannoli and authentic Italian Pastries. Or, guests can request family or office favorites and the latest seasonal flavors. Piccione Pastry also offers vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free items. Party Boxes require 24 hours’ notice and range in price from $40 to $60.