The Final Day

On September 1, 2012 our baking day started extra early, at 1:30AM. I wanted to be sure that be had an abundance of product, that it would be out early and that our final kitchen work was done before the party started. We had told customers that we would not take any advance orders for this final day. We wanted to be sure that everyone had a fair shot at getting the last of whatever they wanted and whatever was available, as long as they got to the bakery early enough. The day before, Friday, had been an incredibly busy day, a lot of special orders, but also just a tsunami of walk-ins, wave after wave of people and a line out the door all day. So, as the hour approached to open the door on our last morning, I began to worry that no one would show up, that it had been a mistake to decline advanced orders, and that everyone who had intended to shop had done so the day before.

Boy, was I wrong!

At exactly 7:30AM the crush of customer started where it had left off the day previous. By noon we were close to being sold out. At 11:00AM the band, a bluegrass group called THE RAMBLING KIND had set up on the sidewalk in front of the shop and kicked off a four hour set of uplifting, fun music. Our second floor tenant, Sonja Sweeney, had set up her massage chair next to the band to offer de-stressing massages to our much-stressed customers. A buffet of wine and beer and cider and cheeses were set up in our now-quiet kitchen as a small treat for our customers and friends. Patty and I mingled with the crowds, accepting their kind words of thanks and praise and best wishes. It was a happy and a sad time. Sometimes it felt like a party, sometimes it felt like a funeral. But if the bakery had indeed died, we intended to give it an Irish wake. It was a great morning and a great afternoon. We couldn't have asked for a better way to go out.

What struck us most was how emotional our customers were that this enterprise was coming to an end. Everyone had a story, all having to do with how the bakery had woven itself into the fabric of their lives, whether for some special occasion or, more often, for their daily or weekly needs. We knew we had customers, but we didn't realize we had so many devoted and passionate fans. Many people spoke about bigger issues; the bakery, to them was also about community and values. One customers said that what she would miss the most was the 'humanity.' Another customer said that Northampton was losing a 'piece of local culture.' We weren't just a store, we were a touchstone, a gathering place, a comfort, a friendly smile, a little extra attention, an extension of credit when the customer didn't have enough money for their purchase, a nicely ribboned gift box of cookies for a sick relative, a moment of gossip with Patty over their coffee and muffin purchase. Reflecting our current malaise in America, I think most people felt that yet another stable constant in this uncertain world was pulling up anchor, setting us all just a little bit more adrift.

So now Patty and I want to thank you all for being such loyal customers, fans and friends. We will miss you all as much as you will miss our breads and pastries. Were it possible, we would bake for you forever. After gaging the response over the past three weeks we regret that we had to break your hearts, because, after the hugs and tears and warmth of your response yesterday, we know we did.

We plan to keep blogging, maybe even write a baking cookbook/memoir. Who knows? But I'm sure that your past support and kindness will inspire whatever path we take.

Late last night, after the party was over, after our small family dinner was finished, and our son Peter and Polly headed back home to Northampton, they stopped one last time at the bakery and peered into the darkened front door of Bakery Normand; this is what Pete posted on his Facebook page:

Goodnight mixer.
Goodnight flour.
Goodnight oven.
Goodnight yeast.
Goodnight bakery.

It breaks our heart...

A Tribute to Roger L. Normand

President Obama's much maligned speech in July, 2012 that 'if you've got a business, you didn't built that,' has resonated with me on the eve of our last business day. My wife and I started and ran a successful bakery for 33 years; we had the skills, we had the vision, we had the stamina to make it work. But we most certainly didn't build it alone. My Dad, Roger L. Normand (1929-2010) was a force of nature, and every step along our way at Bakery Normand, except for the past two and one-half years, he was our plant superintendent, our handyman, our trouble-shooter, problem solver, crisis manager, baby-sitter and generally our behind-the-scenes 'rock of support.' I think of him a lot now, at the end, because he did so much for us and asked so little from us.

He was a 'self-made man' of French Canadian immigrant parents. Born in Chicopee, MA, but  raised  and resident all his adult life in Holyoke, MA, he learned cabinet making from his father, and followed him into the mills of Holyoke as a millwright, or machine repairman. He hadn't finished High School when he took a job at American Pad & Paper Co., but by the time he retired from Ampad after 44 years of service, he had earned his High School Equivalency Diploma and had managed to become Ampad's plant engineer (not only for their Holyoke Mill, but for all of their paper converting factories in Utah, Texas and Illinois). He understood the way things worked, how things were put together, how they could be taken apart, how broken things could be fixed. He had an intuitive sense for mechanical assembles, for all things electrical, for plumbing, for woodworking, for rigging and moving heavy objects, for looking deeply into man-made things in order to understand how they worked, or why, in very many cases, they weren't working well.

So you can see, without stating the obvious, he was a good man to know if you had a problem with the real things that make our world run smoothly. He was especially a good man to have your back if you were his son and owned a business full of mechanical equipment that seemed to always need repair. And he always had our backs. In 1985, when we were in fear of losing our lease at 44 Main Street, we decided to open a café-outlet on the second floor of Thornes Marketplace-Café Normand. We figured that, if we lost our lease, we would still have a location in Downtown Northampton, and that we could always find a production facility somewhere outside of town if  we needed. My Dad planned and supervised the entire project. He built a dry pastry case to exactly match the wood, glass and stainless steel vintage pastry case  in our 44 Main St. store. Both cases still sit side-by-side in our current location-his case is the one that holds our tea cookies and larger cookies. He also built matching wooden bread racks to our 44 Main St. racks (both are long gone).

He designed and built one of the most important pieces of equipment in our kitchen- a dough sheeter. That's the machine that allowed us to make uniform croissant, danish, puff pastry, and our thin and uniform tea cookies. That machine was his baby and he came by every few weeks, for sure, in order to grease the gears on it and make sure it was in tip-top condition.

In 1993 on Good Friday morning of Easter Week we had an elecrical fire in our four-deck baking oven. One of my bakers, John Knybel, had arrived early to start the sourdough breads and to warm up the ovens. When he noticed black smoke coming out of the control side of the oven, where all the high-tech wiring was, he immediately threw the main circuit breaker and called 911. I arrived shortly after the firemen had put out the fire, containing it to the oven only, and not to the building. With all the side panels off the oven, it was pretty clear that there had been a lot of damage to the electrical components. One fireman said to me, "Well, looks like you'll be out of business for a couple of months!" In the meantime I had called my Dad in Holyoke, much as I had often called him in the past with one problem or other to be dealt with. And, as always, he was there as quickly as his car could carry him. Always calm and focused, he took a long look at the oven and then got right to work. Within two hours he had salvaged the good parts from several oven decks and used them to replace the fried and charred parts. Within two hours he was able to get three of the original four decks working. Good Friday production, though delayed, was saved. And so was Easter Saturday production. We had to work multiple shifts and longer hours to produce the same volume in three ovens as we would normally produce in four ovens, but the point is that we were able to produce anything at all. Even if we had found an electrician, unlikely on Easter Weekend, he probably would have told us that the repair would be long and costly. As it was, the repair was quick, with the urgency only a father would gift his son, and the cost was an amazing ZERO DOLLARS.

That was my Dad. That's what he could do, and that's what he did to make our bakery run for 30 years of our 33 year run. Without him Bakery Normand would not have survived and we would not have prospered.

So, I would be the first to attest that we did not build this business alone. Not by a long shot. And I haven't even begun to mention all the employees who worked so hard and gave more than expected to make our bakery a place of friendly service and consistant quality.

But above all, and on this last night and early morning of baking for me, my Dad will still have my back. I love him for his lessons in selflessness and giving. He was proud of what we had done, but I am prouder to have been his son.

The End

Saturday, September 1, 2012 will be our last day of business. We warned you that this would happen, and you have responded like the calm, rational people that we always thought our customers were. You're killing me with love, people! I've never worked this hard in all of the past 33 years. Clearly, you won't let me go quietly- you're making me earn this one.
I promise you, some day, some how you'll see me again, or should I say, you'll see your favorite baked goods again.

In the meantime, let's party! We will be open on Saturday from 7:30AM 'til 4:30PM, usual, and we plan to have tons, literally tons, of product for your last minute cache.  We will also have live bluegrass music on the street in front of the bakery from 11:00AM 'til 3:00PM. Also, Sonja Sweeney, the massage therapist who has her practice on the second floor above the bakery, will be giving free relaxation massages in her chair on the sidewalk in front of the bakery. She hopes to help as many people as she can accommodate de-stress from the trauma of losing the bakery. If I finish my baking responsibilities early enough, I'll set up a little consultation booth on the sidewalk to talk this through with our customers and help them get over the terrible loss of Bakery Normand. I'm not saying I quality as a trained psychotherapist, but I feel I understand what you're going through. Maybe a couple of tears, a couple of hugs and a few laughs will help us all say 'good-bye.'

Come celebrate with us.

Going Out With a Bang!

Today our oldest son, Peter Normand, turns 33 years old. We literally started our business the day he was born. This March, 1980 photo accompanied a Daily Hampshire Gazette article entitled- THEY SHARE LIFE - AND A BAKERY.  Patty and I are standing in our West Street bakery kitchen with little Peter overseeing the activities. He and Patty joined me at work for the first early morning hours until his patience ran out and he needed to be home for his nap.

Today, Pete's 5 month old son, Samuel Baker Normand, will be there to oversee the end of Bakery Normand. Sadly, he will have no real memory of the excitement and energy of these heady days. Through Blog posts, photos and print articles he will be reminded of what once was and the family business that gave him his middle name. His future will be his to make, with our love and support.

We're quickly approaching our final week of business. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has come by the bakery since we announced our retirement. We honestly were not prepared for the love and support that you all have showered so kindly upon us. We actually thought that our final three weeks would be a long, and quiet, good-bye. Instead, we have had to ramp up our production to meet the unprecedented demand for breads and pastries in this otherwise hot and quiet month of August. I would characterize the response from customers as, first, happiness for us and our retirement plans, and, second, panic, bordering on hysteria. It's kind of like what happens when the local weather man reports an approaching hurricane or Nor'easter blizzard; people start stocking up on essentials to manage some unknown or uncertain future. Yes, the end is near, but the memories will forever feed our souls.

Please come in before we close and sign our guest book. We're asking folks to sign their names and contact information, along with comments about what baked goods they will most miss. In the event that a reincarnated bakery should appear, in whatever limited form that may be, we hope to use this contact information to reconnect with our supportive fans. One idea I have is to construct a wood-fired brick oven behind our house in Holyoke overlooking the Connecticut River and the Holyoke Range; then, when I bake a batch of a favorite bread or pastry, I'll call up those folks who would most appreciate that bread or pasty and invite them over for a drink while we nurse the oven. After a relaxing visit, everyone goes home with some hearth-baked goodies and a memory for old time's sake.

Who knows what the future holds. Stay curious. Stay engaged.

A New Dawn, A New Day

"We have been born once and cannot be born a second time; for all eternity we shall no longer exist. But you, although you are not in control of tomorrow, are postponing your happiness. Life is wasted by delaying, and each one of us dies without enjoying leisure."
Epicurus- Vatican Sayings

In the beginning of every life, of every venture, are the seeds of its end. In baking, that idea was enacted every day in every season for the past 33 years at Bakery Normand. Every day the yeast was brought to vigorous life, the sourdough refreshed, the daily dough mixed and developed, kneaded and shaped, baked and consumed. Every day it begins and ends again.

We have been diligent stewards of this process for many years, starting in 1976 when Patty and I first set out to live and work among good, even great, bakers in family bakeries in Germany. In 1979 we set up our first kitchen and started out on our own on West Street in Northampton. In the Spring of 1980 we re-located our bakery to 44 Main Street, also in Northampton. When that space became too small and we sought the security of ownership, we bought the building at 192 Main Street, Northampton in 1989. There we have continued our trade unbroken to this day.

Baking, as with any food related industry, is for the young, and we have grown old in this profession. We have enjoyed remarkable good health for all these years. In hindsight it is clear that we walked a razor's edge in our small, family-run business, and that any significant physical or financial setback could have knocked us off that edge and undone our entire endeavor. But despite our naiveté, or maybe because of it, we endured, we prospered, and our customers, we hope, benefited.

But our creation, our baking enterprise, is mere stone and stainless steel, mere butter and eggs, without Patty at the register and me at the oven. It was not built for the ages. We were the dreamers and it was our wonderful dream alone. So now, while we are in the youth of old age, we choose to shake ourselves awake, rub our eyes clear, and imagine what other goals, what other challenges, might await us. We have lost any driving ambition long ago, and we have certainly acheived more than we could ever have hoped to acheive after all these years. So now we are ready and feel wonderfully free to ride any future tides of possibility.

On Saturday, September 1, 2012, we will begin the day as we have for all these years. But on that day, when the last dough is mixed, when the last bread is baked and the ovens go cold, that will be the day that Bakery Normand will end.

It has not been lost on our attention that there is much we will miss about our bakery. We will miss the casual, almost self-evident, access to good bread and pastries. Suddenly we will be consumers rather than producers. We will miss all of our loyal and, dare I say, devoted customers; most of them transcend mere transactional relationships. We will miss a long list of energetic, thoughtful and honestly good employees, especially the superb staff who work with us now and who will see us through to the finish line.

We want to thank everyone who has been a part of this modest enterprise for their support and commitment. You have made our work a vocation, and we consider ourselves fullfilled and happy people.

"As long as we are on the road (of life), we must make the later journey better than the beginning, but be happy and content when we have reached the end."
Epicurus- Vatican Sayings

Breaking Stereotypes

For almost ever, customers, even friends, have mispronounced my last name and the name that appears after "Bakery" in "Bakery Normand." The error has been to put the accent and emphasis on the last syllable, as in nor-MAND.  This would have been the proper pronunciation for my early ancestors, who were among the first settlers of the frontier town of Quebec. Established in 1608, Quebec became home to the Normand clan at an early date. One Jean Normand (born 1638) appears in a 1656 census of Quebec, and the name seems to have had a continuous presence there going forward. In 1908 my grandfather Ulric Osias Normand emigrated from Canada to the US through Vermont, eventually settling in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In his Declaration of Intention to become a US citizen, Ulric swore that "I am not an anarchist; I am not a polygamist nor a believer in the practice of polygamy; and it is my intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States of America and to permanently reside therein; SO HELP ME GOD." He should have added that he intended for his heirs henceforth to pronounce his surname in a thoroughly American fashion, that being, with the accent on the first syllable, as in NOR-mand. And so it was-until his grandson decided to open a bakery.

The reasons for the change in emphasis have nothing to do with any intentions of mine. Rather, the use of my surname after the type of business I established, namely a bakery, instead of before it (as in Normand's Bakery or Norm's Bakery) created a need among people to overplay the exotic locution and express something foreign sounding. This made sense to folks because our bakery was foreign; and the choice to name it in this way followed the model of all the family bakeries where I trained in Germany-Bäckerei Gassen, Bäckerei Kaiser, and Bäckerei-Konditorei Stock, named after, respectively, the Gassen family, the Kaiser family, and the Stock family. Although I learned to bake in Germany, many of our products have their names and origins in many Western European lands, so, yes, our establishment did strike people as different. Also, placing the accent on the second syllable gave customers the sense that they too were part of a more unique and exclusive club, that they were in on a special secret, that their shopping experience had more caché. You might think that this would be good for business, but, in fact, I have always felt that it put a lot of people off. I think that vast segments of our town and surrounding communities have always felt that our product was strange and that our prices must be high; and who wouldn't if you heard us referred to as Bakery nor-MAND?

Now, segue back to my introductory photo. Folks, meet Jeff. Jeff is one of our morning regulars and he often arrived at the bakery in any number of interesting vehicles, depending on what project he's working on that day. Today he was driving a bucket-loader, and I can think of one 2-year-old named Jacob (also a devoted bakery fan) who would have been in heaven if he had come by an hour earlier today to see Jeff pull up to the Bakery in this rig.

I don't know about you, but I'm guessing that Jeff is not put off by the name of our bakery; in fact, he probably pronounces my last name correctly. But even if he didn't, he has not pigeon-holed us as "not his kind of bakery." Instead he's discovered some great morning pastries, especially his favorite-the Carrot Muffin, at a price that beats Dunkin' Doughnuts and MacDonald's. At $3.50 for the muffin and a large coffee, he probably wouldn't get much for that money at Starbucks. And on top of all that he gets a scratch -baked product made on premises by real people, and he gets friendly, personal service by my wife Patty that puts a smile on his face every time he leaves the store. Today he even offered to let Patty drive his rig, because, as he told her, it had an automatic transmission; Patty replied, "Thanks, but no thanks, I only drive stick!"

Mother's Day is Coming

Slowly, life at home and at the bakery is getting back to normal- the new normal. Between settling my mom's affairs and re-organizing my kitchen staff after the departure of my three-year veteran Josh Estep, I just haven't had the time or desire to post. That will change as Spring advances and we look forward to some cheery and sweet holidays, like Mother's Day (bittersweet, this year) and the Commencement Season at the local colleges. The weather has turned cooler, as it should be in Spring, so working in the kitchen has become more pleasant again, a lot less hot and humid. We can save those conditions for the Summer, thank you very much.

We were voted third place in the Valley Advocate Readers' Poll. After being in first place for so many years in the '90's and early 2000's I suppose it should be something of a let-down. But, quite frankly, the Poll is just a gimmick for the weekly paper to sell advertising space, and even when we polled number one it never much mattered to me. My focus has always been about making an authentic product and selling it with dignity. I was never such for the seduction of advertising. There is no doubt that our business has entered it's 'mature' phase, which it to say we're not cute and cuddly like a newborn, nor brimming with the vitality and sass of youth. Old age is certainly less appealing to folks and we may just be out-of-sync with what the market wants. America is obsessed with all things new and young; and since we refuse to re-invent ourselves by slapping on a label that says "New and Improved-Now With 50% More Raisins in Every Box," I guess we'll just keep doing what we do and hope that enough people like it to make it worth getting up at 4:00AM every morning. To those of you who still support us, I would like to vote you "Best Customers In the Valley."

In the meantime, stay tuned for a summary of our specials for Mother's Day in the coming weeks.

In memoriam

While this is a business blog,  it is a blog about a family business, with all the joys and sorrows that come with living and working in the real world. And so I do not hesitate to use this forum to share the joys, like the birth of our grandson Sam, and the sorrows, which in this case is the death yesterday of the matriarch of my family Helen M. Normand, my mom, and the great grandmother of Sam. While she came from a large family, the eleventh child of twelve children, and was referred to as the 'sickly one,' she was actually a strong and stoic woman. She married her childhood sweetheart, Roger, when she was 18, and loved him until his death 62 years later. At eighty year of age she started a new life at the Loomis Retirement Community and was able, for the first time in her life really, to become her own person. She became active in the Knitting Club, was on the Food Committee of the community dining room, and was just beginning her involvement on the Scholarship Committee, which raised funds for the college kids who worked part-time in various capacities at Loomis. But beyond these activities, she was best known at Loomis as a person who cared about people, without pretense and without compulsion. She made a point of knowing everyone by name, whether that was an administrator, a housekeeper, a repairman, a waiter or waitress in the dining room, the cooks, the nurses, and especially the residents. That didn't mean she liked everybody; she was very certain in her assessments of people. But she was always respectful.

After her release from Hartford Hospital she returned to the Loomis Nursing Center, which is one wing in the Loomis Commuity Campus where she had had an apartment in the Independent Living wing. As far as we were concerned, she was returning 'home' and that, with rehabilitation from her stroke, she might eventually return to her apartment, or, worst case, to the Assisted Living wing. But it wasn't in the cards, as she, a gambler at heart, would have said. As word got out on campus that she was on her death bed, wave upon wave of Loomis residents, staff and administrators came to say their goodbyes. It chokes me up just writing this because we as a family were unprepared for the depth of care, love and sadness that her passing had evoked. Even Nick, a college-age waiter in the dining room, one of her favorites and a fellow, we learned that night, she had often conned into going out to buy lottery tickets for her, even Nick came and stood speechless by her bedside to pay respects. I know that if I were in Nick's shoes, I probably couldn't have done it.

The triumph was that she really had created a new life for herself, at 82 years old. There is a lesson for us all here. The tragedy is that she was denied it further in mid-stride. There is no telling what the years ahead would have brought her; it's a shame that she couldn't have had a few more. But I think she would have been rather pleased that she at least went out at the top of her game.

With Sam's birth and Mom's death we have experienced within a short seven days the most exhilarating high and the saddest low of the human emotional scale We are reminded that we all ride the great wheel of life, but that in the end ,the greatest truths lie only in this exact moment, in the simple, precious space between breathing in and breathing out. Make the most of your moment. Peace.

Samuel Baker Normand

Here he is folks: our first grandson, Samuel Baker Normand. Look at the hands on that kid!

And here he is with his Uncle Ben, who came in last weekend from Nantucket to meet his new nephew.

We can already imagine Sam asking his parents, a few years from now, if he can spend the whole summer with Uncle Ben and Aunt Jackie on the island. What a lucky fellow.

Our New Sprout

The center panel of Grandma Patty's quilt for Sam
This will be a short post that is personal rather than directly Bakery Normand related.

On Thursday, March 29, 2012, our oldest son, Pete, and his wife Polly gave birth to their first son- Samuel Baker Normand. He is Patty and my first grandson. I only post this today because Sam's name was made official today, and for that all of the grandparents are extremely grateful. Mother and baby are doing fine, and dad is doing his bit providing support and love. Pete read Sam his first 'out of the womb' book, Dr. Seuss' OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!, and it moved him very much-Pete, that is, not so much Sam.

On their drive home from the hospital on Saturday, mom and dad took a little detour to drive down Main Street in Northampton in order to take the little sprout past grandma and grandpa's bakery. "That's where grandma and grandpa make all kinds of great breads and pastries, Sam, and it is oh, one of the very special places you'll go!" said Pete.

We're so happy for Pete and Polly, and we know for certain that little Sam will be grow up with love, laughter, and if his dad has his way, with a lot of skiing, biking, skateboarding and other assorted riskier sports activity.

Congrats Pete and Polly!

What is a Blarney Scone?

New this year for St. Patrick's Day is a tasty soda bread about the size of a scone. We have, with some levity, named it the Blarney Scone. Unlike the famous Blarney Stone of Blarney Castle in Blarney, Ireland, kissing this scone, or in this case actually parting your lips and consuming it passionately, will not impart the gift of gap, the ability to flatter or "deceive without offending." In truth, and without bluster, we can assure anyone who tries this special treat that they will be filled with a great peace and a great oneness with everything Irish.

Also, they will be eating a nutritious and versatile snack. We start with a lean batter, meaning it is low in fat. The great thing about that is you can then freely bulk it up with your own toppings, whether that be butter, English clotted cream, jams, jellies or any combination thereof. The scone is surprisingly light and airy, given that it contains, in addition to unbleached all-purpose flour, 10% whole wheat flour, 10% oats and 10% organic barley flour. The liquid in the batter is provided by low-fat buttermilk. Sweetened with sugar, honey and the natural goodness of currants, we finish it off with a special blend of spices (including whole caraway seeds) which round out the flavors of the other ingredients without overpowering everything.

Available now through Saturday.
Try them out soon, because we're sure people won't be able to stop talking about them

St. Patrick's Day is a Hop, Skip and a Jump Away

In these parts St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, is a big deal. In Holyoke, where I was born and where I currently live, SPD is more than a big deal, it's almost a religious cult. The St. Patrick's Day Parade in Holyoke is on the Sunday closest to the actual saint's day, and this year that Sunday is March 18th. There will be floats and marching bands, dignitaries and politicians, colleens and clowns. Thousands will line the route to watch and more will watch on TV. There will be a lot of baby in strollers. A lot of beer and whiskey will be imbibed. The spirit of the fun-loving Irish will be infectious.

So at the bakery, we make a nod to this tradition and offer a few pastries and breads, some traditional, others more inventive. All are offered in the spirit of the first hints of Spring. Even our pastries where the green.

Linzer O'Hearts- Dark Chocolate cookies with a mint jelly filling

Guinness Brownies

Irish Soda Bread- A buttermilk biscuit bread with currants and caraway. Not too sweet.

Green French Macaroons- Almond flour shells with a dark ganache center and Irish Whiskey-flavored butter cream filling.

Blarney Scones- A new addition this year. A slightly sweeter buttermilk scone with oats, currants, caraway and lemon and nutmeg.

We will also be making our Black and Tan cupcakes- a Guinness Brownie-batter cupcake with a mountain of Irish Whiskey butter cream on top. Picture to follow tomorrow.

And don't forget our famous Hot Cross Buns- an eggy, buttery roll with golden raisins and spices, topped with a sugar icing cross. They break the boundary between Winter and Spring. We will have these treats weekends through Easter.

All of our St. Patrick's Day treats will be available now 'til the parade.

Hot Cross Buns

The Lenten season begins on Wednesday, February 22nd and so begins our traditional production of Hot Cross Buns. These rolls are made from a rich egg bread dough, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, and laced with golden raisins. A cross of sweet fondant tops each bun. After Wednesday we will be offering these treats every Friday and Saturday until Easter. Stop by for yours while they last.

Some New January Treats

We may have turned the corner on the shortest day of the year, and we may have had a pretty mild Winter to date (today's little dusting excepted), but January is still the darkest month for me. I think I'm suffering from the post-Holiday Season blues.

You'd think that after all the hard work, long hours and hectic rushing around at the bakery last month, I'd actually relish a little quiet time. But it's just too quiet for me and I'm having a hard time focusing and getting motivated; it's the baker's January existential question, "What is the meaning of being a baker in January?" Well, really, the answer is, "There isn't much!"

Christmas and New Year's tend to sate customers of any desire to shop more and eat more. And Valentine's Day, the next best holiday for bakers, is still too far down the road. Right now it's  j u s t  t o o  b o r i n g        h e r e ....

So, aside from doing a lot of cleaning in our kitchen, something we always do more of in January because a) we have the time and b) it really needs some TLC after the holiday rush, I thought it would be fun to try out some chocolate inspired treats in preparation for Valentines Day. Now, there's no guarantee that either of these products will make it to February, but for now, there's something about these short days and long dark nights that makes me want to bake something equally dark and 'short' (which refers to the crumb, of course).

Our first item came to me in a dream (literally) or in that first, semi-lucid moment when one emerges from a dream. Either way, it was inspired rather than invented. It's a Pear/Chocolate Sour Cream Coffeecake, and it's sensational.

Dark and deep, like our cold New England woods this time of year, it's a tea time dessert that, quite frankly, you just want to get lost in. The 'short' chocolate sour cream cake, studded with pecan crumble, is contrasted perfectly with  the soft and moist pear slices sunken into the top. Like all our desserts, it is full-bodied, satisfying, but not overly sweet.

Gratuitously, I've added one more picture of this dessert, because I, personally, find it irresistible. Maybe you will too.

Our second new treat is a lot less seductive than the first and far more straight forward. It is our Chocolate Shortbread with Cocoa Nibs.

These shortbread squares are dark and buttery with the added moistness of honey. They are less cake-like than a brownie because, like all shortbread, they do not contain eggs. The addition of cocoa nibs adds a pleasant crunch to the texture. Cocoa nibs are the crushed bits of the roasted cocoa beans. To quote the website , cocoa nibs are packed with "powerful nutrients and natural mood lifters" and are a "crunchy antioxidant pick me up." Now, who couldn't use all this to fight the post holiday blues.

Galette des Rois

This weekend, in honor of the Feast of the Epiphany, we will be baking a Galette des Rois. This is a splendid all-butter puff pastry dessert, light and flaky, with a sweet frangipan (almond cream) filling. The galette is approximately 8" in diameter and will serve 8-10 people nicely. The Epiphany is the Twelfth Day of Christmas when the three Wise Men from the East arrived with gifts for the Christ child. In the Eastern Orthodox Church it is day on which its followers actually celebrate Christmas. Our version of the King's Cake is made in the Northern French tradition. A variation using brioche dough and fruit, called a Gâteau des Rois, is more common in Provence. Our Swiss Christmas Knot would certainly fall into that category.

Traditionally, a bean or small trinket is hidden in the galette. This custom goes back to the Roman Saturnalia festival, and the person lucky enough to be served the piece of cake with the bean was crowned king of the feast and awarded special privileges. In today's litigious America we have decided to eschew the placement of any small choking hazard in our dessert.

Our galette is crowned with an intricate scored design, which, in itself, should be a prize worthy of all your guests lucky enough to sample a slice of this special dessert.

Store Information

Bakery Normand
192 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060

Tuesday to Saturday, 7:30am-5:30pm

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