“So,” I asked him recently while we stood in front of Bakeshop’s counter, “are you a boulanger or a pâtissier?” Although a few individuals are equally attracted to bread, pastries, and cakes, most career bakers specialize early on. “Bread is what I like to do; I love the simplicity of it,” St. Hilaire answered. Together we bent over fat ringed books of recipes he’s assembled over the years, discussing the fine points of couronne (a bread shaped like a crown) and épi (a baguette spiked like a sheaf of wheat).
To make his basic bread recipe, St. Hilaire uses a carefully nurtured sourdough starter, originally based on organic grapes, tied up in cheesecloth. He goes through pallets of unbleached flour and, in some cases, instead of kneading the bread with plain water, he soaks Granny Smith apples, grinding them after a short fermentation to add a bit of sweetness to the dough and intensify the crumb. “I don’t like airy bread,” he told me, a point on which I agree wholeheartedly. My favorite thing at Bakeshop is the bacon baguette studded with tender, oinky chunks of cured pork. My allegiance goes next to the croissants, which St. Hilaire makes personally on a machine that resembles a laundry press.
I don’t care much for the big, rough cookies I have bought at Bakeshop, but I am quite impressed with the danishes, the stuffed croissants, and the adorable little cakes assembled or baked in tiny Mason jars. (The latter are quite the alternative to typical footstool-sized cakes that, when sold by the slice, lose their freshness by the hour.)
While it already functions as a neighborhood bakery luring Midtown residents, Bakeshop also has a steady wholesale business that supplies, among others, the Four Seasons, the Hotel Palomar, Craft, and Parish with anything from challah to breadsticks. It is also a cafe where delicious sandwiches are served on sleek butcher-block tables. St. Hilaire brings his culinary background into play, offering fun goat cheese pissaladières shaped like thin individual pizzas and baking juicy bratwurst inside a sleeve of baguette.
There is a bullhorn hanging near the kitchen, and a pink sign reminds everyone to keep calm. On the whole, though, the open kitchen looks harmonious and composed and produces a minimum of noise. Bakeshop is a great place to hang out with a newspaper and a cupcake while watching others do their work.
903 Peachtree Street, 404-892-9322, bakeshopatl.com
Photograph by Neda Abghari