Butter consumption has hit a 40-year high in this country, with an annual per capita rate of 5.6 pounds. That’s roughly 22 sticks, up from 4.1 pounds (right around 16 sticks) in 1997. This factoid, courtesy of the American Butter Institute — yes, it’s an honest-to-goodness trade association, based outside of Washington, D.C. — will not come as a surprise to anyone who has waited in line at Honey and Rye Bakehouse.
Baker and co-owner Anne Andrus must buy it by the truckload from her supplier, a fourth-generation central Wisconsin buttermaker, as the golden stuff seems to enrich nearly every item that comes out of her ovens.
Andrus finds inspiration in her mother’s and grandmother’s well-worn cookbooks, steering one Betty Crocker-esque recipe after another through the prism of her culinary education and training. Focusing on pies, layer cakes, cookies, egg bakes and a variety of breads, Andrus demonstrates how, through expert preparation, the comforting and familiar can still elicit a thrill or two.
Let’s talk about the brownies. Andrus avoids the distractions (nuts, caramel, frosting) and gets right to it, skipping the usual sugar rush in favor of a cocoa- and bittersweet chocolate wallop. Talk about simple pleasures: The wonderfully crusty top shields a more-fudgey-than-cakey bar.
Coconut lovers will feel right at home, whether it’s a not-too-sweet ode to the Almond Joy candy bar, or the gigantic, crispy-chewy macaroons. But the top of the heap clearly belongs to a cream pie, one where Andrus takes advantage of every opportunity to infuse with coconut flavor but then at the last minute tempers any potential overkill by sneaking in a layer of chocolate ganache. She’s got a hit on her hands.
Andrus’ all-butter pie crusts are wonders of construction, so flaky and tender and yet sturdy enough to hold up under the weight of all that coconut cream.
She excels at finding opportunities to put that peerless pie dough to work. The quiches are first-rate, but even more impressive are the homey Pop Tart-style savory hand pies.
Co-owner Emily Ackerman prefers to call them “picnic pies,” a suitable name for filling rectangles of that butter dough with sweet potatoes and sage — or a particularly timelessly appealing combination of apples, Cheddar and thyme. With edges crimped by a fork and tops bronzed and glossy via an egg wash, they just might be the ultimate grab-and-go lunch item.
Croissants, breads and more
What’s refreshing is what’s not on the menu. No cupcakes, cake pops, pastel-tinted almond macaroons or other once-trendy treats.
And just when it appears as if Andrus has disappeared deep into some idealized Minnesota farm wife impersonation, out come the croissants, bewitchingly golden brown and sold without embellishment, or evenhandedly filled with sweet (chocolate, almonds) or savory (ham and Swiss cheese) ingredients.
The results — so flaky, so delicate, so not native to this place — are instantly satisfying. “Croissants are a pain in the butt,” said Andrus. “But I love eating them, so I figured I might as well buckle down and do them right. They don’t come easy, that’s for sure. They’re definitely an art.”
In another incongruous nod to the French, there are madeleines, with their just-right spongy texture and modest flavor. They’re also just knobbly enough so that there’s no mistaking them for the exacting output of a fancy-schmancy Gallic bakery.
As for the well-rendered breads, there’s a handful of always-available standards, including a dense, super-intense rye and a kind of kitchen-sink multigrain boule that radiates virtuousness in each nutty bite.
The baguettes have an admirably pronounced outer crackle that masks a hefty interior chew, and the schedule of daily specials (plump soft pretzels glistening with flaky salt on Thursday, a gleaming, voluptuous challah on Friday) are reason to become a regular.
Here’s another: Andrus has been funneling the overflow from Saturday’s Asiago-infused sourdough into a strata enriched with Gruyère, slow-cooked onions and kale. Heaven.
Also of note are the two constantly changing preprepared sub-style baguette sandwiches, and well-rendered daily soups, where — miracle of miracles — the vegetables manage to maintain a semblance of their texture, flavor and color.
Quick breads, pound cake-heavy, intensely moist and sliced thick enough for two, are also a treat. Last week’s orange-poppyseed variation, singing with bitter orange zest, was representative of much of Andrus’ work in the way it avoided cloying sweetness. That’s an admirable trait, one that’s found all across the menu. Even the tender cinnamon pull-aparts, a usual suspect among the toothache-sweet, keep the sugar to a minimum.
Andrus and Ackerman have reconfigured the footprint of a former free-standing dry cleaner to allow maximum curiosity-seeking peeks into the kitchen while emphasizing cheery, vintage touches. There’s such a hospitable vibe that it’s a shame that there’s room for only 10 dine-in seats.
At the counter, supply doesn’t always keep pace with demand, and even when it does, the selection can feel a bit thin, although the assortment seems to grow with each passing week.
Those on the lookout for minor flaws can find them. You know, a too-stiff buttercream icing, an overbaked thumbprint cookie, a dry and uncharacteristically dull coffee cake.
A prime example involves one of the bakery’s signature items. It’s a dream of a butterscotch pie — brown butter ranks high among Andrus’ favorite flavors — that’s basically a graham-cracker crust filled with that old-fashioned custard and crowned with swirls of scorched meringue (“burnt marshmallows, the best smell in the world,” said Andrus with a laugh).
That the custard doesn’t always set properly is, to me anyway, more endearing than eyebrow-raising, a demonstration of Andrus’ all-in commitment to every dimension of the home-baking equation. After all, who among us hasn’t been thwarted by a pie-making mishap?
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