The best days are the days you hear a bakery is about to open four minutes from your house. I had one of those days recently and I’m finally ready to share the details—now I’ve been assured there’ll be enough cookies, cupcakes, pastry, fresh-baked bread, etc. for all of us.
The bakery, The Bentonville Baking Company, is slated to open its doors the first weekend in November in the Ice House building in downtown Bentonville’s gelling “Market District”. At 406 SE 5th St., Suite 2, to be exact.
It’s going to be a full-service bakery offering daily fresh-baked breads, cakes, pastries, cookies and cupcakes, among other things, owner Gwen Hilligrass tells me. “It’s a full-service, old Italian down-in-the-neighborhood kind of bakery,” she explains. Hilligrass’ newest baking endeavor is the brick-and-mortar evolution of a cottage baking business she’s been running out of her Bentonville home for roughly the past year and a half. And while she’s passionate about baking, she’ll be the first to tell you when she and her family moved to Northwest Arkansas two years ago from New York, opening a bakery was not in the game plan.
It was about a decade ago that Hilligrass discovered her passion for baking, which began as a mother’s effort to meet the gluten-free dietary needs of her eldest daughter. Back then, the gluten-free options that are available today simply did not exist, so she herself began testing flour combinations and recipes to come up with gluten-free bread that her daughter could enjoy. In the process, she discovered she had a knack for baking. So did family members and friends who began asking her to bake up non gluten-free breads for them. From there, she began dabbling in cake baking/decorating and before she knew it a close friend (Amy) had convinced her to open a bakery in the small town in the Adirondacks where she lived. That’s how The Piseco Baking Company was born, a bakery that became popular not only with the locals, but with the swarms of New York City dwellers who’d flock to town each summer to escape the heat.
The Piseco Baking Company was the kind of bakery where you could enjoy a cup of coffee (complimentary) with your pastry, cookie or cupcake while reading the paper or visiting with other locals. When Hilligrass and her family decided to move to NWA so that her husband could pursue a career opportunity, hearts were broken. After the move, busy enough with her three children and carving out a new life in Northwest Arkansas, Hilligrass was not looking to begin baking commercially again. One day, however, she made a new friend (another Amy!) who after learning of her past as the owner of a successful bakery began slowly chipping away at her.
“At the end of the day,” says Hilligrass, “she got me to realize, ‘you know, I really do miss this.’”
Now, with customer demand—established through referrals, her solid social media presence and the baking classes and team building events she hosts—having outgrown her home oven, Hilligrass is once again launching into the local brick-and-mortar bakery business. And as I can personally attest, the community she’ll be serving this go-round has been chomping at the bit for what she has to offer—a place to not only get a custom-baked cake or cupcakes for an event, but somewhere you can pop into for a sweet treat for yourself or a fresh-baked loaf of bread to take dinner to the next level.
With a staunch philosophy of using the highest quality ingredients and a commitment to never taking an order that can’t be filled on a fresh baking schedule, The Bentonville Baking Company’s menu will include a tantalizing variety of offerings.
For one thing, customers will be able to get the decorated, iced-sugar cookies Hilligrass and her team have already begun to be known for in these parts. The cookies, which will be sold either individually or customized by the dozen, are more soft, pillowy shortbread than sugar cookie. The right balance of citrus and vanilla make them stand outs.
Artisanal breads, such as olive bread and a newly concocted jalapeno bread, among many other kinds of fresh-baked breads will also be on offer. And along with a variety of cookies, hand-rolled cinnamon and pecan rolls, and various other pastries, each day customers will have three specialty cupcakes to choose from. Three flavors Hilligrass has perfected include: a “Triple Chocolate” cupcake—think Dutch chocolate with a chocolate ganache filling and a chocolate fudge frosting (!); a “French Vanilla” cupcake with a vanilla/orange pastry cream filling and a “Swiss Meringue Buttercream” cupcake. In addition, there will be a wide variety of gluten-free goodies on the menu, including breads, cupcakes and cookies.
Last week, I had an opportunity to sample what the folks at The Bentonville Baking Company can do. And while I am planning to do a full-on “First Look” write-up once the bakery is open, I’d like to take a sec to give you a “Pre-First Look” of the “Chocolate Chunk Cookie” I was lucky enough to get my hands on. Hours before I bit into the cookie, Hilligrass had informed me that she was a chocolate lover, and while I had no reason to doubt her, the cookie more than verified her claim. The cookie itself was dark chocolate (a touch of espresso powder emboldened its dark chocolate flavor) and nestled within were chunks of both high quality semi-sweet and bittersweet dark chocolate. The cookie was thick and robust enough, so that in each bite I got a combination of the cookie crumb and the two kinds of chocolate. If you’re a TRUE chocolate lover (someone who fumes at the mere mention of “white chocolate” and has no time for “milk chocolate”), this cookie is for you!
Check back in a few weeks for my official “First Taste” of The Bentonville Baking Company. I know know, I have a tough job!