The first thing that hits you is the aroma. As soon as the door opens to The Bakehouse in Litchfield, the air is filled with scents of fresh bread, cupcakes, cookies, croissants and other pastries. A few moments later, as you bite into these goods, from a magnificent sourdough bread to a soft Sperlonga loaf, or the warm buttery croissant or perfectly sweetened cookie, you realize your initial senses did not lead you astray.
Allison Varian and Jeremy McKendry opened The Bakehouse in May in the old Litchfield Jail, across from the town green. McKendry is a breadmaking master, having studied the art — and in his hands it is indeed that — at the International Culinary Center in New York City, formerly the French Culinary Institute. After school, McKendry worked as head baker at a Whole Foods Market in Yonkers, New York, where he met Varian, a baker and professionally trained pastry decorator. Three years ago, the couple decided they wanted to open a bakery of their own.
“We came across Litchfield after two years of looking,” McKendry says. They quickly fell in love with the spot and thought it would be a perfect place to share their baking skills, and were happy to find the old jail space available. As McKendry puts it, “The jailhouse is a bonus; the town was the prize.”
The secret to the bakery’s bread, McKendry says, is the pre-ferments, or starters, for the dough. McKendry began using one starter, his “poolish,” when he was in culinary school about 10 years ago. “I’ve been maintaining it ever since,” he says. “Its flavor comes from its surroundings. The water, the flour, the time of year, the temperature all play a part.”
The fermentation is what creates the rich bread flavors found at the bakery, along with the reverence McKendry and Varien place on the baking process. Asked about their challah bread, a traditional Jewish bread made with eggs and oil and generally eaten on Friday evenings and Saturdays, McKendry says, “Challah is more than just flour, water, eggs and honey, so we treat it that way.” The result of this process is a braided challah bread that glistens with a beautiful golden-brown crust and tastes every bit as good as it looks.
When it comes to the pastries, McKendry says it’s all about ingredients and execution. “We use flour, water, butter, sugar, salt, math and passion to create great treats,” he says. The cupcakes are perfectly presented with flowing designs on their tops, and a flavor that is hard to forget. Popular cake flavors include chocolate ganache and the lemon curd, one of the bakery’s signatures. There are also muffins, cinnamon rolls and other treats.
Beyond pastries and bread, The Bakehouse offers excellent coffee, including nitro cold brew on tap, which is sourced from Sacred Ground Coffee Roasters in Sherman.
Both McKendry and Varian are excited to own a business in Litchfield. “We found a town that had a need for our skills,” McKendry says. “We couldn’t be happier.”