By Lizzy Caston. Updated 12.18 – new details, photos, etc.
Baker and Spice is nowhere near my house, yet I seem to have developed quite a knack for inventing errands that take me to or near its Hillsdale location. “Ummm… I need to go to Fred Meyer. Yes, the six other Fred Meyer stores closer to home were plumb out of tulip bulbs, so I had to cruise out to the Burlingame store. Oh, and since I was so close, I swung by Baker and Spice on my way home. You know, because I was right there anyway…”
I am a baker. Extremely amateur, of course, but I’ve been at it since I was seven or eight. I even have a couple of 4-H trophies from 5th-6th grade to prove it. My first cookbook (besides the hand-me-down Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls, circa 1972) was Peter Rabbit’s Natural Foods Cookbook. The former exposed me to the delights of painted sugar cookies, Bunny Salad, and the (until now unrealized) Enchanted Castle Cake, and the latter guided me through Beatrix Potter-illustrated Littletown-Farm Carrot Cookies and Tabitha Twitchit’s Spicy Raisin Dessert.
Baker and Spice is the ideal union of these two schools: hippy/crunchy/organic and straight-ahead, traditional desserts and patisserie. You can munch a toothsome, generously portioned slice of moist and earthy buckwheat banana bread for breakfast and follow it up with a mini lemon curd tart, or perhaps a flakey almond or chocolate croissant. If sweets aren’t your bag, you can choose from a number of savory bread puddings, galettes or croissants. On a recent visit, my friend chose the seasonal galette, which was a pleasing composition of squash, leeks, Gruyère and thyme cradled in a pillowy puff pastry with crisped edges. Most of the non-sweet items seem to involve Gruyère cheese in one way or another, although the award-winning Cypress Grove Chèvre of Humboldt, California makes appearances, as well.
But whether they’re satisfying your craving for sweet or savory, the bakery incorporates top-notch imported and seasonal ingredients from local farms and producers into their goods. Their commitment to sustainable and quality ingredients is reflected in the simple, down-to-earth charm of the bakery’s interior. Designed and built with mostly recycled and renewable materials by Richardson’s husband and business partner, Matt, there are eight small tables, a 10-12 seat community table and large windows that ample daylight as you nibble, read the paper, and covet your neighbor’s selections after your own have sadly disappeared.
It must be said, however, that the reason this joint shines in a town lousy with bakeries, is not because the wheat for their flour was grown without pesticides, or that the menus are printed on recycled paper. Rather, the reason I find myself making the trek to Hillsdale is that their scones, cookies, bread pudding and assorted tea cakes, tarts and flourless chocolate tortes simply taste really good.
These are a few of Baker and Spice’s standouts, although by no means a comprehensive list:
Cookies: I have so much to say about cookies. I love them and often my judgment of a bakery is based on the greatness (or not-so-greatness) of the cookies, much in the way a chef is judged by his soup. In this regard, Baker and Spice wins many points. I’m a huge fan of oatmeal cookies in general, and this one has secured solid standing on my go-to-oatmeal cookie list. It is mercifully not over baked (as they so often are) and manages to be simultaneously crunchy and chewy, studded with sweet golden raisins and toasted almonds. The chocolate crackle is rich with deep, dark chocolate. I’ve tasted the standard chocolate chip, made with milk chocolate and not semi-sweet chips. [Try their Duncan’s Delight; one of my favorite cookies. FD]
Scones: As good as I’ve tasted, cranberry oat with almond and citrus currant. They are unctuous and solid – not a dry or crumbly.
Morning Bread: The aforementioned banana buckwheat, in addition to carrot and zucchini garden bread as well as seasonal varieties such as cranberry orange. The three types I tasted were as moist and packed with flavor.
Croissants/Laminated Pastries: Butter, almond, chocolate croissants, Dijon Gruyère, ham and Gruyère croissants, various twists, hand-pies and sweet buns.
Bread Pudding: Almond with seasonal berries, chocolate and savory, made from croissants. I tried a Marionberry one during the summer, which was fantastic. In the Fall a rum raisin with maple occasionally makes it into the display case.
Bread: Sourdough, French white, baguette, harvest round and assorted buns and rolls. Specialty bread includes a sour rye, semolina sesame and a wonderfully chewy and sweet/savory currant loaf, among others. I would not go out of my way for the baguette – it is fine, but certainly not my favorite. I prefer a denser country-style French bread.
NOTE: The challah is the best in Portland; moist, sweet and slightly cakey. They are available on Fridays only, of course, beginning at approximately 11 am. It is recommended to call and reserve a loaf since they invariably sell out well before day’s end.
The Thanksgiving menu lists several tempting items, including a caramelized pecan tart and seasonal pies such as a Spicy Pumpkin, Double Crusted Apple and Double Crusted Pear Raspberry. A dark and molasses-heavy gingerbread cake with espresso glaze is made as a Bundt or a mini single-serving round. There is also an orange-glazed pumpkin cranberry Bundt as well as a rum glazed applesauce Bundt. Bundt cakes really are under-glamorized; they are the schoolmarm of cakes. Baker and Spice, however, has stepped up to the plate in giving the Bundt it’s due propers, creating moist rounds that glisten with flavor-infused sugar glazes. [Around St. Patrick’s Day stop by and get a rum Irish bundt cake. I have been known to eat an entire cake in one sitting. FD]
If you are looking for something even more substantial, a selection of sandwiches and daily homemade soups are available. I’ve been very happy with everything I’ve had here.
I still have both of those first cookbooks, which have succeeded in shaping my tastes well into adulthood. I adore a dense chocolate brownie, but I will never turn my nose up at a wheat germ-laced protein-packed oatmeal/muesli based treat. I am a Eugene girl who was raised on sesame honey candy and homemade granola. Luckily, my home baking experience remained somewhat balanced in this regard. That is to say, while I dodged the frequent carob bullets fired by many a well-meaning (and apparently tastebud-less) baker, I also licked my way through more than a couple bowlfuls of Tollhouse cookie dough and Cherry Chip cake batter. And while there’s nothing fake or artificial about the lovely Pink Cake at Baker and Spice (colored naturally with French raspberry purée), this bakery is a nice reflection of the varying schools that have informed my tastes and love for all things sweet, baked and natural.
This is why going to Baker and Spice is so comforting and familiar; it brings it all together, full circle. So, for a sweet little visit home, a quick trip out to Hillsdale isn’t such a long drive after all.
Address: 6330 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97239. Map
Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 6 am-6 pm. Saturday and Sunday: 7 am-6 pm. Closed Monday
I HAVE that Betty Crocker’s Cookbook! The chocolate pudding cake in there is the best anywhere. You are right on about Baker and Spice. I was bummed when the donut shop closed that used to inhabit the space (another local place, gone!) but then they opened Baker and Spice and I could be happy again…ooooh so yummy.
Ha! Thanks for the cookie kudos, Joanna.
Great piece, so fun. And, man, talk about comprehensive. And I completely agree about B & S chocolate crackle, just a fantastic little deep dark cookie.
great blog! will definetely go to Baker and Spice next time I’m anywhere near there.
Funny you should mention the fudge pudding cake – that is the one recipe that both cookbooks have in common. The only differnce being that Peter Rabbit adds wheat germ (natch) and twice as much cocoa powder (oh yeah!) – and gives the option of using carob powder (cough) instead. It’s a magical cake when you are eight. As described in B.C: A topsy -turvey dessert – after baking, the cake is on the top and the sauce is on the bottom!” Time to revisit this one.
Nancy: Thanks. It was quite a sacrifice and a real chore, but I believe in being comprehensive. Glad you agree about the crackle – you should know.
I LOVE those guys. It’s a wonderful place doing wonderful work!
The crumbcake is exceptional, the best I ever had. So is everything else!
Amazing to see the dedication and enthousiasm this young couple has.
Great review. I am so glad you thought of them. Thank you!
Lynn S. says
I had that cookbook too, the Betty Crocker. I wish I still did, my kids love to cook. Baker & Spice is so evilly delicious that I can’t go near any place that carries their goods; I’m wheat-sensitive and get upset stomachs etc from it, but it’s worth the discomfort for B&S.
Funny, the baguette IS one of my favves there! ;o)
We’ve also become kind of addicted to the coconut cake – moist, dense, nutmeg-y and cococnutty – mmmm…
Of course, the lemon tart is great, as are any of the croissants/laminated pastries.
That reader, was in fact, ME! (Not so) subtle self-promotion… Let me know when you’re in town – I would love to be your B S tour guide. For real.
There’s always the flourless chocolate cake… wheat free!
I guess baguette is in the eye of the beholder. I’m happy you enjoy it, though.
shuna fish lydon says
I imagine I can be a future “errand excuse” for you… an eggbeater reader has sent me this link!
Perhaps I will see Portland again in ’07.
I’m eating a Baker and Spice savory galette right now! I’ve never been to their store, only had their offerings at the portland market, but I NEED to check out the store. I have to break out of this galette and katie roll cycle!
Couple of points.
Started eating hand pies at the Saturday Market from Baker and Spice years ago and was always amazed when I would stray to other items with Ms. Richardson’s perfect pitch on anything she would bake.
Another thing to note, some make things that taste good, some make things that also have good mouth feel, but she also makes things that always look incredible.
Like I said, perfect pitch.
P.S. I think this is a pretty good town for bakeries. I also go to Ken’s and the Pearl. There are even more.
P.P.S. The savory galettes are amazing.
Vicki G. says
I agree, Baker and Spice is one of the most wonderful bakeries I’ve have ever met. The mochas are the very best. I’m waiting for them to put Carschmucks out of business.
Lynn S. if you are sensitive to wheat try their wheatless chocolate torte, you and everybody else will never miss the wheat.
Thanks for the great review and suggestions for more stuff to try at Baker and Spice.
As much as I love the croissants and cookies, I find that some of the baked goods are too heavy. The crumbcake, for example, is so greasy that it stains the bag, and it sits in your gut for half the day. The lemon tart has a nasty after taste of something chemical. The service tries so hard to be friendly, but is actually inefficiently slow. Yes, I keep going back for the things I love, but there is much not to love here, too. PS: the coffee is too strong for my palate: good thing there’s a Starbucks next door…
Marshall Manning says
When they’re cooked properly, things like the maple twist are excellent, but they still seem to overcook a lot of the items and make them too dark and dried out.
And I agree on the crumbcake, Kath, it’s never been one of my favorites. The topping is too hard and dry and the cake itself is a little greasy. Try the Katie bun or the maple twist as long as they don’t look too dark and dry.
Kath and Marshall:
Quite coincidentally, my sister mentioned the B+S crumbcake to me moments (literally) before I read your comments. Strange. She was talking about how much she and her 5 year-old son (my nephew)loved it, and how the entire piece fed 4 people. (By the way, it’s butter, not grease that is staining the bag. Are you telling me that croissants don’t leave butter stains on the bag?)
I also think the crumb cake is delicious, having tasted it from the free sample plate at the counter – a perfect 2-bite situation. So, was somebody holding a gun to your head, demanding that you cram down the entire piece of crumb cake in one sitting? Maybe you could eat, say, a third of a piece so it’s not “sitting in your gut for half the day.” Just an idea.
I certainly haven’t loved everything I’ve eaten there (oatmeal cookie, gingerbread), but overall, I think it’s pretty great. And I, more than most people, appreciate that a good cookie (scone, banana bread or croissant) is in the mouth of the beholder. But Kath, you lost a whole lot of credibility with this one: “the coffee is too strong for my palate: good thing there’s a Starbucks next door…”
What? That makes me sad. It also arouses suspicion as to the fitfullness of your tastebuds, frankly. Which might explain your experience of the lemon tart’s “chemicial taste.”
Starbucks over Zbeans? Seriously?
How do you like their challah? I don’t know of a better one in town, but if you do – I want to hear.
Marshall: Thanks for the maple twist tip. J’adore all things maple, but have inexplicably not tried these. Time for a trip to Hillsdale.
Thanks to both of you for writing – fun to hear comments so long after having written that post.
The challah is really good. And I also like their baguette and ficelle.
I agree on that maple twist and the katie bun. One of my faves there is the coconut cake (which, thankfully, comes in a mini-cake size ;o).
Jo, I freely admit I’m a coffee light-weight. I also don’t have a palate for wine, but not everyone likes wine or even coffee for that matter. And butter is still, in the end, just grease. Half a piece or even a third is still too rich and heavy. A breakfast coffee cake should satisfy; if you have to eat a small portion in order to not feel horrible and you’re still hungry afterwards, that just doesn’t work for me. And no, the croissants don’t get the same grease stains on the bag. Ever. I had 2 croissants this week. They are good.
I haven’t tried their challah, but their sandwich bread is wonderful, with a chewy and somewhat malty crust. It reminds me of the wheat levain at the Pearl Bakery, or Ken’s Country Blonde. I get it unsliced. They make a ciabatta loaf with the same dough that is also good.
The sponge cake there is also totally yummy with a bit of crust on the outside and melt in your mouth light cake on the inside. Mmmmm….