Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Bake Shop at Red Wagon Plants Grows in Hinesburg

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click to enlarge

  • Courtesy of Carey Nershi
  • Dark chocolate sourdough (front) and assorted bake shop treats

I’m way behind in the garden this year. Weeds are high, spring cleanup barely happened, and the only things I’ve planted are three leftover mystery tomatoes my neighbor handed over the fence.

But that hasn’t kept me away from Red Wagon Plants in Hinesburg. In fact, I made my first visit of the year earlier than ever, on March 30, when the nursery held its open house and the official unveiling of its new on-site bake shop. Instead of flowers and veggie starts, I’ve been coming home with chive-and-cheddar focaccia, chocolate sourdough, coconut buns, pinsa flatbreads with white bean-za’atar dip, gluten-free brownies, jam pinwheels, and pistachio-cardamom cookies — all made by Amy Vogler and Carey Nershi.

The Bake Shop at Red Wagon Plants is a glorious, plant-adjacent pastry haven that happened “by sheer accident,” Vogler said.

Sitting together at a picnic table after baking was done on a recent Sunday, Vogler, Nershi and Red Wagon owner Julie Rubaud recounted the bakery’s evolution. Its building was originally constructed to house the nursery’s sister business, Red Wagon Herbs, and processing space for herb salts and vinegars.

Red Wagon has often hosted food pop-ups over the years, and an on-site restaurant was part of Rubaud’s vision “semi-subconsciously,” she said. “It would float to the surface every now and then, but I didn’t think we would do anything for this year.”

Food professionals Vogler and Nershi met when they both happened to stop by Red Wagon on the same late February day — the former to drop off a spare flour mill, the latter to escape her house and midwinter boredom. Both were stunned by the space’s large commercial kitchen, which boasts a garage-door view that frames Camel’s Hump. Over a plate of Vogler’s ginger-rye cookies, they hatched a plan.

click to enlarge Amy Vogler and Carey Nershi at work in the bake shop - COURTESY OF LISA CASSELL-ARMS

  • Courtesy of Lisa Cassell-Arms
  • Amy Vogler and Carey Nershi at work in the bake shop

For the next month and a half, as the nursery’s production crew started work for the season, they held tastings of the baked goods they were scheming up.

“It was a whirlwind but in a very functional way,” Nershi said with a laugh.

Now, she and Vogler fill the glass pastry case Thursday through Sunday with their rustic-yet-refined treats. Often, they sell out before the shop’s closing.

“I thought it would be a couple slices of cake,” Rubaud joked. “It’s been busy.”

Not that she’s surprised, she clarified. Both bakers have serious culinary chops.

Vogler has a 20-year career in food television and recipe development, writing and testing. She’s cowritten high-profile cookbooks, such as Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery, and continues to work for the Jacques Pépin Foundation. Nershi is balancing the bake shop with freelance work, too: She’s a photographer, food stylist and recipe developer who has collaborated with brands such as Vermont Creamery and Food52. She’s famous among her friends for sending epic holiday treat boxes, for which she baked more than 1,000 cookies last year.

Running the bake shop differs in one key way from Nershi’s previous experience, she said: Things sell better when she fights the urge to be perfect.

“Nobody wants to buy a biscuit when there are six neatly arranged,” she said. “I have to pile them. No straight lines.”

“I’m the rustic one in the family,” Vogler added.

The bakers’ approach combines their styles and interests: Vogler has taken on yeasted doughs and sourdough, while Nershi handles the sweet side — though nothing’s too sweet, they explained.

“Not too sweet and not too fussy,” Vogler said.

It all fits into Rubaud’s vision for the space, which is full of well-worn and welcoming wood furniture, despite the building’s minimalist Scandinavian style. Waitsfield’s KS Coffee, tea, and Bristol’s Savouré sodas and seltzers round out the offerings.

Rubaud summed up the fare: It’s what your friend might serve you at their house, if that friend were an excellent cook.

“It doesn’t taste like it came out of a commercial kitchen,” she said. “And I love the combination of serving food that feels homey with people shopping for their gardens.”

At first, customers were stopping in for just one bakery item, the team said. Now, they’re leaving with boxes. I followed suit on that Sunday. Brie Gamez, who works the front of house for the bake shop, packed up my savory cheddar-chive focaccia ($6), savory-sweet dark chocolate sourdough ($6) and just-sweet-enough banana chocolate chip cookie ($3). I took bites of each before I reached my car, reveling in the simple yet surprising flavors.

My garden will get planted eventually, but I might just forget a plant or two to give myself an excuse to go back for pastries.

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