The best thing our restaurant critic ate this week was at this Dripping Springs bakery
Many diners have bitten into the flesh of fresh fruit plucked recently from a tree, or pulled a vegetable from the ground and tasted the reward of that immediacy. Stories about local ranchers humanely bringing pasture-raised meat to market strike romantic chords at farm-to-table restaurants. Wine lovers trot across the Hill Country sampling myriad wine varietals to discern terroir.
These are the kinds of poetry and narrative that feed the hearts and minds of food and wine obsessives. But pastry chef and baker Abby Love of Abby Jane Bakeshop knows that most diners have less of an appreciation for the science and alchemy involved in transforming grains into wonderful pastries and bread. Many have never experienced the complexity and nuance that differentiate the flavors and textures of products made with fresh stone-ground grains.
“Grains certainly aren’t as sexy as a cow or a beautiful radish,” Love told me recently over the phone. “We’re several steps removed from the feel-good part that people like to get excited about.”
That means some in Austin may wonder if a trip to Abby Jane Bakeshop in Dripping Springs is worth the effort for a loaf of bread or a pastry. One bite of sumptuous sourdough, soft chocolate chip cookie or pliant pizza, and anyone will be disabused of that notion.
You can taste the difference in every item at the bakery Love opened at the beginning of the year next to Barton Springs Mill. The proximity to James Brown’s mill fuels the flavor and small-scale locavore mission of Love, who served as the opening pastry chef at Dai Due.
Love gets all of her flour from Brown, who stone-grinds almost exclusively grains grown in Texas. The process makes a more nutrient-rich product and a quality you can taste. Some of the difference is obvious — the Rouge de Bordeaux flour imparts nuttiness and notes of baking spices in a pitch-black brownie made with black cocoa powder and a whisper of coffee.
That incredibly soft chocolate chip cookie? I think it maintains that texture from the oils of the grain’s germ that otherwise gets processed out with commodity flour. All I know is it tastes amazing.
I don’t need to understand the science to appreciate the best banquette I’ve ever had, the tawny loaf somehow crunchy but not hard. The kitchen filled the Dijon and salted butter-spread baguette one day with a salty country ham from Three Six General in San Marcos and slices of cheddar, and created another version with milky mozzarella cheese, pesto and heirloom tomatoes.
That same visit also included a lithe and sweet lemon corn cookie, using cornmeal from Barton Springs Mill, created by head baker Pam Thibodeaux, whom Love calls a “purely creative” baker who “imagines whole universes,” and a sesame cookie centered by a brilliant dollop of pomegranate caramel, a creation inspired by a cheese-paired event Love held with Antonelli’s Cheese Shop.
The pizzas weren’t part of the original roster at Abby Jane, but they are undoubtedly there to stay. Bubbled and charred, sturdy yet supple and dressed up with everything from a classic version pooled with mozzarella and dotted with piquant pepperoni to an earthy and vegetal combination of spring onion and mushrooms shimmering with oregano oil, chef Matt Lester’s pies are some of the best in Central Texas.
The L’Oca d’Oro and Lenoir alumnus also contributes to a case of simple and exceptional salads, like watermelon and cucumber brightened by Thai basil and an herbaceous wheat berry mix that tastes like tabbouleh without the tomatoes.
Several of the pastries and loaves that have snared my attention via Instagram were gone or not available by the time I arrived on a rainy Thursday. But I’ll be back.
Because, as Love told me, “Once you start eating these grains and the stuff that’s produced with these grains, I think you can absolutely taste the difference.”
If you go
Abby Jane Bakeshop, 16604 Fitzhugh Road in Dripping Springs, 512-383-5923, abbyjanebakes.com.