Sarah Ciccotello and Chris McQuary must be immune to the smell of their bakery by now, but I’m certainly not. I haven’t eaten breakfast when I come to visit them at their small communal kitchen in the North Valley, and I can feel my stomach begin rumbling when I catch the beautiful aroma of freshly baked pastries. The treats that Burque Bakehouse creates are truly a sensory experience: I vividly remember the pop of yellow yolk in their kimchi egg danish and the crunch of the flaky, layered pastry dough when I first took a bite of their artichoke-ricotta danish at the Rail Yards Market last year. I also remember having to go back for another one, because damn are they good.
There are tall rolling shelves full of danishes, croissants and sticky buns cooling in the cramped kitchen that Burque Bakehouse shares with Planty Sweet, ABQ Fit Food and New Mexico Ferments. Including Ciccotello and McQuary, there’s four people working in the kitchen, and with me and the photographer in the mix there’s barely any room to move around. “We’re looking to find our own space eventually,” is one of the first things Ciccotello tells me.
Ciccotello is the master baker in the room. She studied at the San Francisco Baking Institute and worked at Slate Street Café and Los Poblanos, as well as at the award-winning restaurant Compound in Santa Fe. After living here for 18 years, she was disappointed that there were no bakeries in Albuquerque making the kinds of bread and pastries she wanted to eat: immaculately crafted goods made from the highest quality ingredients. So, in 2015, she decided to make them herself. Burque Bakehouse started baking their goods and selling them at the Rail Yards and Downtown Growers’ Markets that year, and Burqueños responded by cleaning them out almost every weekend. Their popularity hasn’t waned since.
Although it certainly looks otherwise, McQuary assures me that this is the off-season for them—it’s January when I visit, so the weekend markets aren’t running and “everyone’s on a new diet, so they’re not picking up pastries so often.” Besides the markets, though, they’re still selling to some local cafés—Zendo Coffee, Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters and the Slate Street Café at the Albuquerque Museum. They also fill a select number of special orders for on- or off-menu items (Ciccotello bakes the occasional wedding or birthday cake) each year, but they’ve increasingly had to turn people down because they just can’t meet the demand with their limited space and workforce. Although it’s a good problem to have, it’s obvious that Ciccotello wants to be doing more.
“I want to start making more bread,” Ciccotello tells me, “but it’s hard to make bread on such a small scale.” There’s other things they want to do, too, like experiment with more local produce: “A danish is the perfect vehicle for whatever’s in season,” she says. Currently, they make their danishes with mushrooms from Edgewood, kimchi from their kitchenmates at New Mexico Ferments and cheese from Tucumcari Cheese Company and Old Windmill Dairy. They frequently pick up ingredients from local growers and producers while at the weekend markets, too. They also source all (or as much as they can get) of their flour from Sangre de Cristo, an agricultural cooperative north of Taos that grows strains of wheat native to New Mexico. “When they run out, there’s a flour from Utah that I like to use, too,” Ciccotello says. There is no part of the process or ingredients that she doesn’t obsess over.
And it pays off in the final product: Burque Bakehouse’s goods are delicious, unique and beautiful. Attention is paid to every detail, like the sprinkle of black sesame seeds on the kimchi egg danish or the coating of fine speculoos sugar on the cruffins (that’s a croissant-muffin, mind you). The twice-baked almond croissant (their best seller) was born out of necessity—they wanted to find a way to use day-old croissants instead of throwing them out. The “stale” croissants are filled with almond cream and then baked a second time, then coated in powdered sugar and sliced almonds. The result is a crunchy, delightfully sweet treat.
For Ciccotello, it’s clear that this is a case of somebody finding their calling.
They expect to have a bakery and storefront of their own sometime before 2020, and the sooner the better. The size of their current kitchen limits their production capacity by quite a lot—more space would mean they could hire more bakers and experiment with more recipes that only make sense to make in large quantities. With the popularity of Burque Bakehouse’s goods, it’s doubtless that a storefront would be a runaway success. Add some locally-roasted coffee into the mix and it sounds like a place I’ll be spending every weekend morning at.
Before I leave the kitchen, Ciccotello asks me if I’m a baker. “Just an amateur one,” I say, as she pulls something in a plastic bin off of a shelf. “Would you like some of our sourdough starter? His name is Larry,” she says. (It’s traditional to name one’s sourdough starter, though it’s usually a woman’s name—“Larry,” for some reason, makes me giggle.) “It’s all New Mexico wild yeasts in there, so it won’t taste like any other sourdough.” This is the same starter that goes into nearly all of Burque Bakehouse’s pastries and breads, so I knew I was getting something good. I had been trying and failing all winter to get my own starter going, but it’s too cold and drafty in my apartment for the yeasts to become active. I was already walking out of their bakery with a bag full of pastries; to say that this last gift was generous is an understatement.
Some of that starter went into a beautiful loaf of sourdough a few days after the interview. The smell while baking it was amazing. I’ll certainly be sending the folks over at Burque Bakehouse an update on the wonderful things Larry, Jr. is doing with himself these days.