OLD SAYBROOK — Pumpkin and apple bread, raspberry muffins and scones are tucked into Jill Cunniffe’s Manhattan freezer to enjoy on a daily basis.
These aren’t just any baked goods, they are from The Pursuit of Pastry and they are the best of the best, according to Cunniffe, an Old Saybrook summer resident.
“Every weekend for the past month that we’ve been going (to Old Saybrook) I’ve been hoarding these muffins because I know I’m not going to be up there much after next month,” Cunniffe says, via phone from her Manhattan home.
“On Sundays, when I know we’re going back to the city I get a bunch of muffins…I kind of feel like I’m on vacation while at home in New York,” she adds.
Jill Peterson opened The Pursuit of Pastry in 2012 and just this past August, moved from her original 1,400 square foot shop to her current 4,000 square feet bakery, three doors down at 719 Boston Post Road.
With a bachelor’s degree in human services from UCONN, Peterson worked for many years as a human services counselor. When she was 40 years old she decided that baking was her passion and she went back to school, receiving an associate’s degree in baking and pastry from Johnson & Wales University.
Five years later she opened the bakery, which has grown and changed over the years — from a traditional bake shop to something a bit more playful.
“We went from being the blue and the yellow and the croissants,” Peterson says about the former shop’s décor and offerings. “I was a little bit more stuffy, that’s not the right word, but…and now we have the candy wall.” (Note: the baker, however, does offer iced cookies that look just like a ‘stuffed shirt’ complete with tie and jacket.)
She continues, “ I want to have gumballs and I want to have candy sticks and I want to have jelly beans. We’ve really just tried to get more youthful.”
“I love fun and happy and cheery and I found the pink chair and so everything built off the chair,” the 52-year-old says, pointing to a gumball-pink café chair.
From that one café chair came an assortment of colorful chairs, with matching bright checker board squares painted onto the floor and pink and white striped awnings gracing the big plate glass windows.
“Jill has a nice sense of color balance and things that are attractive,” says Dave Redfield who arrives every day at 9:30 a.m. from Old Lyme to enjoy the freshly baked goods and cheery atmosphere.
“I think she opened it up and made it light and bright and lots of color,” he says. “Quite attractive.”
Redfield is part of a group of regulars who enjoy their coffee and baked goods in the new, expanded bakery.
While Redfield, 87, is often joined by friends, he always travels with a book in case he is alone. On a recent Sunday he sat with his friend, Peter, and enjoyed a peach scone and a cup of black angus, dark roast coffee.
“This is my social activity for the day,” says Redfield. “Jill helps us, she’s a nice lady. She makes us feel welcome.”
One member of Redfield’s group is Bill Kelly. While Kelly enjoys the camaraderie at the bakery, he also has a hand in the decorating of the new shop.
A master craftsman of birdhouses for the last 40 years, his handmade creations adorn the left wall right as you walk in the bakery. In addition, he handcrafted a whimsical table with different colored legs to display the assortment of breads, placed in the center of the shop.
“This is a real big move for Jill,” Kelly says. “We go back to Vanderbrooke’s on Main Street with her when she was a pastry chef there and we would walk in for coffee and look left and there she is toiling away, as it were, on a cake and she drops everything, comes over and gives us all a hug. We go back a ways.
“She’s got a goldmine, now, I hope,” he adds. “What she puts out in the way of the product is Grade A and it’s so easy to come back every day, if you want, to get what you want.”
The choices include breads, filled croissants, baked donuts, Danish, small fruit pies, cupcakes, cakes and breakfast sandwiches.
The breads, made daily starting at 4 a.m., include country French boule, salted baguette, charthouse squaw, cranberry walnut multigrain, honey wheat, cheddar bacon and brioche.
The pastry chef arrives about an hour later and begins the daily baking. This includes baking and decorating close to 150 sugar cookies, daily.
For the fall, the assortment of sugar cookies are adorned with acorns, sunflowers and pumpkins, scarecrows, witches hats, skulls, ghosts and goblins.
“There’s almost always something going in the oven,” Peterson says.
The recipes are tried and true.
“When you find something that works, don’t change it,” she adds. “We’ll tweak a recipe…but once we get it, we just never vary from it because it works, why do you want to improve on it.”
The candy wall, Peterson’s pride and joy, is a burst of color with Swedish fish, candy necklaces, jelly beans, caramels, gummy bears, sour sharks, licorice wheels, and chocolate, lots of chocolate.
The expansion and rebranding of The Pursuit of Pastry has been warmly welcomed by Peterson’s customers.
While Cunniffe has her favorites, she, along with many others, is enthusiastic about the new bakery.
“I just love everything,” says Cunniffe. “I’m just a big fan, I just think it’s great and I was so happy to see them move locations because obviously business is good, which makes me happy. They are just super fresh and it seems like the ingredients are really high quality.”
The Pursuit of Pastry, 719 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook, 860-391-8687; pursuitofpastry.com; Facebook The Pursuit of Pastry