Lavender cream puffs please the palate at Tart Baking Co. in Northampton

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, June 16, 2017, by Lisa Spear

The bitter lavender flower isn’t an ingredient I would expect to find in a cream puff, so it caught me by surprise when I found this in Northampton at the bakery on Main Street, Tart Baking Co.

At this establishment, when it comes to cream puffs, creativity is king. Occasionally a baker might choose to whip up the typical vanilla cream flavor, but that’s pretty unusual, says assistant head baker Katy Beyer.

More often, when cream puffs are in the display case on the weekends, patrons can expect to find passion fruit or even Earl Grey varieties. When peaches are in season, there are peaches and cream puffs.

The baker’s whim, whichever baker happens to be on duty that day, is all that matters when dreaming up a flavor.

“It is one of those things that we get to add a little bit of our own creativity, so it is really special for us,” Beyer says. “We like to play around.”

Thirteen cream puffs are turned out every Friday morning and they are typically gone by Saturday, she says. There is no plan, no set rotation, no limitation on the flavor combinations the baker mixes into a batch, but Tart typically churns out just one kind each week.

Even though experimentation is encouraged, there are a few constants, like the super buttery, wonderfully flaky pastry shell. The 4-inch tall, feather-light pastries are the cradles for the creams and ganaches concocted in the Tart kitchen, all topped by a dusting of powdered sugar.

The cream is whipped by hand with milk from cows who live just 51 miles away at High Lawn Farm in Lee.

When the flavor is lavender, the purple flowers are cooked with sugar into a syrup and added to the whipped cream.

“I know that lavender is not for everyone, it can taste a little perfumey, but I really like it paired with lemon. I think it is delicious,” Beyer says.

Bakers can choose to strain the bits of purple flowers out of the syrup, but Beyer, who created this cream puff variety, likes to leave them in to add a hint of color to the whipped cream.

Beyer has been baking at Tart for four years and always looks forward to cream puff days. For her, baking is about making other people happy. It’s a job that lets her work with her hands, which she enjoys.

“I think that people think that baking is a more romantic job than it is,” she says. “It’s really hard, but seeing the sunrise every day and knowing that my biggest problems are just cookies, it’s really nice.”

The lavender whipped cream is what you notice when you first meet the lavender cream puff. It’s a small mountain on top of the ball of pastry whose hollow center is filled with a dollop of lemon custard, about the consistency of key lime pie filling. The tangy flavor caught me off guard, but the lemon complements the lavender cream well. I didn’t mind the bits of flower, but I can imagine they might not please everyone.

Have you discovered a confection at a local eatery that makes you want to skip the main course?