An assortment of rainbow-hued macaroons rest delicately in glass cases arranged by flavor. Petit Gateaus, or small cakes, tempt the eye with luscious swirls of frosting. And pastries from chocolate croissants to oatmeal raisin cookies sit piled high just waiting to be devoured.
Walking in the doors of downtown Sioux Falls’ CH Patisserie is like walking into a chic bakery on a street corner in France.
Funnily enough, this was pastry chef Chris Hammer’s vision all along.
Opened in spring 2013, CH Patisserie introduced Hammer’s world champion pastry chops to the Midwest. It’s an unlikely match – one pairing the rural with the metropolitan, the intricately homemade with the mass produced – but for all its incongruities, its been a decidedly delicious match nonetheless.
Hammer started out peeling potatoes at the age of 15, using that humble beginning as an incentive to continually persevere despite the circumstances. Since then Hammer has gone on to become the youngest ever American to claim the gold medal at the World Pastry Championships, opened the School of Pastry Design and held the position of executive pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton. He’s also a highly sought after TV personality, appearing on Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts and clinching the titular prize.
Fellow patisserie cook, Liz, said she loves working with Hammer.
“My favorite part about working here is that we make everything from scratch,” she said. “It’s much better quality than anywhere else in Sioux Falls, or just anywhere else in general.”
Today Hammer can be found working behind the scenes at the patisserie, greeting customers with a courteous “what can I get for you today?” each time a new face steps through the door.
The initial opening of that door is akin to stepping into a different world where CH Patisserie is concerned. Honking, wind-blown, frenetic Phillips Avenue transforms into a streamlined haven of French delicacies replete with wood floors and stone counters – it’s chic without being pretentious.
Given a name like CH Patisserie, one would think the shop would be all quintessential French nostalgia and European flair, but there’s nary an Eiffel Tower print nor hint of berets in sight. The most French thing about the patisserie is its relaxed ambience, that laissez-faire attitude we Americans have been trying to emulate for centuries.
The aesthetic may be minimal, but the culinary offerings are anything but. Take the French macaroons, the star of this shop if there ever was one. Artfully displayed in clear glass cases as customers enter, the tiny treats are by far the most colorful things in an atmosphere of dark browns and clean whites. And though it may be cliché, the macaroons taste as good as they look. Flavors change weekly – ranging anywhere from the classic lemon and pistachio to iced coffee and s’more – but the smooth jam filling sandwiched between two perfectly crafted cookies brings the desired reaction with every bite: delight.
But macaroons aren’t the only sweet luxury to be found within CH Patisserie’s mocha-hued walls. Petit Gateaus and the more traditional pastry options carry on the French feel of the shop’s menu.
The Petit Gateaus, or small cakes, are just that – small cakes – but like the rest of the patisserie, these sweet treats are also much more. Varying from vanilla bean and turtle cheesecake to tiramisu and the chocolate peanut crunch, the desserts are practically bite sized, hence the “small cakes” designation. But they’re also made in such a way that each offering appears oddly futuristic.
The tiramisu comes in a small clear orb, looking more like a gently seared cloud than lady’s fingers dipped in coffee. Similarly, the chocolate dream, a concoction of flourless cake, cocoa nibs and 70 percent Cremeux, appears as a half circle of chocolate heaven resting on a golden serving plate. A far cry from the typical triangular slice of cake batter and frosting.
It’s a change customer Alyssa Wherry saw as an unexpected surprise.
“The desserts were so delicious,” she said. “Something as simple as a brownie tasted amazing, while the design of the tiramisu made me see this place as more than just another bakery.”
Classic French pastries are the cherry on top of CH Patisserie’s already overflowing repertoire, cookies, croissants and beignets serving as the backbone for a shop and chef with an eye for innovation.
By doing “French bakery” in a decidedly Midwest chic vein, CH Patisserie rises above cultural cliché to become a local icon in its own right. And with a case full of macaroons, a countertop overflowing with cakes and pastries on serving pedestals, who could argue with such a delicious proposition?