The Bready Bunch

B read and chocolate—what more could you need? Bread & Chocolate, a modest storefront on Whitney Avenue in Hamden, celebrates the combination of these two essential food groups, as well as the union of another duo: Jaime and Alejandra Zapata, the husband-and-wife owners.

Jaime came to Connecticut from Colombia and Alejandra from Mexico. They met in a bakery, and, as their eldest daughter (and B&C’s manager) Tiani says with a certain bashfulness, “They fell in love and it went from there.” As it appears on the website and in the bakery, Alejandra and Jaime’s “love story” is more fulsome: “they threw their hearts and their secret love into their own small bakery and called it Bread & Chocolate.”

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Come April, the bakery will have been open for ten years. In that time, B&C has grown from a single retail location, which it still maintains, to a larger-scale, mostly wholesale operation, selling goods to restaurants, stores and tea shops. It’s relied mainly on word of mouth, though the food often speaks for itself. Recently, Tiani says, an East Hartford restaurateur happened to try some B&C bread at a restaurant in Old Saybrook, then started his own account.

The crown jewel of the bakery—or at least the “Bread” half of B&C—is its ciabatta, a versatile style that customers use at home for sandwiches and meatloaves, and which gets no shortage of use in the bakery, according to Tiani. “Anything we can use it for, we do,” she says. The ciabatta, along with B&C’s other breads, begins with a “poolish”—a fermented starter made with flour, water and yeast that improves the texture of the bread, giving it a chewy, satisfying crumb.

B&C is also known for its croissants. “My mom used to work with a French pastry chef,” Tiani says, learning the secrets of lamination—“folding and folding again until they get that perfect consistency.” She adds, “People from France have said it’s the best croissant they can get here.” The benefits of lamination are on display in the bakery’s standout Almond Croissant, which has a soft pocket of marzipan inside and a sprinkling of almonds on its buttery, flaky crust.

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Though the sweets she loved to indulge in her youth have, to her palate, lost some of their luster, what Tiani is not tired of, and says she never could be, is good old bread. If the Zapatas had a family crest, it would likely be a loaf. Every member of the family has their non-bread favorites—her sister likes cinnamon rolls, her mother and father love scones—but, as she says, “We all love bread. Every time we go to a restaurant, we look at the bread, the texture of it… It’s a big part of our family.”

And family, in turn, is a big part of B&C’s success, she says. “When you have family working [together], it helps you connect to the customers.”

So does the food. I sampled a few of their sweeter offerings, including an Apple Danish, in addition to a turkey sandwich on pumpernickel and a kale salad garnished with a delicious blend of sweet potato, farro, cranberries, Gorgonzola and apples. The danish was a close cousin to their Almond Croissant, depending on the same laminated croissant dough for its rich, crisp exterior. But in the center it had a melty heart of sweet cream and just-tender apple slices spiced with cinnamon. B&C, for all of the indulgence the name suggests, seems dedicated to subtle flavors and a balance between the sweet and the savory. Just as neither of the pastries were overly sugared, the pumpernickel had a hint of something sweet just below the surface.

Perhaps it was this balance that made the pumpernickel the star of the show—a strong, earthy rye laced with the faintest flavors of coffee and cocoa: bready, but chocolatey.

Bread & Chocolate
2457 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Mon-Thurs 7am–4pm, Fri 7am–3pm, Sat 8am-1pm
(203) 907-4079

Written by Sorrel Westbrook. Photo 1 by Dan Mims. Photo 2 by Sorrel Westbrook.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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