Hen & Heifer, Guilford

Baker‘s Dozens

As customers visit Hen & Heifer, a little bakery around the corner from the Guilford Town Green, it’s clear they’re coming for dessert.

French macarons in eye-popping colors vie for attention with entremets, small miracles of layered mousse and cake gleaming like jewels. From the other side of the pond, but on the same side of the glass display case, are American-style butter cookies, some cut into the eponymous shapes of chicken and cow. There are savory quiches to be had, as well as full-size cakes (on special order), like a round, architectural beauty flocked with chocolate from a Swiss paint gun specially made for the purpose. During my visit, there were three dozen pastry options to choose from.

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“I always wanted to do something like this,” owner/chef Whang Suh says of his bakery, which celebrated its fourth anniversary in May. He’d been living in New York City, and starting a shop in a small town seemed more reasonable than carving something out of a high-rent, hyper-competitive metropolis. “And now there’s no looking back,” he says cheerfully.

Suh is a 2010 graduate of New York’s French Culinary Institute, since renamed the International Culinary Center. After that, he apprenticed at the famed French-American restaurant Per Se, also in New York. Suh remembers the experience fondly: “It was the top-tier training and experience I had longed for, loved and carry with me to this day.”

Hen & Heifer’s kitchen is only 200 square feet and the service area isn’t much bigger, but it has a couple of nooks for sitting inside, while an attached courtyard lets pastry-lovers take their cake outside when the weather’s nice. As for the name, Suh wanted something that would fit into Guilford’s pastoral feeling and history. “‘Hen & Heifer’ sounds like maybe it could be a classic British pub name. It would be very simple, with a logo that anyone in the 1600s could recognize,” even if they couldn’t read.

Of his baked goods, Suh takes cues from the masters, describing Hen & Heifer’s offerings as “definitely French and French-inspired.” But he emphasizes that the same “careful attention and execution” is paid to each item, from chocolate chip cookie to cannelé bordelais.

The latter, which costs $3.50, is a pastry with a peculiar past. A small mahogany-colored cake with a waxy-looking surface and ridges like a pumpkin, the story goes that it was invented in a French convent. One of Hen & Heifer’s most popular offerings, the exterior is chewy with what Suh rightly calls an “intense, smoky, burnt” caramel flavor, while the interior is a honeycomb of custardy cake.

I also tried a trio of cream puffs, in Butterscotch, Vanilla and Chocolate ($3.50 each). Decorated with a disc of crisp chocolate and a candy nonpareil, the choux pastry on every puff was thin as paper, while the cream in all three was flecked with vanilla bean. My favorite was the Butterscotch, which combined the cool cream with rich sorghum and brown sugar caramel.

Lastly, I went for the Salted Caramel Toffee Cookie ($3.50). The sheer amount of butter and sugar in the dough created a chewy, almost candy-like texture, while the fleur de sel—very fancy salt—cut through the sweetness. “If I knew what would be my last meal, it would include caramel in some way,” Suh says, explaining why many of the bakery’s bestselling goods involve caramel.

While the cannelé, the cream puffs and the cookie are some of the bakery’s most popular offerings, some likely remember lining up before opening to vie for some of the bakery’s once-coveted croissants. Though it generated buzz, including a mention in The New York Times, Hen & Heifer stopped making them in early 2016.

Suh sighs when I ask about them, because the popularity of the labor-intensive croissants had led to a hard choice. “Do we continue doing croissants or can we focus on other things?” he recalls asking himself.

“It just wasn’t possible to do thousands of croissants over the weekend and still be able to produce all of this,” Suh says, motioning to the case full of pastries. “And I’ve chosen the direction of desserts.”

A smile crosses his face. “It’s where my heart is.”

Hen & Heifer
23 Water St, Guilford (map)
Wed-Sat 9am-4pm, Sun 9am-1pm
(203) 689-5651

Written and photographed by Anne Ewbank.

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