Eating croissants in America can be about as horrifying as ordering a hamburger in France — something is usually lost in the translation, especially if you’re used to the real thing.
Cottage baker and French expat Alexandra Zandvliet wants to change that, using American ingredients to replicate the very specific, buttery, shattered-crust laminated pastries of her homeland for delivery right to your door. Expanding to French baguettes, fig bread, Viennoise baguettes (a softer loaf), rye, orange-peel brioche, canneles and other complex pastries, her small-but-growing baking business Sarmentine is gaining traction one loaf at a time.
And sometimes they’re even still warm.
A former midwife, Zandvliet started baking as a hobby when she moved to California and struggled to find the kinds of bread she loved back home. American flour is often far more glutenous than European, giving breads a fluffier texture, like cake. American butter is often lower in fat and in general, there are fewer bakers willing to spend the time and buy more expensive ingredients to get a more European crumb.
Zandvliet continued her hobby, mostly by trial and error. She had no formal training until she went to a small town near Bordeaux and trained in the art of bread and making pastry.
“I wanted to make sure my technique and knowledge was good,” she said, in a thick French accent. “Because when you bake for yourself, it’s not like a business. Where I trained was a very typical Bordeaux bakery, in spirit.”
With her newfound knowledge, Zandvliet returned to Santa Rosa with her husband and three daughters and continue to hone her skills. She got a “cottage” license to legally bake bread in her home kitchen to sell.
Testing her recipes on friends and neighbors and using Central Milling flour, natural fermentation processes and Straus European-style butter, she’s creating some of the best, most French-tasting breads and pastries we’ve had locally. Though we’re still huge fans of French bakers Pascaline, Gougette and Les Pascals, Zandvliet’s croissants are truly exceptional. Mon dieu, I said it.
Now with a solid following of word-of-mouth clients, Zandvliet is hoping to open her own bakery in Santa Rosa at the former Muffin Street Baking Co. at the Mission Plaza shopping center.
“We’ve been working on this for years, and with the pandemic it’s been challenging,” she said. Zandvliet is hoping to raise $20,000 to get her bakery open.
The name Sarmentine? It’s a sesame baguette that’s one of her favorites.