Figuring out Salty Roan Bakehouse customers’ favorite pastry filling has been a challenge for owner Chelsie Herje since opening in Abilene.
“So far we have sold everything we have offered,” Herje said.
In addition to danishes and croissants, the bakery which opened on March 14 at 4150 S. Danville Drive specializes in artisan breads, cream puffs and other French-European pastries. Sweeter temptations include cookies, scones, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, and miniature pies and cheesecakes.
“We make everything by hand…we make our own sauces and our own toppings and everything,” Herje said.
Herje (pronounced Her-Gee) described her business as a high-end bakery with items beyond “the American bakery idea of pies, cakes, and cupcakes.” Drinks include coffee drinks, tea, and bottled options.
“I try to offer something they can’t find anywhere else in Abilene,” she said.
Salty dishes too
Baked goods in decorative containers and on tiered displays arranged like an interior designer draw customers in as soon as they enter.
Treats can be bagged to go or enjoyed in the nearby seating area. A rolling showcase is in the works.
Hours are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The savory breakfast includes quiches, such as feta and spinach or potatoes and bacon, and ham and béchamel croissants.
“Come summer, we’ll switch up and make a Caprese quiche. It’s really light and fun and super delicious,” Herje said.
Caprese is an Italian salad with layers of sliced Mozzarella cheese and tomatoes topped with fresh basil, salt and olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
Lunch options have been added recently including quinoa salad and chicken salad on a croissant or lettuce.
Started at Buffalo Gap
The ability to rotate and expand the menu is one of the reasons Herje moved her operation from a smaller space in Buffalo Gap in October 2017.
While she enjoyed the scenic location and ambiance of Buffalo Gap, the limited work and dining space and lighter foot traffic necessitated a simple, basic menu, Herje said.
“We can have fun with more and different flavors,” she said of the new spot.
That means playing with flavors, like the recent Cinnamon-Chocolate-Filled Churro Eclairs and Coconut-Lime Puffs.
Also expect adventures with the flavors of the bread.
“Really, we can do anything. I have a whole list of things I want to do,” she said.
She sold the current specialties: baguettes, sourdough, winter wheat with three seeds and Texan bread with pepper jack and cheddar, jalapenos and red peppers. Recent additions are olive bread and challah.
“I really love bread the most. I love the shaping and the technique. I feel like some days are a new day with bread, and so it’s a challenge and it’s really fun” , said Herje.
“And then, of course, I love eating it so it’s rewarding in the end,” she added with a laugh.
As she talked in the kitchen of the new bakery, she and an employee worked at a large table in the middle of the room to cut triangles out of flat sheets of puff pastry and roll them into croissants.
Puff pastry refers to the process of folding butter into dough multiple times for a pastry that has a light, airy interior after baking.
“They say baking is a science, and I didn’t understand that until you got into it, and that’s totally true,” Herje said.
Her kitchen is a tasty laboratory, with the bakery consuming about 150 pounds of butter and 800 to 1,000 pounds of flour a week, she said.
She also offers gluten-free options, responds to requests for custom orders, and wholesales baked goods to other restaurants.
The journey of a baker
Baking has been a passion for Herje since growing up on a dairy farm in Kansas.
She honed her skills in artisan breads, puff pastry and other pastries at the San Francisco Baking Institute.
Coming to Texas was a matter of faith for Herje and her husband, Bart.
“After my husband and I got married right after graduating, we moved to Fort Worth. He went to seminary there, and we just kind of toured Texas,” he said. she stated.
They settled in Brownwood for nine years before moving back to Kansas seven years ago.
Their second adventure in Texas began five years ago with a missionary trip to Mexico, where they met Norman and Angel Poorman. The Poormans own Camp Barkeley Training and Equipping Center, an apostolic events complex southwest of Abilene that offers training, retreats, and facility rentals.
“They were looking for a media person and someone to help with hospitality and different things, and we wanted to come back to Texas. We said, ‘Okay, we’ll come back,'” Herje said.
His long-term aspiration was to own a bakery. Credit for the name goes to Eins, short for Einstein, a traveling strawberry who was “more like a pet. He was so nice and sweet,” Herje said.
Eins was also reliable.
Bart “always said, ‘Man, he’s just salty.’ You can put him out to pasture and leave him there and bring him back in the spring and he’ll go out and work the cattle and do the work,” Herje said.
The deceased horse inspired Bart to name his video marketing company Salty Roan.
“When we were naming the bakery, I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. And I said, ‘Well, I’m just going to take your name there. Then everyone will hear about everything,'” Herje said.
Bart’s professional eye is evident in the bakery’s social media posts that show off the craftsmanship involved in making pastries and breads that are almost too beautiful to eat.
He even shared on a recent Facebook post how to make Bart’s Latte “off the menu” with vanilla, honey and cinnamon frothed in oak milk and also sprinkled on top. The final touch? A dip of his finger into the mix at the end.
“I just made this 10 times sweeter for you,” Bart says in the video after sucking the coffee foam off his finger.
Good luck getting the usual bakery baristas to make it.
But that sense of family fantasy is what makes Salty Roan Bakehouse cozy as it showcases European-inspired baked goods. Baked goods and ambiance are Herje’s not-so-secret recipe for conveying good emotions.
“I love cooking and I love creating things, but I also love serving people and seeing them so happy. Food is a language, and it brings me a lot of joy too,” Herje said.
Laura Gutschke is a generalist journalist and food columnist and manages the online content of the Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.