Bakery's desserts an art form

September 26, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

David and Michael Ann Nard have built their lives on chocolate truffles and chocolate mousse cakes, Chivas Regal souffle and Italian rum bombe.

Those desserts -- and others like them -- often provide the sweet climax to a meal at Gourmet Again in Pikesville or entice customers at Produce Galore in Columbia to do a double-take at the glass dessert case.

The Columbia couple make and bake the pastries at their business, Renaissance Pastries, in the Corridor Industrial Park in Savage. Passers-by can smell the aroma of the desserts.

"It makes us hungry," said Earl Koenig, a warehouse worker at Peerless Paper Inc., which is next to the bakery. "It just smells that good."

Renaissance Pastries operates mostly as a wholesale business, but the Nards will bake a wedding cake, birthday cake or a dozen truffles for an individual.

"Some of their items are so pretty you don't want to eat them," said Barbara Collurafici, co-owner of Gourmet Again, which orders desserts from Renaissance Pastries. "They have that little extraordinary dessert that if you're looking for something special, that's where you tend to go."

Renaissance Pastries even bakes desserts fit for a king -- or at least a prince. England's Prince Charles tasted Renaissance Pastries while visiting Palm Beach, Fla.

But whether for royalty a king or everyday citizen, Mr. Nard emphasizes the need to craft each dessert -- from a truffle to a wedding cake -- with care, no matter what size the order.

The bakers make each dessert from scratch, carefully choosing every ingredient. They even question suppliers about where and how the cows that produce their milk were raised.

"It's really more than just a business," Mr. Nard said.

"It's like a bunch of artists. This is a science."

They hand-paint tiny pears around the edge of a 9-inch cake. They bake the ornaments that go on a cake rather than buying plastic ones.

"Plastic Batmans or Thors . . . that's for other folks to do," Mr. Nard said.

The Nards started their business 14 years ago in the basement of their Columbia home.

Mr. Nard, who had worked as a chef in Baltimore, was out of a job, and Mrs. Nard was home raising their two children. She had left her department manager position at a Sears in White Oak in Montgomery County.

Mr. Nard, who grew up in a family where his mother cooked French foods and his father owned and operated an Italian restaurant, became their business' pastry chef, and Mrs. Nard handled the books.

They started with a few thousand dollars, bought a convection oven and used a mixer slightly bigger than those found in most homes to make their batters with the traditional ingredients -- butter, milk and eggs.

"We wanted to get back to doing things the old way," Mrs. Nard said. "It takes a lot of work."

They hung orders on a string with clothespins and made deliveries in an old Volkswagen bus.

"The basement was a struggle," said Paul Hill, the director of operations for Renaissance Pastries, who started working with the Nards shortly after their business began.

"We had very little equipment. We had to store desserts outside during the winter to keep them cold."

In a matter of months, though, the couple and a few workers moved from their basement to the kitchen at Waterloo Elementary School, which had closed for about eight months.

Then in 1981, the couple found space in the Corridor Industrial Park.

The business has now grown into a 50-person operation, occupying 5,400 square feet with about $2.5 million in sales a year.

The company's best-selling item is its triple chocolate mousse cake -- made with white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate, topped with a chocolate glaze.

Mr. Nard said he attributes the success of Renaissance Pastries to the company's dedication to making each pastry a work of art.

"We want to preserve a style of craftsmanship that lasts through every fad and every craze," he said.

"And you do a lot of praying along the way."

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