How sweet it is

How sweet it is

This article originally appeared in Edible Green Mountains magazine, summer 2009

I grew up in a household where dessert was a given – after lunch and dinner. So when I kept hearing about the same pastry shop over and over again, I naturally figured it was worth looking into.

rainbow sweetsRainbow Sweets Bakery & Café in Marshfield has quite a following. Posted reviews gush forth lines like “This is one of my top three favorite bakeries in the world. Yes, the world.” The New York Times and Gourmet have featured glowing accounts. “Glengarry Glen Ross” author David Mamet describes the local tradition of weighing the town’s newborns on Rainbow Sweets’ pastry scale in his book “South of the Northeast Kingdom.” Clearly such a tasty, wacky place was worth the one-hour drive from Burlington.

I called for the shops hours in April and got the answering machine; the greeting reported that Rainbow Sweets was closed for its annual spring break and would open in mid May. After several more calls, the machine finally gave a more specific date: May 13. On opening day, I convinced my husband that we should go there for lunch.

Rainbow Sweets is about 20 minutes east of Montpelier on Route 2, smack dab in the center of Marshfield’s main drag. The large window of its colorful general store façade featured a large banner that read, “Our 34th Year.” A vintage-looking “open” sign leaned against the clapboards next to the door and, for good measure, a neon version hung in the window.

Inside the small, six-table shop with flowered curtains and sun-kissed worn wooden floors, we were startled by an animated greeting from owner Bill Tecosky. He wore a flannel with the sleeves rolled up, a long white apron, and permanently raised eyebrows that cast enthusiasm from behind wire-rimmed glasses perched at the end of his nose.

the baker“Do you want to hear the specials the way I usually give them?” he asked. Before we could respond, a Canadian couple in their mid 40s shouted from the table closest to the counter, “Yes, they do!”

“Ok,” Bill answered. “No talking.”

He proceeded to reel off the four savory specials of the day as a seasoned showman might deliver a well-rehearsed monologue. As he described the creations, he leapt across the kitchen to pluck each from baking sheets still warm from the oven. Among them, a spanakopita filled with baby spinach (“infant spinach, pre-natal spinach”) and feta in gossamer layers of flaky phyllo, and an empanada, an Argentine meat pie filled with lean ground beef, onions, olives, raisins and flavored with cumin.

We selected the stuffed brioche, a tender muffin shaped pastry stuffed with spinach, Cabot cheddar, and walnuts and the B’Stilla, Moroccan shredded chicken in a phyllo pastry with finely chopped almonds, cinnamon, and saffron (“like being in Fez without leaving Marshfield”), both served with a crisp Greek salad on the side and glasses of ice water (“two desert cocktails, coming right up!”).

Bill directed us to one of “the two best spots in the house,” a pair of square tables in plain view of the pastry case and his two giant, black ovens, purchased for $35 apiece when the shop first opened and crowned with an enormous moose rack. The Canadian couple, on the way from Toronto to Nova Scotia, was seated in the second prime vantage point next to us and had just finished lunch. Bill announced, “the oven is vibrating with baked goods today” and swooped over to clear their plates. Back behind the counter, the show continued.

Johnny Depp“Let me tell you about the St. Honore, the Johnny Depp on a plate,” said Bill, just warming up. He scooped up a round puff pastry from the cooling rack and placed it on a paper doily next to the cash register. “They used to be called ‘Sean Connery on a plate’ 15 years ago, and were ‘Brad Pitts’ for a short time, too. Named by customers with a pair of x chromosomes. It might be time for another name.” He spun around, grabbed a piping bag from the worktable, and continued. “On top of the pâte à chou, we do this” he said, circling the pastry with curly pillows of fresh whipped cream. “And then, two profiteroles, éclair balls filled with homemade custard and dipped in caramel.” He plucked two crunchy-coated pastry bites from a rack, one in each hand, and perched them ceremoniously on top of the cream. “First rule: no sharing. Second rule: no forks on the balls, fingers only – they go flying otherwise.” As he delivered his creation to the Canadians, he slowed down to pass the sweet showpiece in a sweeping motion over our table before depositing them grandly on theirs. “We can’t run out of these; there would be civil unrest,” he said over his shoulder, going back for our entrees.

As we dove in, Bill explained why everything the shop produces is baked. “The flavors are married in the oven, not dating on the stovetop.” The reason why people drive for hours to savor these creations, I gathered, is because this man is nearly fanatical in pursuit of pastry. During Rainbow Sweets’ three-month respite every year, Bill and his wife Trish – a pastry chef who taught Bill how to bake – travel to the world’s great pastry cultures for inspiration and to “maintain our pastry credibility,” Bill explained. “You can’t make good pastry unless you know what good pastry tastes like.” Budapest, Italy, Morocco, Istanbul, France; this year, Florence and Vienna. As he told us how some bakeries in London get angry if you take photos of their pastry case, he never stopped moving around the small kitchen to accept a stream of opening day deliveries: freshly pressed aprons, huge paper sacks of flour, a vase of orchids with a card signed by his 2-year-old grandson, Enzo (“He’ll be maître d’ here next year”).

By this time, the Canadian couple had finished their Johnny Depps. “Something for dessert?” Bill quipped, beginning to remove and display items from the pastry case. “A torta, filled with walnuts, honey, caramel – Swiss, robust; it has structural integrity. Only found in Switzerland and Marshfield. It travels well.” There was a lot to cover – towering, quadruple-chocolate cake slathered with fudgy buttercream; squares of baklava studded with a whole clove each; a moist white poppyseed cake that’s popular for weddings. They left with a half-pound of almond chocolate butter crunch candy for the road, although the woman expressed doubt that any of it would see Nova Scotia.

All afternoon, the door opened and closed with excited diners celebrating Rainbow Sweets’s opening day – a Maine father and son who stop on their way to and from UVM every semester, a man in pressed khakis who drove by twice early in the morning to see if the shop was open yet.

“People come in here to release endorphins legally,” Bill explained to another newcomer who stopped at a friend’s recommendation. Lend more than 15 minutes and a few taste buds to Rainbow Sweets and it’s easy to see why.


Rainbow Sweets Bakery & Café
1689 US Route 2
Marshfield, VT 05658
Sun to Thurs, 9 am to 6 pm; pizza night Fri and Sat ’til 9pm

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