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Blue Plate Special: Decision to open bakery/eatery in Shelburne Falls started with a sign

  • Gretchen Gerstner, owner of BAKED, makes classic oatmeal raisin cookies at her business in Shelburne Falls. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Gerstner’s BAKED occupies what was formerly a glassblowing studio. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Gretchen Gerstner takes us through making cookies at BAKED in Shelburne Falls. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Classic oatmeal raisin cookies shown at BAKED. Try making them yourself using the recipe in today’s column. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Gretchen Gerstner has opened a new bake shop and restaurant called BAKED in Shelburne Falls. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



For The Recorder
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It’s hard to believe that BAKED is a brand-new enterprise. Photographer Paul Franz and I visited the bakery-cum-restaurant on Deerfield Avenue in Shelburne Falls in early June, just three days after its dining room opened. The bakery section of the enterprise had already been open for a whopping 11 days.

Tourists and locals were lined up at the counter to order sweets, lunch items and coffee. BAKED’s employees seemed at home dealing with the crowd and churning out the baked goods and sandwiches that were flying off the shelves. In short, the atmosphere was busy but calm.

Much of that calm stemmed from the woman behind BAKED — Gretchen Gerstner of Ashfield. A native of Canandaigua, N.Y., Gerstner told me that she has baked all her life. She began by preparing cakes out of a Betty Crocker cookbook and cutting holes in the bottom of plastic bags to pipe icing into pleasing shapes.

“I can only straw a stick figure,” she confessed, “but if you give me a bag of frosting, I can make a person or a dog or anything.”

Gerstner grew up making birthday cakes for members of her large family. Those cakes drew the admiration of guests at family birthday parties, who began ordering cakes from the young baker.

“By the time I was 15, I had a little cake business. I’ve always done it and always liked it,” she explained.

After trying to study interior design in college for a few months, Gerstner gave in to her love of baking and turned her culinary skills into a career. Before she was 30, she had her own restaurant and bakery in New York.

She first visited Franklin County to stay with her sister, also a baker, who lived in Shelburne Falls for many years. Although that sister eventually left the area, Shelburne Falls stayed in Gerstner’s memory.

When her children grew up and she closed her restaurant in New York, she decided to relocate to our area. She has lived in Ashfield for eight years and serves as a police officer in that town. “I went to the Academy when I was 50,” she noted proudly.

Gerstner has been thinking about starting her own bakery in the area for some time. She originally hoped to open her business in the building that houses Salmon Falls Artisans Showroom.

“After the third meeting, I realized that with all the weddings and stuff we do, the space wasn’t really big enough,” she recalled. Gerstner and her architect came out of that meeting discouraged and stood gazing across the Deerfield River.

“I looked down here and I said, ‘Does that say Berkshire Bakery on the back of that building? Why aren’t we over there?’” she remembered.

“Over there” was the building BAKED now occupies, formerly a glassblowing studio. The architect got in touch with the building’s owner, Kathy Young, and arranged for a lease.

Gerstner and her business partner, Mike Skalski, worked for more than 14 months on renovations to create the open, cheerful space that became BAKED.

BAKED offers baked goods, both sweet and savory, all-day breakfasts, lunches, and early dinners. It is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., although those hours may expand. The restaurant has a beer-and-wine license.

Ironically, Gerstner eventually found out that her building did not originally house a bakery: it was an automotive repair shop and the “Berkshire Bakery” sign was an advertisement aimed at railroad passengers traveling through town.

Nevertheless, she clearly thinks the message on the building was a sign in more ways than one. Gerstner hopes to restore the advertisement soon. Meanwhile, she is building her business steadily.

“We’re just adding stuff as we go,” Gerstner told me. “Every day we try to make it easier and better than the day before.”

BAKED classic oatmeal raisin cookies

Not surprisingly, BAKED offers a lot of cookies. Gerstner loves old-fashioned recipes, so she chose to make these classic treats for Paul Franz and me when we stopped by the bakery.

Ingredients:

1 to ¼ cups salted butter

½ cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 to ½ teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups oats

2 cups flour

2 cups raisins

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Cream together the butter, sugars and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, baking soda and salt. Add the oats, flour and raisins. Mix well.

“I don’t like messes so I put my towel on top of my bowl when I mix in the flour,” explained Gerstner.

Use a 3-ounce ice cream scoop to plop overflowing rounds of dough onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake the cookies for 17 minutes (a bit longer if you like them crispy). Makes 17 large cookies.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For more information about Tinky, visit: www.TinkyCooks.com.