An unassuming discreet exterior in one of innumerable shopping mall strips hides a bakery with international presence.
Established in countries such as India, France, England, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and Canada, also has several locations in New Jersey, including Edison, Franklin Park, Cherry Hill, South Lawrenceville, Parlin and Jersey City.
The Bridgewater location, opened eight months ago in 2010, transferred a pastry chef from the Edison branch and replaced a Chinese bakery to meet increased regional demand.
A well-received croissant stuffed with Indian flavors that gained traction in Chennai, India, has mushroomed into an international chain of bakeries. More than 80 locations worldwide represent the fruit of expansion.
I walked into the bakery, with its tiny interior of ochre and chartreuse walls. The fans were on full speed, though the heat overpowered, rendering the coolness beyond unperceived.
Wiping away beads of sweat, I inquired almost right away, nearly breathless, “There’s no air conditioning?”
The person working behind the counter, the pastry chef and baker I was soon to learn, replied, “The ac is on, but the space is hot from baking.”
I gravitated closer, until I was in front of the fan.
A customer, while waiting for her pastries, commented, “Even in India, it is never this hot in shops.”
The bakery has two tables for dining in, with six chairs available, though I would highly recommend take-out unless you are searching for a free sauna experience with your sweets.
Other than the issue of temperature, the experience was a delight.
The pastry chef, whose name is Dinesh Ram, came from Chennai in southern India, and worked in Edison’s Hot Breads for four years before transferring to Bridgewater last year where he and another baker manage the shop. He is a professional chef who chose to specialize in pastries and baking.
What Ram loves about his work, in his words, is the “art and creating.”
And Ram's own cookie recipe inventions sit neatly arranged in the showcase—whole wheat almond and cumin seeds salted cookies. I naturally tried both.
The whole wheat almond cookies had crunch and traces of Indian spices. On the other hand, the cumin seeds salted cookies were very soft, dissolving into an undeniable scent of cumin.
Other popular cookies, according to Ram, are chocolate chip, coconut and tutti frutti. Several of the cookies I had were thick, fluffy in texture and gently flavorful in aftertaste, without gravity, almost as if I never ate them.
If you consider the variety of offerings—ranging from bread, pastries and cookies to sandwiches and paninis—it is fast food all at very reasonable prices.
And, of course, let’s not forget the sheer number of cake designs—Ram gave me the catalogue, which I proceeded to admire with my mouth agape. Juxtapose all that against the number of bakers and size of shop, and you begin to appreciate the achievement of Bridgewater’s Hot Breads.
An obvious finesse in the fusion of western pastries and fast food with Indian palate and spices is also demonstrated and nicely summed up by the bakery's motto, “The bakery with Indian touch.”
As an example, croissants are filled with mixed vegetables, chickpeas, potato, chicken curry or paneer. I found the outside of the chicken curry croissant peeling in flakes, while inside the pocket was a soft, spicy filling.
Distinguishing Hot Breads from other bakeries is its eggless repertoire [no yolk, no egg whites] that was started to fulfill the vegetarian diet of many Indians. When I inquired more about the specific ingredients replacing eggs, Ram smiled and would not divulge, saying instead “That’s a secret.”
Ram did explain that customers are given the option of having an egg recipe for the same price, and that cakes with eggs are firm, while cakes without are softer and looser.
Accommodating people with food allergies, Hot Breads is willing to eliminate nuts from recipes, if instructed.
As for cakes, in various tiers, wedding cakes require an order two weeks in advance, birthday cakes two days. Edible sugar flowers that are hard and crunchy or cream flowers that are fragile and delicate decorate the outside of cakes.
With slices also available, the most popular are the mixed fruit, pineapple and black forest varieties. The black forest was not dense in texture nor overly sweet, the mixed fruit extremely refreshing and the pineapple had slivers of coconut with a cherry on top. The chocolate truffle was a pure dark chocolate sojourn.
Fruit cakes come in selections of fruit, walnut, plum and vanilla, and of these I chose the walnut, which had a thicker consistency than the cakes, along with a robust soldiering aroma.
Every day at 7 a.m., the bakers arrive to prepare fresh bread [wheat, seven grain, white, fruit] without chemicals or preservatives that could keep for two days or, if refrigerated, a week. Ram said that weekends are often the busiest, although the services of takeouts, catering, cake orders and delivery keep the work flow even.
In yet another gesture of friendly service, Ram gave me a complimentary mango lassi before I left to quench my thirst that resulted from the hot interior. It was a light, sweet, creamy and invigorating drink that turned memories of the visit repeatedly in my mind through the drive home.
For more information, please see Hot Breads’ website that has lots of photography and permits ordering online.