An Interview with Sarah Ciccotello, Owner/Founder
Local hero: Best Food Artisan
Photos by Stacey M. Adams
The Burque Bakehouse pastries.
Sarah Ciccotello grew up both in Colorado and in Italy, where she picked up a deep-seated love of all things culinary. She moved to New Mexico in the late nineties to attend UNM, before studying culinary arts at CNM and then artisan breads and pastries at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Ciccotello went on to bake her way through New Mexico, including working as pastry chef for the James Beard Award–winning Compound Restaurant in Santa Fe and at the renowned Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm. Ciccotello’s approach to baking is happy but disciplined, with a strong sense of purpose.
How did you get to where you are now? What’s the Burque Bakehouse backstory?
The Burque Bakehouse started as a stand selling baked goods at Albuquerque’s downtown farmers markets (the Downtown Growers Market and the Railyards Market) in 2015. I wanted to offer the best baked goods I could, that were baked thoroughly for flavor and crafted with care over time. We have been popping up almost every weekend since, churning out our handmade croissants, breads, and pastries. All that work is finally culminating in a Burque Bakehouse location opening this year near downtown Albuquerque.
What is your favorite baking memory?
The first time I made bread. It was a transformative experience and I have not looked back since. I fell deeply in love with the magic of turning simple ingredients like flour, water, and salt into something much greater than the sum of their parts, such as bread and pastries.
Burque Bakehouse pastries are so beautiful, where do you draw inspiration?
There is some truth to “eating with your eyes first,” and crafting the pastries to look good is a lot of the fun. Both of my parents were artists, so maybe that is where some of the aesthetics come into play. We like to pull from classic baking traditions, yet have a character of our own. We love food and eating at the Bakehouse and we are always brainstorming flavor combinations. We also get inspiration from the farmers markets and getting to see the seasons change in the produce.
What is one of your most challenging items, and can you describe the process?
A lot of preparation and craftsmanship goes into something that appears so simple and can be eaten so fast. Our croissant dough, which is the base for much of our menu’s lineup, uses multiple sourdough starters and takes us three days to make: On day one we mix the dough and let it ferment overnight; the next day we fold the dough with butter, making multiple folds over time to create the thin flaky layers; we then roll out and shape the dough into croissants and danishes, and finally let it ferment again before baking.
Do you face challenges cooking at our elevation?
I have definitely faced baking challenges, and our altitude can be a factor. You may need to consider decreasing leavening (baking soda, baking powder, and yeast) when adjusting for high altitude here in New Mexico. Take notes and make adjustments to recipes. Your trial and error will earn you experience.
Do you have any tips for local home bakers?
Bake. Every. Day. Bake the same thing over and over until you get it just right. Then bake that same recipe some more, making minor tweaks as you go along, so you can make it even better. So you can call it your own.
What are some of your favorite flavor combinations? Do you have any favorite locally sourced ingredients?
Our menu is made up of our favorite things to eat! Truthfully, I lean more toward the savory side of the flavor spectrum. Being a part of the growers market community in Albuquerque has been a great way for us to connect directly with farmers and showcase local fruits and produce in our goods.
What is a local food issue that is important to you?
As a bakery, our primary ingredients are grains and flours, so sustainable growing practices and Old World milling styles are some of the things that I am interested in. Since we started baking in 2015, we have built a network of regional offerings, including cornmeal from Santa Ana Pueblo, and flours from southern Colorado and Utah.
What do you love the most when it comes to your work?
The support we have received from Albuquerque has been humbling. I started small and was unsure what to expect. What we discovered was a community ready for whatever we had to offer. The hard work feels worth it when we can finally connect the pastry with the person.
Fans of the Burque Bakehouse have been anxiously awaiting the opening of your new brick-and-mortar. What can we expect with the new space?
I don’t know if anyone is waiting as anxiously as we are! Expect a place to find our pastries and breads throughout the week and weekend! We are renovating the old Dairy Queen building at 640 Broadway SE. Historically, the location had a walk-up style counter, and we will work to preserve this character. In addition to offering the Bakehouse classics, we will add a coffee and espresso program, as well as expand our bread offerings. We can’t wait to see the next steps for the Burque Bakehouse take shape!