Cooking up . . . expansion
Brooke Parkhurst comes from a family of accomplished culinarians, including her three brothers — all part of what she laughingly describes as a Brady Bunch family of six siblings. Entering her Triple Oak Bakery kitchen in Sperryville is like walking into an aromatic garden, only it’s a gluten-free garden of flour and oats, and sugar and spices. A few feet from her doorstep on Lee Highway west of the village, the Thornton River bubbles and rushes over smooth stones and boulders, a natural complement to the business Brooke owns and operates.
It’s a business she hopes to expand soon, and is seeking help online to make it happen.
The bakery’s kitchen is toasty warm, and sheets of pastries lie cooling on racks. Hot tea touched with honey awaits me, and we sit comfortably and chat. Katie Long, Brooke’s right arm, arrives, a broad smile across her face; she clearly enjoys her job. She’s a Longview University alum and a graduate of the French Pastry School in Chicago.
Both Brooke and Katie enjoy experimenting with recipes. Brooke relates their fondness for all things European; favorites include such sweet treats as a traditional British sticky toffee pudding and anamarias, as well as cream puffs and light pâte à choux puffs filled with vanilla bean pastry cream topped with chocolate ganache. Orders are already coming in for her stollen, a traditional German fruit cake containing candied fruit, nuts, spices and often marzipan, covered in powdered or icing sugar. It’s typically enjoyed during the Christmas season, when it is called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen.
The mom of two grown children, Brooke loves to bake, and her eyes sparkle as she talks about her obvious calling. A saying posted on the wall over the kitchen table says: “Love People, Cook Them Tasty Food.”
On the other wall, a cartoon of Hansel and Gretel shows the fairy-tale siblings poised in front of the infamous gingerbread house, the wicked witch in the doorway. The children ask, “Before we come in, was any of your home produced in a facility that also handles wheat, milk, nuts, eggs or soy?”
Brooke’s business is the outgrowth of her family’s struggle with celiac disease (gluten intolerance), which she and both her children discovered they had in 1995. It is an inherited disease that was not well known until relatively recently, according to an article on the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website. Brooke’s sister was hospitalized because of this disease.
In 2002 Brooke and her family moved to Rappahannock. Her first job was as a prep chef with Four & Twenty Blackbirds (since reborn as 24 Crows), where she says she learned a great deal from owners Heidi Morf and Vinnie Delouise. Their menu changed every three weeks and, over time, Brooke became their pastry chef. She also worked at the same time for a health-food store in Warrenton, and her gluten-free cakes became bestsellers.
Seven years ago, while still working full time, she launched the beginnings of her own business and moved into the cottage on the banks of the Thornton River, the former site of Cooter’s Place playhouse. She says her business has enjoyed an explosion of growth, even during lean economic times. Triple Oak Bakery is now known around the country — even before its mention in the October 2014 issue of Saveur magazine. Indeed, Brooke’s tasty baklava is the only gluten-free baklava sold in the United States.
Giving her reasons for the planned expansion, she adds, “to accommodate demand for this developing community — not to mention world-class food — it’s time to expand further into a tea and coffee shop with additional baking and cold storage capacity. This expansion will allow us to increase our mail-order operation to further service the gluten-free community across the country.” To this end, Brooke has enlisted the assistance of Indiegogo, an Internet crowd-funding site. To date Triple Oak has reached 57 percent of their goal of $8,000.
For the holidays, there’s nothing like fresh biscuits, pastries, pies, tarts and cakes, and you don’t have be gluten intolerant to enjoy these tasty treats. Walk-ins are welcome; weekend breakfasts are offered; orders are taken whenever. Just stop in or call Brooke at 540-987-9122, or visit tripleoakbakery.com.
Triple Oak is open 8:30 to 5:30 Tuesday-Sunday (8:30 to noon Saturday and Sunday, breakfast doughnuts, scones and bagels available). The bakery’s annual holiday open house, with mulled cider, free treats and door prizes, is 10 to 5 Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13-14.
Triple Oak Bakery is 1.5 miles west of Sperryville on U.S. 211, across the road from the former Sperryville Emporium. And don’t be surprised if you see a flock of crows nestled in the backyard trees — they, too, regularly await deliveries of the cream-puff shells Brooke tosses outside to them now and again. Brooke will tell you the spring is an entertaining time, when the adolescent crows — young, unsure and gawky, and speckled with fuzzy clumps of newly sprouted feathers — drop down from the branches to attempt a stab at her desserts. As Brooke describes them, they are quite an entertaining bunch, frolicking outside while she quietly bakes under the sunlit kitchen windows. Maybe they know she used to work at Four & Twenty Blackbirds.