At 7:49 on a recent Sunday morning, six people had already lined up in the sweltering heat outside Hen & Heifer, a small pastry shop near the Guilford Town Green. The doors would not open until 8 a.m.
“I don’t even see lines like this in New York,” said Catherine Greenman, a Manhattan-based author who has spent summers in Guilford since her childhood. “But it makes sense. The pastry here really is a work of art.”
Two more women emerged from a parked car and joined us in the queue.
“I hope there are still croissants,” one said to the other, eyeing those of us already waiting. “Yesterday, they sold out in 40 minutes.”
Happily, moments later, we were inside, watching as our orders for the plump, glossy, golden-brown crescents were packed into cardboard boxes.
When nearly every supermarket and coffee shop sells pastries — not just breakfast croissants but also treats like tarts, meringues and petits fours — it can seem odd that a tiny bakery would attract a crowd. But as Hen & Heifer’s pastry chef, Whang Suh, has learned — along with the proprietors of two other Connecticut bakeries — if you bake with distinction, people will come. Mr. Suh trained in Manhattan at the French Culinary Institute (renamed the International Culinary Center) before apprenticing at Per Se, the acclaimed New York restaurant by the chef Thomas Keller. Thus, he takes his cues from classic French patisserie.
“I remember traveling to Paris for the first time, more than a dozen years ago,” Mr. Suh said. “The trip was a revelation. The pastry was technically and creatively so far beyond what was commonly accessible in America; I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, touching, eating. That’s when I knew that what had been my hobby must become my passion and profession.”
Though he had originally planned to open his first pastry shop in Manhattan, he spied a narrow storefront in Guilford during a visit in late 2012. He and the bakery’s co-owner, Jeffrey Capone, believed it was a good place to start and opened Hen & Heifer in May 2013.
Almost immediately, word spread about Mr. Suh’s creations — delicate cream puffs; rich, custardy canelés, spiked Bordeaux style with rum and vanilla; ganache-filled macarons in flavors like violet-fig and pistachio-apricot; silky flourless chocolate cakes and crèmes brûlées; and of course, the buttery croissants, which are offered only on weekends.
“It’s been an amazing surprise — not only to have so many regulars, but to see people traveling from other towns, and even out of state to come here,” said Mr. Suh, whose bakery is closed for two weeks after Labor Day.
“I know it’s fashionable now, but there really are lots of people who feel healthier if they don’t eat gluten,” said Jordan Gregory, who with her husband, Robert Byrnes, owns both Swoon and a traditional bakery, the Cake Box. “We don’t believe they should have to sacrifice baked goods, though.”
The couple started selling gluten-free cupcakes and macaroons at Cake Box. There was enough demand that Ms. Gregory and Mr. Byrnes saw an opportunity for a stand-alone shop. At the end of 2012, the couple opened Swoon, which is also a nut-free bakery, in the Marketplace, a shopping plaza at Copps Hill Commons.
Among the bakery’s offerings are salted-caramel and red-velvet cupcakes; mini lemon-ricotta and marble Bundt tea cakes; shortbread cookies swirled with raspberry jam; and vegan brownies. A blackboard on the wall lists specialty items Ms. Gregory bakes to order, such as buttercream-frosted birthday cakes, fondant-iced cookies, brioche and sandwich bread. Ms. Gregory bakes almost everything with her own blend of rice flours.
“A lot of people who come here are so glad to be able to bring home a real birthday cake for a child who’s gluten-intolerant,” Ms. Gregory said. “Other people just want to feel like they can indulge without being too bad.”
A new boutique bakery, gingerbitz, has long had a devoted following. About 20 years ago, Karen Zuckert, a self-taught baker, began constructing elaborate gingerbread houses and cookies at home in Darien. She originally made them as holiday gifts for friends, but they were so prized that Ms. Zuckert was deluged with requests for more. Baking gingerbread became her creative outlet and her business.
“Within the first year of starting up, I filled 100 orders,” Ms. Zuckert recalled.
But only last May did Ms. Zuckert and her husband, Andrew, finally decide to open a store in New Canaan. As the name suggests, gingerbitz showcases her gingerbread baked goods. Packages of Ms. Zuckert’s cookies are always on display. With the holidays approaching, she said she will be busy constructing houses and gingerbread “teepees,” which she said are popular for Thanksgiving. But she also bakes seasonal fruit pies and crisps, cupcakes, whoopee pies and ice-cream sandwiches. She has also tried to cater to the lunch crowd and offers baguette sandwiches and soups made from scratch.
The couple faces competition from their corporate neighbors, a Starbucks across the street and a Le Pain Quotidien a block away.
When asked about the competition, the Zuckerts laughed. “We’re the new mom-and-pop shop,” Ms. Zuckert said. “We say, ‘Bring it on.’ ”