by Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
It’s the final round of our epic N.J.’s best bakery showdown, which means we’re down to 10 great bakeries, chosen from among our 50 semifinalists.
This is the second of three final round trip reports. In the final round, we are joined by a crew of assistant judges whose opinions will be taken into consideration in our ultimate choice of N.J.’s best bakery.
On Thursday, Dec. 21, we will walk, unannounced, through the door of the winning bakery. You can watch it live on nj.com.
Don’t forget you can vote for the Readers’ Choice winner.
Sweet Melissa Patisserie, Clinton Township
You may have heard of Melissa Murphy and her dessert expertise. The author of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, she operated three patisseries in Brooklyn before she and her husband, Chris Rafano, moved to Hunterdon County and opened Sweet Melissa Patisserie.
Call her a baker, an author – and trooper, coming in to say hello to the crew of assistant judges despite being under the weather.
The countryside may not be the first place you’d look for fine French pastries, cakes and tarts, but that’s where you’ll find this cute bakery/cafe, where the display cases are filled with financiers, caneles, ham and gruyere croissants – and eclairs, pies and donuts. Asked her absolute favorite thing here, she replied, “Ask a mother to choose between her children.”
What the judges thought: The best part about being an assistant judge in one of our N.J.’s Best showdowns? You get to take home the leftovers! Joanna Allgood is shown in the photo with some Sweet Melissa creations. She called the bakery “a showcase of artistry around butter, sugar and flour.” Her favorite things: the caneles and the Kouign-Amann, a round crusty cake, both “out-of-this-world delicious.”
Jim Zilinlski, the son of a baker, said the eclair was the best he’s ever had. Rick Rubenstein called the five-berry donut “a fried epiphany,” and said the eclair was filled “with perhaps the most delicate and mouthwatering cream I have ever eaten.”
More eclair effusiveness – Tim Drag called it “the best eclair in the U.S., period.” Craig Gately’s favorite things included the Nutella/raspberry croissant and the baguette, and said everything “took me back to my trip to southern France.”
Why this bakery can win it all: Expertly-rendered French pastries, cakes, tarts and cookies, and good luck finding them elsewhere. The 5-berry lavender donut and pear cranberry pie among the standouts, And your neighborhood bakery doesn’t make eclairs like this.