I am unfit for the art of baking, averse to following directions and too careless with my measurements. Because of this my pie crusts more closely resemble a material the U.S. Army might use to armor their tanks, and my frosting is similarly bulletproof. A biblical miracle couldn’t cause my dough to rise, so I have always relied on the kindness of bakers.
With cake and pie season looming before us, it is crucial you select your baker now. You don’t want to mar an otherwise perfect dinner by serving your guests cookies they’ll suspect were baked by Milk-Bone. Fortunately your baker is right in Downtown Fargo, performing her own daily miracles with flour, eggs, and sugar. She is Nichole Hensen, who gives her name to Nichole’s Fine Pastry & Café.
“I grew up on a little farm north of Minot, and my parents were excited for me to go off to study business,” said Nichole. “I ultimately honored their wishes, getting a degree from UND before taking a not too horrible but not very fun job in a corporate computer department.
“But I had found my true calling at the little deli I worked part-time at during school. That’s where I discovered my love of food, which I kind of had to keep a secret from my parents who hoped I would become a businesswoman. But that passion ultimately won out. I quit my corporate job to take a 30 week baking and pastry course in Napa Valley and opened my bakery in Fargo soon after.
“Of all the culinary fields, my personality is best suited to baking. Don’t get me wrong – I may not love accounting, but I am very good at it. There is something fundamentally appealing to me about the fact that two plus two always equals four. That attitude carries over perfectly to baking, where you must follow every recipe exactly while still being creative.
“I also love the freedom which baking gives me. Chefs and line cooks who have to put everything together at dinnertime have all of my respect, but cakes and pies let you follow your own schedule!
“I have traveled a little – a couple trips to Europe, towns across America. Wherever I’ve gone I have always investigated the local bakeries. I remember visiting a celebrity pastry chef’s store in New York City and feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be in there! I do try to take inspiration from the fanciest bakeries in terms of their presentation, but not their pretention. North Dakota and snootiness just don’t go together. If you have five dollars in your pocket, you can always come into my bakery and get the best treat that the best ingredients can create.”
The goodness of simplicity is on full display at Nichole’s. If you don’t collect yourself before walking in, the staff may have to politely ask that you stop pressing your face up against the glass cases.
How do you pick your favorite thing at Nichole’s? Do you pick the tiramisu made with lady fingers soaked in espresso liqueur, layered with rich mascarpone custard and whipped cream? (Even the baker’s Italian friend confirms that it is the genuine article.) What about the chocolate peanut butter crunch cake, an especially Midwestern concoction of mousses and glaze and ganache and candied nuts? Or do you put your money on the cheesecake?
I say to go to Nichole’s with a Grinch-sized sack to bring everything home in. Realistically you might just pop in for a sandwich during your lunch hour, or engage the baker to create the pièce de résistance for your wedding or other special event. Give Nichole a visit at 13 S 8th St in Fargo, or find out more at nicholesfinepastry.com.
By David Scheller