RECIPES: Haitian baked goods are sweet success story for Savannah bakery

Savannah's Unforgettable Bakery and Café, which is owned by Haitian native Belinda Baptiste, creates items such as vegan Bon Bon Sirop and a gluten-free Bon Bon Amidon, shown together (center, front row), along with Komparét (right, front row) and a Haitian baguette (left, front row). (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Savannah's Unforgettable Bakery and Café, which is owned by Haitian native Belinda Baptiste, creates items such as vegan Bon Bon Sirop and a gluten-free Bon Bon Amidon, shown together (center, front row), along with Komparét (right, front row) and a Haitian baguette (left, front row). (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

SAVANNAH — Reminiscent of the customer contest that led to selecting Unforgettable as the name for her Savannah bakery, owner Belinda Baptiste recently took a vote for the tagline of her komparét Haitian cookie.

Should it be “Ginger in every bite”? What about “Unforgettable komparét”? Or maybe “It’s a classic”?

The ginger slogan ended up the winner, although I’d say that all three are apt descriptions for what has become the bestselling cookie since she added it to the menu a mere 18 months ago.

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My first bite of Unforgettable Bakery and Café’s komparét, also spelled konparet, stopped me in my tracks. Chunks of crystalized ginger left my taste buds zinging. I broke off one morsel at a time, savoring the honeyed sweetness, the meaty coconut flakes, the warm spices that lingered everywhere in my mouth. The oversized round was dense, yet moist and chewy. Not crumbly whatsoever. Was it cookie, bread or cake? It held elements of each.

As I peppered Baptiste with questions about the komparét, her background and the bakery’s beginnings, each response started with “That’s a good story.”

It goes something like this: Marriage brought the Haitian native to Savannah in 2007. Two years later, her then-husband learned about a vacant storefront — formerly a bakery — on Savannah’s south side. He surprised Baptiste with news that he’d secured the space so she could open a bakery. That caught her off guard; she’d always enjoyed cooking, but didn’t have any training. “I didn’t know how to bake nothing,” recounted Baptiste. “I used to work in higher education. I never worked at a restaurant or bakery in my entire life.”

She paused in the storytelling to laugh, as if still in disbelief of the events that transpired 13 years ago.

Things got even more bizarre a week later when her husband told her he wanted a divorce. What’s more, the person who was going to be a partner in the bakery bowed out soon after.

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Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café in Savannah, creates baked goods with Haitian roots. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café in Savannah, creates baked goods with Haitian roots. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café in Savannah, creates baked goods with Haitian roots. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Yet, Baptiste went forward with the shop. “In my vocabulary, you never say, ‘I can’t do this,’” she said.

“Believe” reads the inspirational motto that sits atop the glass counter filled with tempting slices of triple chocolate, caramel, red velvet, Key lime, and strawberries and cream cake.

With trial and error and the assistance of a skilled cake decorator, among other pastry hands, Unforgettable Bakery and Café built a reputation for layer cakes with signature cream cheese icing, for six flavors of pound cakes now shipped nationwide, and cookies studded with chocolate chips or cranberries.

Savory dishes like black bean soup, gumbo, chicken salad and quiche added to the cafe side of the operation.

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The turning point came in 2019, when, after having been prodded for some time by Johannah Coichy, the youngest of her three adult children, Baptiste finally began making baked goods that reflected her Haitian heritage.

Bon bon amidon and bon bon sirop came first. The former is a melt-in-your-mouth starch cookie, made with cornstarch. Bon bon sirop is a dense gingerbread-like cookie made with dark sugar cane syrup (the “sirop”) and spices, especially ginger.

Baptiste’s bon bon amidon cookies are gluten-free, while bon bon sirop cookies are vegan. Both still taste true to the name, which translates to “good good.”

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In December 2020, Baptiste was included in a New York Times food story about Haitian Independence Day. Soon after the piece ran, a would-be customer walked into the shop and asked if she made komparét. He’d discovered the ginger-laced baked good during a visit to Jérémie, a town in southwest Haiti where the bread originated in the early 20th century and remains a specialty. Baptiste got to work on a recipe. Now, komparét sales surpass those of canonical cookies like oatmeal and chocolate chip.

“People love something different,” Baptiste said. Especially when it comes with a good story.

RECIPES

These cookie and bread recipes from Belinda Baptiste of Unforgettable Bakery and Café in Savannah are an homage to her native Haiti. Baptiste’s updated versions of these traditional baked goods are health-minded: Petit Haitian Baguette calls for avocado, sugar cane-sweetened bon bon sirop is vegan, and melt-in-your-mouth lemon cookie bon bon amidon is gluten-free.

Combined ShapeCaption
Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café, creates items such as Komparét, which features ginger and shredded coconut. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café, creates items such as Komparét, which features ginger and shredded coconut. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café, creates items such as Komparét, which features ginger and shredded coconut. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Komparét

Komparét, also spelled konparet, is a dense cake-like gingerbread. The prominence of ginger, subtle notes of coconut and mild sweetness have made this Unforgettable Bakery and Café's bestselling cookie. The bakery makes them as 4-inch rounds; for a smaller cookie, decrease the baking time slightly.

Komparét
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) room temperature butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup roughly chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 3/4 cups coconut flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Zest of 2 limes
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9-by-13-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease the sheets or spray with nonstick baking spray. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • To the bowl of a stand mixer, add butter, brown sugar and honey. On medium speed, cream until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
  • With the mixer running, add eggs, one at a time, and mix until eggs are fully incorporated.
  • Add crystalized ginger, coconut, ginger, vanilla and almond extracts, and lime zest to the creamed mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until fully combined.
  • Add half the flour mixture and mix on low to combine. Add remaining flour and mix until the dough reaches a sticky consistency.
  • Using an ice cream scooper, scoop dough and set on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, leaving enough space for dough to spread while baking (place 6 dough balls per baking sheet). Using the palm of your hand, gently pat each ball into a flat, 1/4-inch-thick circle.
  • Bake 15-20 minutes, until cookies are light brown.
  • Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet before serving. Makes 1 dozen cookies.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per cookie: 380 calories (percent of calories from fat, 29), 5 grams protein, 63 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 12 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 239 milligrams sodium.
Combined ShapeCaption
Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café, creates items such as Bon Bon Sirop, the brown cookie traditionally made with dark sugar cane syrup that tastes a bit like gingerbread. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café, creates items such as Bon Bon Sirop, the brown cookie traditionally made with dark sugar cane syrup that tastes a bit like gingerbread. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery and Café, creates items such as Bon Bon Sirop, the brown cookie traditionally made with dark sugar cane syrup that tastes a bit like gingerbread. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Bon Bon Sirop

Bon bon sirop, which means “good good syrup” in French, is a type of Haitian baked good prepared with gros sirop (sugar cane syrup) and a blend of sweet spices, with a flavor reminiscent of gingerbread. The dough can be baked in a loaf pan and served by the slice or made into slightly dome-shaped cookies, as in this vegan version from Unforgettable Bakery.

Bon Bon Sirop
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1 cup dark sugar cane syrup or unsulfured blackstrap molasses
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons softened vegan butter (substitute with coconut oil)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric or to taste
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves (optional)
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9-by-13-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease the sheets or spray with nonstick baking spray. Set aside.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add coconut flakes and stir to combine. Set aside.
  • To the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attached, add the syrup or molasses, brown sugar, coconut milk, butter, vanilla extract, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, if using. Mix on medium-low speed until fully combined.
  • Stop mixer. Add flour mixture then mix on medium-low until the mixture forms a cohesive dough, about 2 minutes. Dough should be thick and tacky. If dough is wet, add 1/2 cup additional flour and mix.
  • Using an ice cream scooper, scoop dough and set on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. The balls of dough do not need to be widely spaced apart on baking sheets because dough will not spread very much while baking.
  • Bake 15-20 minutes, until tops of cookies are slightly crinkled and craggy. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per cookie: 113 calories (percent of calories from fat, 19), 2 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 53 milligrams sodium.
Combined ShapeCaption
Unforgettable Bakery and Café serves a gluten-free version of Bon Bon Amidon. Butter is a key ingredient in these lemon tea cookies. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Unforgettable Bakery and Café serves a gluten-free version of Bon Bon Amidon. Butter is a key ingredient in these lemon tea cookies. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Unforgettable Bakery and Café serves a gluten-free version of Bon Bon Amidon. Butter is a key ingredient in these lemon tea cookies. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Bon Bon Amidon

Amidon means starch in French. Unforgettable Bakery owner Belinda Baptiste uses cornstarch for these finely textured gluten-free lemon tea cookies, but she has had equal success using yucca, tapioca and potato flour.

Bon Bon Amidon
  • 3 cups cornstarch
  • 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1-to-1 baking flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 (3-ounce) packet gluten-free lemon pudding mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Lemon zest to taste
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9-by-13-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease the sheets or spray with nonstick baking spray. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together the cornstarch, flour, baking powder and lemon pudding mix. Set aside.
  • To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and lemon zest. Mix on medium-low speed until fully combined.
  • Stop mixer. Add flour mixture then mix on medium-low until the mixture forms a cohesive dough, about 2 minutes. The dough will be soft.
  • Using an ice cream scooper, scoop dough and set on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. The balls of dough should be 1 1/2 inches apart.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden and tops of cookies are slightly crinkled and craggly. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet. Makes 33 cookies.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per cookie: 157 calories (percent of calories from fat, 34), 1 gram protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 6 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 26 milligrams cholesterol, 105 milligrams sodium.
Combined ShapeCaption
Unforgettable Bakery and Café in Savannah creates baked goods with Haitian roots such as its Haitian baguette. It is the bakery's version of what Haitians call pain haïtien. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Unforgettable Bakery and Café in Savannah creates baked goods with Haitian roots such as its Haitian baguette. It is the bakery's version of what Haitians call pain haïtien. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Unforgettable Bakery and Café in Savannah creates baked goods with Haitian roots such as its Haitian baguette. It is the bakery's version of what Haitians call pain haïtien. (Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Petit Haitian Baguette

Unforgettable Bakery owner Belinda Baptiste began offering baguettes at the outset of the pandemic when bread aisles were depleted, and flour was scarce. She puts her personal stamp on traditional pain haïtien with the use of avocado and coconut oil.

Petit Haitian Baguette
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus more if necessary
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar (substitute with pure cane sugar)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup tepid water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • To the bowl of a stand mixer, with the cake paddle attached, combine bread flour, brown sugar, yeast, avocado and coconut oil. Mix on medium-low until mixture is grainy, 5-10 minutes.
  • Stop mixer and replace the cake paddle with a dough hook.
  • In a small bowl, combine water and salt. Stir to dissolve salt.
  • Add salt water to flour mixture. Mix on medium-low until mixture takes the shape of a dough ball, about 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth, soft and silky. If it is sticky, add flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until dough reaches desired consistency.
  • Remove dough hook. Let dough rest in stand mixer bowl, covered with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap, until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  • Spray a clean flat work surface with baking spray.
  • Divide dough into 6 equal portions. Shape each portion into a round ball, set on sprayed work surface and cover with a damp dish towel or plastic wrap. Let relax 15-20 minutes.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease the sheet or spray with nonstick baking spray. Set aside.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll each ball out to a 1/4-inch-thick circle then roll each circle up like a log, about 8 inches long, and place on prepared baking sheet. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rest 15 minutes.
  • While dough is resting for the third time, heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Bake 15-20 minutes, until loaves are deep golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and let cool on pan. Makes 6 loaves.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1/2-loaf serving: 223 calories (percent of calories from fat, 22), 6 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 6 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 871 milligrams sodium.
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