At The French Bakery on Hilton Head Island, freshly baked, house-made, mouth-watering pastries, breads and desserts fill glass cases. Cinnamon rolls, chocolate-dipped madeleines and scones disappear in a flash. December is a busy month for the family-owned bakery, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Marek Belka, his son Tomazs and daughter-in-law Ellie work especially hard at the holidays, much to the delight of their customers. Marek recently brought Chef Robert Plantadis, a French baker and founder of Bluffton’s Midnight Baker, on board to help expand The French Bakery’s offerings — including the creation of more vegetarian items.
Every December, The French Bakery is inundated with specials orders for traditional Christmas cakes — the French buche de Noel, or Yule log, a rolled chocolate sponge cake decorated to resemble a log; the German stollen, a fruit bread of nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit; the Polish babka, a sweet yeast cake laced with rum syrup and topped with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
The buche de Noel has an interesting story behind it: “The peasants didn’t have gifts to bring so they brought a piece of wood, a short log, to add to the fireplace,” Marek said.
But it’s not all about the cakes: The French Bakery also offers pies in flavors like apple, cherry, pumpkin and pecan — all prepared “with a European flair,” Marek said.
The view from the 120-seat bakery in Shelter Cove Towne Center looks out onto scenic Broad Creek and Shelter Cove Community Park. The dining room accommodates a bustling daily crowd and also hosts private parties. Marek also recently purchased a mobile crepe cart to provide the delicate bakery’s signature French pastries at festivals, corporate parties and weddings.
“At a recent wedding, the lines were the longest for the crepes,” Marek said.
He also plans to unveil a special coffee program this winter, and designs are in the works for an expansion of the dining room to include an outdoor patio with a waterfall and a fire pit.
In January, The French Bakery will introduce the “Family, Fun and Fondue” menu, a throwback to the 1970s dinner party craze. In addition to cheese and chocolate fondues, the bakery will serve oil and broth fondues.
“Fondue is fun and relaxing, and people chatting at the table can enjoy the experience,” Marek said. “Fondue is the food of friendship and family bonding, sitting around a pot, talking and unplugging their devices. We’ll have a special fondue menu to have a focus on the family. Legend has it that when a woman’s piece of bread falls off her fork into the fondue, she is supposed to kiss the guy on her left. If a man drops a piece of bread in the fondue, he has to buy another round of fondue.”
The bakery will also have a small-plates dinner menu in which everything is served in “verrines,” French for a small, thick-walled glass container.
IF YOU GO
The French Bakery
28 Shelter Cove Lane, Shelter Cove Towne Centre, Hilton Head Island
7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, with dinner 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays