One day in late January, I was awed by the desserts under the glass case at Thomas Craft Confections, in Brenham. The selections ranged from cupcakes iced with mountains of swirled buttercream to more-delicate sweets like pastel-colored macarons and tartlets made with fresh seasonal fruit. On the countertop sat big chocolate chip cookies and still-warm canelés de Bordeaux, with crisp, caramelized outsides and chewy insides flavored with rum.
On the shelves along the walls were holiday season stalwarts of nicely packaged chocolate bars, toffee, and other confections. Back in the kitchen, the staff was preparing artisanal truffles and breakable chocolate hearts for Valentine’s Day.
Such a bounty might be taken for granted in a big city, but the high-quality sweets of the expertly led Thomas Craft Confections is exactly what Brenham has been needing—and one more step toward making the small town a destination for dessert hounds.
The cuted-up metal building near a flooring company and a Dollar General is not where Jennifer and Adam Thomas pictured themselves five years ago. Adam worked his way up through celebrated hotel kitchens in California, Ireland, Singapore, and Bali, Indonesia, before serving as executive pastry chef at the legendary Broadmoor resort, in Colorado Springs, for nine years. If you’re deep into dough, you might know him as the cohost of Untempered, a podcast he launched in 2021 with Derek Poirier, a corporate chef for the 102-year-old French chocolate company Valrhona.
Jennifer prefers to call herself a pastry cook, rather than a pastry chef, but she too is classically trained—a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute. She was working at the St. Regis Monarch Beach, in Dana Point, California, with the renowned French chocolatier Stéphane Tréand when she met her future husband about eighteen years ago. Adam, fresh from the San Diego Culinary Institute, was apprenticing across the street at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel and took a second job at the St. Regis to learn from Tréand.
Although Jennifer paused her career when she gave birth to their daughter, Emily, nine years ago, she and Adam often talked—not too seriously—about building their own confectionery. It would be later in life, they thought. Later arrived sooner than expected. After the Broadmoor shut down for seventy days in spring 2020 due to COVID, the couple felt they’d reached a now-or-never moment and started hunting for an existing operation they could rebrand. They wanted it to be in a vibrant small town.
They found out Brenham’s Bliss Candy Company was for sale. After fourteen years, owners Cynthia and Sammy Timpa were retiring and leaving a base of corporate clients that ordered thousands of pounds of toffee every holiday season. The more the Thomases researched Brenham, the more they liked it—a population of 17,000, growing rapidly, and close enough to both Houston and Austin to satisfy their occasional urban urges. Plus, they had family and friends in the state.
The new proprietors took over in mid-2021 and rebranded about ten months later, transforming the storefront with a contemporary European vibe and amping up the kitchen with a chocolate-tempering machine; a panning machine, to coat nuts in a thin layer of caramelized sugar; and copper kettles for mixing toffee. They upgraded ingredients, too, insisting on Valrhona chocolate for their confections, Felchlin Swiss chocolate atop their toffees, and European Plugrà butter in just about everything.
From the beginning, the Thomases offered cupcakes and cookies daily. In a chocolate-making environment, too much flour in the air can disrupt the delicate process, but those treats involve quick batter. But a year into their business, the Thomases were craving the more labor- and flour-intensive pastries their new hometown didn’t offer. They paused chocolate production one Thursday in summer 2022 and spent the next day and a half proofing and hand-rolling croissants. In an echo of the jingle that put Blue Bell on the map, they ate all they could and sold the rest.
Locals who caught wind of the happenings on Instagram were soon lining up outside to get their fix of the “Saturday Bake,” which soon became a regular practice. The Thomases now meet the demand with advance online orders for their croissants, mini quiches, and pecan sticky buns.
Back at the shop on the day I visited, bags of chocolate-covered pecan toffee—table favors for a recent chamber of commerce dinner—were piled on a corner table in the back. “They seem to be welcoming here to people who want to come in and do their thing. That’s what we love,” Jennifer told me about the locals. She is also pleased to have a small local competitor, Jet Set Chocolates, which makes flamboyantly colored truffles. “If they succeed, we succeed,” she said. “And if people come to know Brenham as the chocolate town, I’m in.”