I feel a certain kismet with Carissa Waechter, who, like me, is 37, and who also hails from the city’s fine dining scene. At our first meeting, she ushers me into her bakery space, Carissa’s The Bakery in East Hampton, tossing food and coffee my way so fast that I can barely keep up. With a baby on my hip and a polenta-plum cake dangling precariously from my mouth, I shuffle outside to a bistro table and chair set, where Carissa and I can discuss love, life and seasonal carbohydrates.
Carissa’s brick-and-mortar bakery opened just in time for Memorial Day weekend, but before Carissa’s Bakery was an institution on Newtown Lane, Carissa’s breads were an institution out East. I came across her oeuvre for the first time in 2014, when I was working as a server in Montauk; we served Waechter’s bread, charred and submerged in tomato water and tucked beneath a luscious lobe of burrata.
Fast-forward three years, and Waechter’s career has taken an impressive leap. On any given day, a lucky, early-morning bakery shopper will fall madly in love with her croissants (chocolate, prosciutto and Gruyère, plain), pies, loaves of all varieties (try the pickled rye), sandwiches, spices, teas and lemonades, hot and iced coffees, polenta cakes, quiches, zucchini breads and layer cakes. Miniature pies are so precious—no more than three slices apiece, some decorated with lofty piping of sugared meringue—that one’s first reaction is to Instagram them. Ditto for the crumb-layer-frosted tiered cakes.
Now, with holiday season upon us, Carissa’s sweets are the silent stars of the Hamptons. She bakes a bounty of holiday desserts, including a Concord grape pie, a pumpkin and squash pie, a cider cheesecake pie, whipped maple cream with nutmeg and tangerine zest, and a maple-walnut oat bread. And then there is the seasonally appropriate lattice-top apple pie, made with a woven “crust” of bacon. These are showpieces, not unlike a layer cake of hers that I stumbled upon in late summer, which was adorned with a sprig of white cassis. Carissa’s are pies for gifting, for display on a curated table.
The holiday pies are merely a subset of Carissa’s general philosophy regarding food. She sources her products locally as much as she can, relying on local farms like Balsam and Amber Waves for in-season produce. When apples are at their peak, she bakes apple pies, which means you won’t find that lattice-top in early spring. At Christmas, when farm-fresh produce is waning, Carissa embraces chocolate, chestnut and dried fruits, which she has put to good use this season. A bûche de Noël, along with the rest of her Christmas desserts, will make a debut the day after Thanksgiving.
Before her foray into festive East Hampton patisserie, Carissa enjoyed a 12-year career in the city as a pastry chef. She was there before the crash of 2008, when the abundance and decadence of the city and its restaurants made it a constant object of affection for 20-somethings obsessed with food. It was only when Waechter shattered her arm in an accident that she recalculated her pastry life. “I got a call from Eli Zabar, asking if I wanted to bake bread [at the then-Zabar’s-owned Amagansett Farmer’s Market]. It was the same year that Amber Waves [Farms] started growing wheat for the first time in 50 years.” A Long Island baker was born.
Carissa started “playing around” with milling, using local red wheat. Her holiday pies now feature a variety of hand-milled wheat, including soft white winter, hard red winter, and rye. Crusts are whole butter based.
In a sense, it was Carissa’s instinct for milling that led Waechter to her current status as East Hampton Baker-in-Chief. Her days at the Amagansett Farmers Market (now operated by the Amber Waves team) led to relationships with local farmers and clients. While baking customer-specific breads, she met Alexandre Chemla. “He loved his olive bread a particular way,” Carissa says, and so she obliged him. Chemla, impressed, promised her that they’d open a bakery together one day. He kept his word. Chemla and wife Lori—“family,” Carissa specifies—are now investors and fixtures at Carissa’s Breads, with Lori running the storefront.
Waechter is up by 2:30 every morning to bake bread and pie, to deliver to the Hamptons a piece of her craft. She seems unbothered by the arduousness of baking and wants exactly what she has; in this way, she is in the enviable position of having created her own dream job. “I am so in love with every part of the process,” she says, handing me bags filled with her work, as well as a cake box containing a jewel of an apple pie: tiny, decorous, adorned with a dried apple. It will look lovely on my holiday table—if it survives the car ride home.