When Sophie Smith first got into professional restaurants after graduating from cooking school, she started as a savory chef, working the line at the popular San Francisco restaurant A16. But her heart was in sweets, so in her off time she would make cakes for friends and family. When that side hobby continued to grow, the idea of going into pastries took hold — then the pandemic ensued, forcing the restaurant where she was working to shut down and pushing Smith into starting her bakery business Butter & Crumble fulltime. Now, after a three-month-long hiatus, the popular pandemic-era bakery is back, popping-up in a space in the Marina with a new viennoiserie program.
Smith hit some roadblocks since first starting her bakery in April 2020 at the age of 23; a San Francisco Chronicle article captured the hardship of obtaining permits to operate in restaurant kitchens while many places were closed. But a lot has changed since then. Smith built her bakery brand around offering vegan and gluten-free cake options, which she still does. Then a trip to France in the summer 2022 presented an opportunity to take a weeklong pastry workshop and eventually evolved into a chance to attend a two-month pastry program at École Ducasse, a culinary school in Paris. Despite feeling the pull to deep dive into pastry making, Smith was hesitant to shut down her blossoming business. But her family encouraged her to take a chance. “I made a very impulsive decision to shut down and go because, first of all, I felt like I really needed a break after two years of just grinding, but also because I never had formal pastry training,” Smith says. “I felt like I had hit a place where I had so many ideas but I wasn’t able to fully go after them because I didn’t feel like I had a full skill set.”
After the program, Smith extended her stay and took on a month-long internship at Parisian bakery Boulangerie Baptiste run by chef Joël Defives, a celebrated MOF Boulanger who earned the title of France’s best craftsperson for baking. Returning home in the fall 2022, she worked to adapt her knowhow to the ingredients she can find in San Francisco. Smith still makes fanciful cakes, such as her cinnamon-matcha snickerdoodle creation, but Butter & Crumble is also now entering its Croissant Era, starring puffy croissants dressed up in both savory and sweet flavors with beautifully laminated layers and a toothsome shatter to their exterior. Smith wants the butter flavor to really shine and works in a bit of sourdough to help develop the flavor. “When I was in Paris, I spent all of my free time eating every single pastry that I could possibly get my hands on and got a really good idea of what I like in a pastry,” Smith says. “My favorite kinds of pastries are those that have a really crunchy flaky outside but a soft inside.”
Working with her assistant, Nicki Volante, she’s baking pastries that typically sell out during weekend walkup sales. The duo works out of a kitchen in a former Patxi’s Pizza at 3318 Fillmore Street, a space now owned by Marina bar Westwood. There’s a cross-laminated pecan pain Suisse, which crisscrosses layers of croissant dough to create a crunchy-sweet pastry topped with candied pecans; cinnamon pains au chocolat; and a pistachio cardamom sugar croissant, dusted in sugar and pistachio bits for those with a sweet tooth. Smith also works in savory components, starting with an everything bagel ham and cheese croissant that gives the typical croque monsieur croissant a spice kick. But it’s the bacon egg and cheese croissant, Smith and Volante’s take on a breakfast sandwich, that’s turning heads. Playing with a spiral-shaped croissant led to them creating a croissant rolled with bacon, garlic, cheddar cheese, topped with an egg yolk and baked until the yolk is soft and jammy. Then it’s served with salt, pepper, and chives sprinkled on top. “People are saying it’s the best, craziest pastry they’ve ever had — and we eat one ourselves every weekend,” Smith says.
Smith is just getting started with her plans for Butter & Crumble. She’s teaching small cookie and croissant classes out of the Fillmore Street kitchen, showing attendees how to make croissants at home. After a busy Valentine’s Day, Smith and Volante are already planning for Easter, including items like a blueberry pain Suisse and a carrot cake croissant. She’s also keeping her eye on starting her own bakery space, when the time feels right, where she can bring in the more savory aspects of her cooking experience. “Paris was such an incredible opportunity because it allowed me to figure out what I was really passionate about — and it turns out that is these pastries,” Smith says.
Butter & Crumble (3318 Fillmore Street) is open for walk-in pastry purchases from 10 a.m. until sold out on Saturdays and Sundays. Cakes and pastry boxes are available for pre-order, for pickup on the weekend, via the Buttter & Crumble website. For the latest on hours and available pastries, visit the business on Instagram @butter.and.crumble.