Flour de Lis Bakery on Bardstown Road mixes nostalgic flavors with local ingredients and produces an array of treats and flavors that are simultaneously complicated and soothing. Jessica Roberts, who co-owns the business with her mother, Juli Roberts, has been baking since childhood, but despite an early love of the craft, had to take a few wrong turns before she ended up in the kitchen profession.
Roberts left Louisville to attend Denison University in Ohio, where she majored in Spanish and communications with a minor in art. As she approached her matriculation date, she started to have second thoughts.
“I just kind of sat down one day and had an honest conversation with myself about what I’m really passionate about,” she tells Insider. “I realized it was baking.”
For Roberts, baking started out as a self-serving enterprise.
“I’ve always had a crazy sweet tooth. And I figured out the best way to get dessert was to make dessert,” she says.
The realization came in middle school after her mother, who had been a stay-at-home mom, went back to school.
“My favorite thing in the world was her banana bread, and I wasn’t getting it as much because she was busy,” remembers Roberts. “So I realized that in order to eat the banana bread, I must make the banana bread. That was the first recipe I made for myself.”
Roberts says her whole family is passionate about cooking, and she remembers epic pot luck dinners with aunts and uncles all showing off their best recipes. “As soon as I decided I liked making dessert, we became the default dessert people. We’d pick a new recipe we were interested in and try it, and make our family guinea pigs.”
Her love of feeding friends and family continued in college, which made her popular with her sorority sisters.
“I fed them all the time, which they loved,” she says. “You know, girls and cupcakes, what are you gonna do?”
But once she realized she wanted to bake professionally, she got serious fast, applying for the renowned Culinary Institute of America.
“I was set to go to New York, which is the campus everybody knows about,” says Roberts. But then the school asked her if she wanted to be in the first class at their new campus in Napa Valley, and they offered her a scholarship. “They were gonna give me money to go live in wine country, so I said yes.”
While living in California, Roberts worked in a variety of restaurants and bakeries. But when she graduated, she came right back home to Louisville.
“I moved home with the intention of maybe going somewhere else for a while,” she says, adding that she contemplated other Southern cities like Charleston or Nashville. But once she arrived home, she decided to go ahead and start her own business. “I decided to go for it, because I didn’t want to leave again.”
Her mom, whom she credits as being her first baking teacher, had made Roberts a standing offer to help start a business when the time came. The duo started baking in the spring of 2013.
“We started looking at farmers markets and stuff around town that we could be a part of, and started out that way,” she says.
The two soon expanded their business to wholesale, and their first client was Farm to Fork Catering. The company had been looking for a pastry chef to hire on, but Roberts suggested Flour de Lis work with Farm to Fork on a wholesale basis. Roberts met with Farm to Fork owner Sherry Hurley to talk details.
“We sat down and we were both passionate about using local ingredients and vibed on that,” explains Roberts. “And she said, ‘Well, actually, I have extra space in my kitchen if you’d be interested in renting.’ So not only did we become wholesalers for her, we became roomies.”
From there, Flour de Lis expanded their wholesale client list to include McQuixote Books & Coffee, Days Coffee, and Crave Café.
In the three years between Flour de Lis’ genesis and the January opening of their brick-and-mortar, Roberts says they figured out their identity: “I’ve worked at so many places in California and here — I’ve done the organic thing, I’ve done French entremet fancy thing, I’ve done all local, (and) I was a chocolatier for a while.”
After some experiments, Flour de Lis settled into a mix of baked goods that focus heavily on nostalgic items like Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, Moon Pies and Rice Krispie Treats. But their versions of the old favorites are made with local ingredients and handmade parts. The Moon Pie, for example, is made of house-made marshmallow and in-house graham crackers, dipped in chocolate.
On a recent follow-up visit, I tasted an Oatmeal Cream Pie, a Blackberry Orange Scone and a Pub Bar. The Cream Pie was by far the sweetest of the three items, but it still managed to move past its sugary nature and present the palette with some more complicated flavors. Hints of cinnamon and nutmeg teased from the sides while the vanilla buttercream dominated the treat.
The Pub Bar was almost a deconstructed reconstructed candy bar. It was like a blondie cookie, but with peanuts, caramel, chocolate chips and marshmallow chunks added. The additional ingredients were used sparingly so that each bite offered a unique combination. Some bites where peanut and caramel, some chocolate and marshmallow.
The Blackberry and Orange Scone put to shame all the unsubtle scone makers in Louisville, who load their concoctions with so much sugar that it’s basically a fluffy cookie. Flour de Lis remembers that what makes a scone glorious is the balance between the flaky salty biscuit-ness and the sweet featured ingredients.
Bakeries are often on the front of the war between foodie culture’s need to re-invent tastes and the frequent commercial appeal to nostalgia, which often relies heavily on unsubtle tastes and overuse of sugar.
Flour de Lis almost perfectly bridges that gap, with enough sugar to make your head spin, but flavors that can also beguile the more sensitive palettes. Their combinations of flavors prove that bakeries can have their cake and eat it too.
(They also make cakes.)
Flour de Lis Bakery is located at 1759 Bardstown Road, near Better Days and Asiatique.