The south-central Iowa city of Pella, in Marion County, is well known for its Dutch roots, which are famously celebrated during the annual Tulip Time celebration in early May. But one of my favorite attractions in Pella--Jaarsma Bakery--is busy all year round producing authentic Dutch pastries.
Jaarsma was opened in 1898 by Harmon Jaarsma who emigrated from the Netherlands and settled in Pella. The bakery moved to its present location on the town Square in 1948. The original building burned to the ground in 1973 but was rebuilt on the same site. Four generations later, Harmon's great-granddaughter Kristi owns and operates the bakery with her husband Dave Balk.
Get ready for a Dutch immersion experience as soon as you walk in the door. You'll enter the bakery through a room devoted to Dutch souvenirs, candies, foods, trinkets, and clothing. Even if you're only here for the treats, it's fun to browse the iconic blue and white Delftware (mugs, plates, tiles, and figurines) and other items while enjoying the wonderful aromas of yeast, cinnamon, and other tempting scents. The assistants helping with your purchase are dressed in blue with white aprons and starched bonnets and are uniformly friendly. Don't be shy about reaching for a sample from the plates on top of the display cases (usually pieces of Dutch Letters).
Speaking of Dutch "Letters", one of the bakery's signature treats, here is a short video from The Des Moines Register documenting how these pastries are made:
These treats usually come in the shape of an "S" (for Sinterklaas or Santa Claus), but in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day special "Love Letters" are available formed in the shape of a heart. Another heart-shaped treat is the Apple Sweetheart bread boasting apples, cinnamon, almonds, pecans, and a sugary glaze.
Although I'm still working my way through tasting all of the bakery treats available at Jaarsma, some of my favorites so far include Puff Pillows (creamy frosting sandwiched between pastry rectangles covered in rock sugar crystals; potentially messy but fabulous); Raspberry Dream Boats (a small chocolate cake with raspberry filling between the layers and thick chocolate icing over it all); Pecan Breakfast Rolls; Coffee Cakes (many prepackaged varieties are usually available, such as Raspberry/Almond, Peach, or Pecan); and chocolate or vanilla cream-filled doughnuts.
For kids, there is a mesmerizing display case devoted to frosted and decorated sugar cookies. They also bake excellent bread (my favorite: sprouted wheat) and dinner rolls and will happily customize a birthday cake or other special order.
I've also used online ordering at their website to have treats shipped to family members at the holidays and the recipients all raved about their gifts. Not all products are shown on their website as available for shipping, so I'm thinking they only ship treats that can withstand the trip.
There's also a satellite location in Oskaloosa near downtown. No baking is done at the Oskaloosa site and the selection isn't as extensive, but I appreciate the convenience of having Jaarsma treats available at this location.
One visit to Jaarsma Bakery and maybe, like me, you'll be counting the days until you can return for more authentic Dutch treats!
Hours are Monday-Saturday 6:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., closed on Sunday.
Photo credit: the author