“Sweet Yule and Sour Tide” – This Year, Twin Cities Residents Can Spread Holiday Cheer by Getting Baked
The act of giving, whether it’s the giving of a gift for the Holidays or the giving of a gift for any other reason, is as simple as it is profound. Giving is the singular expression of a singular emotion that is itself just-as-simple as it is just-as-profound. When done right, such gift-giving usually produces a figurative kind of oven-warmed sweetness.
More literal oven-warmed sweetness is no mystery to one Twin Cities entrepreneur. “Chocolate is my favorite ingredient to work with,” Jessica Mayer testifies. It’s fortunate, then, that Mayer skates through life as owner of Bake You Happy, a home-based business where cocoa beans are often both the medium and the message. In addition to being a professional chef, Mayer is a registered cottage food producer. “My chocolate cake won Fourth Place at the State Fair this year,” she continues. “It was my first time entering and was a lot of fun to create…with the added bonus of a ribbon!”
Food production runs the full gamut of taste, of course: while Mayer handles a complete range of sweet—from chocolate to peanut butter to red velvet and back again–another local baker business has a less variegated take on sweet’s opposite. “Sourdough is actually more about the process of making the bread, and a few key ingredients,” observes Daren Latham, co-founder of Swirl Top Baking. “It is a slower process using wild yeast and beneficial bacteria to leaven the bread, ferment the ingredients, and add unique flavors.”
Swirl Top Baking is a dry-cooking duo which describes itself as producing “handcrafted artisan sourdough bread and occasionally other baked treats in the heart of the Minneapolis Victory neighborhood. We love to produce unique and healthful items with easy-to-understand ingredient lists.”
As for fermentation, that is that multi-tiered, sugar-shagging process that can transform cabbage into sauerkraut, grape juice into wine, and, in Swirl Top Baking’s case, a certain kind of boodle into a certain kind of bread. Latham elaborates: “The fermentation step takes between sixteen and twenty hours and is a really important part of the sourdough process that enhances the bread’s flavor as well as the availability and digestibility of nutrients in the bread and the shelf life of the bread.”
If that exposition sounds especially technical, welp…it’s especially technical with good reason. “We both have engineering backgrounds,” Latham notes, that “both” referring to Latham himself, along with Swirl Top Baking’s other co-founder, Kurt Ebner. “[My background] is in software engineering, and Kurt’s is in manufacturing.”
The business at first was merely a pleasure, a worry-reducing diversion. “We’ve always found that spending time in the kitchen was a good way to relax and get away from the stress of our regular day jobs,” Latham reveals. “This shift in our careers and focus is kind of a happy, little accident that has been really rewarding.”
That selfsame shift not only allows a furtherance of the co-founders’ relationship but their relationship to the client base, as well. “It allows us to spend more time together and have more free time and flexibility in our lives,” Ebner discloses. “Also, we enjoy seeing the same customers week after week and focusing on creating breads that they love.”
This grainy affection sometimes varies according to the caprices of the calendar. “The seasons play a minor role in our bread menu,” Ebner reports. “For example, we have a Chocolate & Cherry loaf that we offer more when the weather is cooler because chocolate in the summer heat at a farmers market stand tends to melt and smear the inside of the bag.”
The planet’s temporal adjustments have a more pronounced effect on Bake You Happy, although chocolate is mercifully exempt from all of them. “The seasons play a huge role in what is made,” Mayer discloses. “Utilizing in-season produce improves the quality and salability of the products I create. Keeping up with seasonal flavors–pumpkin, mint, et cetera–also draws people in to grab their ‘limited time’ favorites.” The notion of season can be a social construct as often as it is a tilting of the Earth’s axis. “I offer a variety of Christmas cookies sold by the dozen each year,” Mayer says. “They will be available the first couple weeks of December.”
And sometimes, at least according to Bake You Happy, a season can be determined by a single individual. “I am always accepting special orders, whether for a cake, event, or just to satisfy a craving for homemade cookies,” Mayer catalogs. “I have experience in catering, as well as wedding cakes.”
Despite the sweet/sour polarity, both dream-chasing companies share more similarities than differences…including a humble beginning. “I started Bake You Happy in December of 2020 offering Christmas cookies on Facebook,” Jessica Mayer confesses. “I then offered various menus based on the seasons, and took custom orders, as well. Last summer was my first time doing a farmers’ market. I did that one again this year, as well as craft shows and other markets mixed in.”
Swirl Top Baking’s humble beginning might be even humbler than that…as, early on, the two-man band lacked even a name. “We were just known casually as ‘the sourdough guys’ or ‘D & K Sourdough’ at the farmers market in 2022,” Latham recalls. “We just hadn’t found any inspiration for a name.”
In those salad days, the casually-anonymous company carried only two varieties of sourdough–Original Artisan loaf and Rosemary Olive Oil loaf—but the addition of a company name seems to have opened a floodgate of flavor. “Since those first days with just two offerings, we’ve added another seven or so flavors of bread – all sourdough,” Ebner says. “We try to have some sweeter options as well as savory.”
The sweet motivation of gift giving is, at least in the case of two local baking businesses, the same as sharing one’s dream by the loaf or the slice or the swirl. It’s the singular expression of a human emotion that’s as simple as it is profound…and that emotion is love.