With this year’s departures of Salty Tart and Heritage Breads from the Mill City Farmers Market, bread lovers are happy to see a new bakery, Lowertown Bakehouse, filling the void. Chris Sarles opened Lowertown Bakery in the spring, baking bagels and sourdough breads with a cottage food license in his apartment. Now, working in a professional kitchen, Sarles’ business is quickly growing to offer a wide selection of breads and sweets.
Sarles started baking as a line cook. At the end of his shifts, he would experiment with impromptu desserts for the restaurant. When asked where he learned to bake, Sarles explained that he’s self-taught.
“I’m going to sound like a nerd, but for the past couple years, I’ve stayed up all night reading a cookbook or a pastry chef’s Reddit or livestreams on YouTube. It’s mostly trial and error.”
Lowertown Bakehouse uses heritage flour from farmers market neighbor Sunrise Flour Mill. Much like an heirloom vegetable, heritage wheat is not commercially processed or genetically modified. Additionally, chefs, bakers and eaters love the fresher flavor and find the gluten easier to digest than that of conventional wheat.
However, working with heritage flour comes with many challenges. Unlike commodity wheat, heritage is tricky. Protein counts, oxidization and many other characteristics vary with freshly milled grains and affect the baking process.
“I liked the challenge [of working with heritage flour],” Sarles said. “I had bread dialed down, and then I was back to square one. There are hundreds of idiosyncrasies about heritage flour, and there’s a little bit more of a magical, tactile feel.”
And it’s a good thing Sarles enjoys a challenge. His next steps are navigating the complex world of growing his company from a cottage food business out of his apartment to an LLC that is now baking for wholesale accounts, upgrading to a commercial bakery and even taking on part-time employees.
But Sarles isn’t navigating the baking or business planning alone. He’s grateful to be working with many mentors and partners, including James Beard-award winning chef and restaurateur Tim McKee (owner of Octobar), who is Sarles’ landlord at his new baking space in the Market House Collaborative in Lowertown St. Paul. Sarles is also soaking up wisdom from Salty Tart pastry chef Adrienne Odom (another Market House neighbor) and numerous others, eager to see his business succeed.
“I almost have too much help right now — it’s hard to reply to all the emails,” he said. “I feel really blessed.”
At the market
You can find Lowertown Bakehouse at the Mill City Farmers Market’s final outdoor dates on Oct. 19 and Oct. 26 and at the indoor winter markets starting Nov. 2.
Schedule and more information available at millcityfarmersmarket.org.
Lowertown Bakehouse Pumpkin Bread
- 1 cup sifted Heritage Turkey Red flour
- 1 cup Sonora soft white wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon Vietnamese cinnamon
- 13/4 sticks sweet cream butter
- 11/2 cups baker’s sugar
- 2 room-temperature eggs
- 1 pound roasted pumpkin or winter squash, mashed
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together. Set aside.
Whip butter in stand mixer for one minute. Add sugar and mix on medium-high for two minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, until each is incorporated. Add pumpkin/squash and mix until it looks curdled. Add dry ingredients. Mix until fully incorporated.
Pour into greased baking pan lightly dusted with flour. Pat sides and tap bottom of pan to remove air bubbles. Bake for 40–45 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.