In 1987, Kathleen and two friends, all former employees of Chez Panisse, opened an old-fashioned full-service bakery in downtown Healdsburg. All of Downtown Bakery’s products are mixed, rolled, shaped, and cut by hand, and then baked in either an old-style tile pizza oven or rack ovens.
Depending on the season, as much as 90% of Downtown Bakery’s ingredients are certified organic. The bakery uses a natural sourdough starter, Clover-Stornetta and Petaluma Farms eggs, cane sugar, and fresh fruits. All flours are organic and sourced from a South San Francisco-based mill that buys grains grown in the western United States. Many of the fruits and nuts in Downtown Bakery’s products are sourced from Sonoma County growers.
Downtown Bakery was one of the first vendors at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in 1993. They have been here on Saturdays ever since
On November 8, 2013, CUESA visited Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg as part of our “Sweet Tooth Tour in Sonoma County.” Thank you to CUESA intern Tessa Jorgensen for the photos and captions.
Downtown Bakery in downtown Healdsburg is famous for its desserts and pastries, which are hand-crafted from scratch daily with fresh, locally sourced produce.
Our farm tour group stepped into the narrow shop surrounded by beautiful baked goods on all sides. The retail space flows into the open kitchen, where the sights, sounds, and smells of scrumptious treats waft forward. You can watch the beginnings of a chocolate cake being made in the morning, then buy it off the shelf in the afternoon.
Kathleen Stewart opened Downtown Bakery in 1987 and hasn’t slowed down since. She credits Downtown Bakery’s success to its philosophy that real food matters, is delicious, and ties together local agricultural communities.
Kathleen has spent the last decade building personal relationships with local farmers, many of them in Sonoma County. She sources all the bakery’s ingredients personally, reaching out to growers across the region and experimenting with different products until she finds the perfect one.
It’s a family affair. Kathleen’s daughter, Liz, who heads up the baked goods and pastry production, was putting the finishing touches on a cake.
Kathleen showed our group how to make baby apple galettes, an open-faced pastry. She explained that the crust should be light and flaky, while in the inside should be moist but not too liquidy, or you run the risk of the crust becoming soggy.
Making the dough from scratch is important if you want to attain the right consistency. Kathleen’s advice: use only all-purpose flour for your pastry dough to keep it light and airy, or else it will become dense like a pie crust.
A large Hobart electric mixer is one of the workhorses in the bakery’s assembly line, mixing large batches of dough to perfection.
After taste-testing the apples, we get to work making our own baby apple galettes!
Once the crusts were folded over, the galettes were brushed with butter. A final sprinkling of sugar on top gives the dessert a sweet crunch and slight glaze on the outside.
The pans disappeared into the oven as we were filled with anticipation. Downtown Bakery uses an industrial pizza oven to bake their goods. The oven gives the crusts a beautiful golden hue and even heat distribution without burning. Kathleen said you can achieve similar results at home using a 12 x 12-inch pizza tile in your oven.
Voilà! Kathleen pulled our fully baked creations out of the oven.
The final products looked scrumptious, but we had to let them cool on wire racks before we could take a bite.
We collected our pastries. No one waited to take theirs home—all of them disappeared into our stomachs before we left the shop.
Downtown’s apple spirals are a morning favorite.
Gluten-free chocolate cake
Liz displayed her morning work. The joy and persistence she has for the craft of pastries, cakes, and other sweet masterpieces shone through as she shared the details of what goes into the making of each of their desserts.
The rest of the kitchen was busy chopping and baking for their steady stream of Friday patrons. A sun-up to sundown breed of work, running a bakery that makes everything from scratch isn’t for the faint of heart. When asked if retirement was in her future, Kathleen remarked that it hadn’t crossed her mind.
CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs. Learn More »