St. James is an idyllic town surrounded by lakes on the road from Southwestern Minnesota to the Twin Cities. At its center is Schmidt’s Bakery, a stalwart Danish Bakery with fame extending across the state. The classic look of the bakery beckons us to stop and investigate. It really is a classic, here since 1923 — almost a century of operation under the same family. Much of the equipment used in baking is pre-war, and the family recipes that they use can be traced all the way back to the old country.
Danishes are just right: soft, eggy pastry with dollops of sweet jam and a delicate touch of icing. Beyond them, the display case contains an entire section of such Mexican bakery classics as conchas and tostadas. Seemingly out of place in a Danish bakery, we assume they exist to serve the community’s changing demographics.
The Mokol is the best thing to get. It’s a bar-shaped cut from whatever fresh cake the bakery is featuring — carrot the day we stop in. The cake is covered with maple frosting and coated with peanuts to create a single serving hand-cake. Other than the inevitable falling peanut or two, this moist cake bar is surprisingly neat and easy to eat. Every bite contains the complimentary flavors of maple, nuts, and baking spices. Don’t miss the flakey tart-cookies, another original mash-up. This time a jam filled pie is merged with a cookie. The results are delightful.
Another house creation is the Monster Cookie, a soft sugary disc of nuts, oatmeal and M&M candies. This might have been imagined to appeal to children, but we enjoy it immensely. Sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins and iced with orange frosting don’t taste like pumpkin, but are only meant to add some festive color to the cookie display. Depending on the season, cookies and cakes may be shaped like tanenbaums, shamrocks, or disembodied bunny heads. The bakery operates with the wholesomeness and honest pricing of a neighborhood bake sale, but it bakes with the chops of a century-old, well-buttered machine.
After all of these sweets, we recognize the need for something savory to refresh our palates, and try the jalapeño cheese baguette. It tastes fresh and nicely spicy, but it doesn’t measure up to the cakes and pastries. Sweet things are the must-try items in this shop.