As their first cookbook hits the bookstores this fall, the mother-daughter team at the Model Bakery in Napa Valley is getting ready for another season of holiday madness.
"At Halloween, we do a lot of decorated cupcakes and cookies, and we'll do spiderweb cakes," said co-owner and managing partner Sarah Mitchell Hansen, daughter of founder Karen Mitchell. "Our busiest time is Thanksgiving and Christmas."
The bakery has been a community hub in St. Helena since 1984, with a second location at Napa's Oxbow Public Market since 2008, providing everything the valley needs to run smoothly: coffee and pastries to kick-start mornings, cookies and cakes to celebrate special occasions, breakfasts and lunches to fuel workers and a delicious array of artisan breads to go.
"A lot of people get their birthday cakes, and then their wedding cakes," Hansen said. "We do a lot of local events. We've been doing the Napa Valley Wine Auction since it started."
"The Model Bakery Cookbook" (Chronicle Books, $35) offers 75 recipes from the bakery for sweet and yeasty treats, from its signature English Muffins and Pain Au Levain to Morning Glory Muffins and Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies.
"The book is user-friendly," Hansen said. "The layer cakes will take a little more time, but the basic muffins are pretty easy."
Mitchell, a former high school teacher and caterer, bought the bakery in 1984 after a trip through Europe inspired her to bring artisan bread to the valley.
Mitchell grew up in Portland in a family of Norwegian bakers. After renovating the bakery and its ovens, which had been operating since the early 1900s, she opened just before Thanksgiving in 1984 and never looked back.
"In the valley, there wasn't really a lot of options (for bread) in the '80s," Hansen said. "We were more focused on the European style. When we opened, my mom had a French pastry chef, and we had the breads made with wild yeast instead of commercial."
Along with master baker Peter Reinhart, who founded Brother Juniper's Bakery in Sonoma County, Mitchell was part of the pioneering Baker's Dozen group, a network launched in 1989 by cookbook author Marion Cunningham.
Since Hansen joined the bakery 10 years ago, she has expanded its wholesale business throughout the valley, providing fresh-baked bread for 80 accounts, including high-end restaurants such as Bottega, Bistro Jeanty and Domaine Chandon in Yountville.
"Probably our most popular bread is the French baguette," Hansen said. "It's a standard French sweet bread, made with a starter, but it has more acidity and depth."
The bakery uses organic ingredients, sourcing its flour from Central Milling of Utah (distributed by Keith Giusto Bakery Supply of Petaluma) and its dairy products from Clover-Stornetta of Petaluma.
The bakery rose to fame with its English Muffins, which were extolled by Napa Valley chef Michael Chiarello on the Food Network show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate."
"We make 1,000 a day, all done by hand and rolled in cornmeal," Hansen said. "Then we fry them on the stovetop in clarified butter."
Morning pastries that fly out the door include the Morning Buns (made with croissant dough and cinnamon sugar), Blueberry Muffins, Croissants, Pain au Chocolat and Bear Claws.
"We open at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays," Hansen said, "and we have a line, especially during harvest."