A Baker’s Life: Zoe McCrery’s Family Affair

Zoe McCrery and her family bring comfort back through food at Zoe’s Bakery and Café in Uptown Minneapolis. Love and people are at the center of every scrumptious recipe.

Zoe McCrery didn’t choose the baker’s life; the baker’s life chose her. She wouldn’t have it any other way.  “Baking sort of happened to me, but I’ve always loved it. When I was little, we would take trips to Minneapolis. I always wanted to go to the fanciest bakery just to look – everything was so beautiful – AND we’d get to pick out a treat! I grew up baking with my Grandma and my Mom, and my Aunt. If you were going to do something special with an adult in your life, in my family, that’s what you did. You’d bake.”

Small Town Roots

Zoe and her husband, Nick, grew up in Alexandria, Minnesota, and graduated from High School together in 1993.  Zoe’s family had a longtime downtown family-run business, Barthelemy’s Furriers, so she grew up understanding how vital small businesses are to the economy and the soul of a town. Zoe’s family ran Barthelemy’s Furriers until the mid-90’s when they closed the business, and Zoe’s mother started a small bakery, Three Sisters, which Zoe and Nick purchased in 1995.

Ah, Youth

One of the advantages of youth is the exuberant confidence bestowed from not knowing what you don’t know – laughing, Zoe told me, “Oh, we were literally children back then! If I could talk to baby Zoe…”. After three years of running their bakery in Alexandria, Zoe and Nick (and their young family) moved to Minneapolis. Nick continued his baker’s education. He became the Head Baker at French Meadow Bakery, which eventually led to a co-ownership of a sprouted grain bakery in Washington state with the owners of French Meadow.  Zoe and Nick and their kids moved to a small town in Washington where they lived at the bakery – literally.  Their house connected to the bakery.  They were definitely living the baker’s life.  

Life in Minneapolis

Eventually, the family moved back to Minneapolis, where the baking continued, and Nick and Zoe’s children grew quickly,  as children do. The entrepreneurial spirit, and the baker’s heart, lives on. In 2018, Zoe and Nick’s young adult sons Jack and Jacob approached them with an idea: a coffee shop in their neighborhood of Uptown Minneapolis.  Jack had scoped out an ideal property and wanted to make a go of it.  Zoe and Nick were delighted to become equal owners with their sons, and the entrepreneurial family spirit lives on in Zoe’s Bakery and Café – a coffee shop and bakery.

Zoe’s Bakery and Café was open for just over a year when 2020 hit.  The cafe is just a few blocks from where the McCrerys live, so the family has a connection and personal investment with their community. Like so many small businesses, the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic lead to some heartbreaking choices over staffing. When they could, they gave away food.

Living Through History

When the protests over the murder of George Floyd began, they continued to show up for their neighbors and remained present to keep their business safe.  “Nick and Jack and Jacob stood outside in front of the building for probably a week…the gas station right next to us burned down. That was the one day we couldn’t open; we had no power and couldn’t make coffee. We had already made the pastries, so we just gave them away. It was a crazy time. Scary, but historical.  In hindsight, I am grateful that we were really a part of it and in the thick of it.”  

Don’t Call It a Comeback… 😉

As 2020 rolled along, Zoe’s Bakery and Café hired back everyone who was laid off and wanted to come back to work. Zoe told me that “laying them off was the worst. Lots of tears and sleepless nights.” Bringing them back was a major success for this family business where the heart is the family.

People are what matters to them. In these days of economic difficulty with the Holidays approaching and with many of us unsure of when we’ll see our friends and families again, Zoe sees their mission very clearly:

“I think food is one of the guests at the table. Food will still be here for us – you can still order the pies from the bakery or make them yourself in the kitchen, and that’s a comfort – the familiar flavors, the ritual of gathering the food.  That’s comforting this weird holiday time when most of us can’t be with the people we’re usually with or do the things we’re used to doing. People want pie. We have a bakery.  Let’s do it!”. 

In the middle of the night at Zoe’s Bakery and Café, you’ll find bakers baking. It’s for a good reason:  A cup of coffee. A quality pastry. A beautiful pie. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the greatest difference. And that’s the baker’s life.  

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You can find Zoe’s Bakery and Cafe at 821 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408 and @zoesbakerycafe on Instagram.

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Classic Pumpkin Pie 

This pie is a favorite in our family. Delicious and humble. And versatile enough to grab a slice for breakfast or serve as an impressive end to a dinner party. And it’s the pie I make for friends who, for one reason or another, need a hug.

– Zoe

Ingredients-

  • •Pastry dough (recipe below) 
  • •15 ounce can canned pumpkin 
  • •1 1/2 cups heavy cream 
  • •2 large eggs 
  • •3/4 cup light brown sugar 
  • •1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon 
  • •1 teaspoon ground ginger 
  • •pinch of cloves 
  • •pinch of nutmeg 
  • •1/4 teaspoon salt

Preparation- 

Preheat oven to 425

Make pastry dough as directed below. 

All Butter Crust (Pastry Dough)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into at least 12 pieces 
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons iced water 

Preparation

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse together the flour and salt. Add the pieces of chilled butter and pulse 2 or 3 times until the flour resembles coarse meal. Pour 1 tablespoon of water in, and pulse. Continue adding water a tablespoon at a time and pulsing until the dough just holds together. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. As you wrap the dough in the plastic, form into a disk, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

With rolling pin, roll out into a 14 inch round on a lightly floured surface, and fit into a 9 inch pie pan, edges hanging over. Fold and crimp edges, and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. 

Prick the bottom and sides of the pastry with the tines of a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil that is slightly bigger than the pie pan loosely inside the bottom of the pan (over the dough) and fill with pie weights. (If you have pie weights, awesome. But I’ve used everything from uncooked beans or rice to nuts and bolts- they all work:)

Bake in the center of the oven on a baking sheet for 12 minutes. Remove foil and weights and return the shell to the oven. 

Lower the temperature to 350. Bake for another 3 minutes. Take out of the oven and set aside.

For the pumpkin filling-

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, cream, eggs, sugar, spices and salt. 

Pour pumpkin mixture into the pie shell. Carefully transfer to oven and bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes. Let the pie cool before serving!

Some pumpkin pie recipes call for brandy or bourbon. They’re nice touches, but I’d rather add the liquor to the whipped cream any day. It is, of course, your duty to serve whipped cream with this pie.

-Zoe

Simple Bourbon Whipped Cream-

Ingredients-

  • • 1 cup heavy whipping cream 
  • • 2 tablespoons white sugar 
  • • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • • 1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon

In a medium bowl whip cream until soft mounds form. Gradually add sugar, whipping until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in vanilla and bourbon. Chill until ready to use!

Enjoy this pie with friends and family. Or quietly alone- all options are beautiful.


This article first appeared in the Winter 2020-2021 edition of Definitive Women Magazine which focuses on issues important to women; self-improvement, health, family, career, fitness, nutrition, cooking, personal economics, motivation, home decoration, fashion, lifestyle, culture, and the arts.

Definitive Women Magazine presents stories having direct connections in West Central Minnesota with a publishing base in Minnesota.