Baker & Nosh is a bijou bakery and café in uptown Chicago owned and operated by Bill Millholland & Terry Groff. When we met them on a very chilly day at their toasty shop, we got a chance to try their wonderful goods and learn their story.
Bill is the creator of the brilliant pastries and breads of which you see photos below. He discovered his passion for baking only after culinary school: “In culinary schools there’s usually culinary, pastry and some schools actually have bread as the third section. I studied culinary; so I know how to roast a chicken, beschamel sauce and all of that. After graduating I realized very quickly that it was a great education but I preferred the sweet aspect of pastry to culinary. I worked in restaurants in New York briefly. Then I started baking and learned bread baking. So when we opened this I knew that I wanted to be the neighborhood baker. And I think we’ve become that.”
They now have a very strong following who come in everyday whether there’s inches of snow or it’s 110 degrees. “We recently had a tree lighting ceremony and we were stunned at how many people came!” Terry continues in great surprise. “We had about 150 people here! We only posted it on facebook and put signs up. We let Uptown Update and Chamber of Commerce know but that was it. We had carolers, people brought ornaments, we gave away cider, cheese and coffee. If was wonderful.”
Coffee is essential to the store. “We have morning regulars who come in just for coffee. We’re still trying to figure out if people like Louisiane better or Corsica. I’m a Louisiane person, Bill’s favorite is Corsica.” Bill interrupts “Of course. In fact I call it “Of Corsica”.
But their specialties are the scrumptious pastries to go with the coffee. The stars of the store are the sticky buns, croissants, breakfast sandwiches and the coffee cake. The scone might replace all of that soon, though. We tried the tart cherry and oats scone and it was out of this world.
We notice the painting of sticky buns and ask about the recipe: “I’m using a recipe from Le Cordon Bleu for the dough. I actually changed it and made it a little sweeter. Then you roll out the dough, smear it with butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, nuts or whatever. Roll it up, cut it to pieces, then bake. That’s it.”
Bill makes it sound so easy. When Bill worked in Italy teaching at a cooking school in Tuscany he learned that he really loved teaching. “And I was a teacher for 7 years at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago leading up to opening this bakery so when I opened this we thought there should be a teaching aspect to it”
They do a bread class and a croissant class. To some, it may sound intimidating to try bread at home but Bill convinces us that it’s not that difficult.
“It’s four ingredients: Flour, yeast, water and salt. As long as you have an oven and the ability to knead dough, you’re good to go. I know any time there’s a recipe with the word ‘yeast’ in it people flip the page. Yes, yeast is very intimidating to some people; they don’t understand how it works or what it’s supposed to do. It has a life of its own. There are days that it’s happy, there are days that it’s angry. So one of the things we talk about in class is how do you recognize that and what you need to do to make it right. I believe I manage to take the intimidation out of the yeast products. The white bread I teach is the same as our baguette, which is a standard formula. And there’s the whole-wheat based dough. With that one I let the students put oats, flax, rye, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds so everyone can make their own multi-grain bread.” Any Chicago resident is lucky enough to be able to go by on a Monday or Tuesday night and give it a try.
“When I search for recipes I find one and another that I like and marry them together. Then I’ll add or take out a couple of things like maybe I’ll want more nutmeg or to try a particular flavor profile. So I’ll make it my own but you gotta start somewhere.”Bill comes in around 4am to make the daily pastries and bread everyday as well as making breakfast sandwiches and frittatas.
“Frittatas change everyday: spinach, asparagus, tomatoes and pesto…”
And for the cheese, Terry tells the story: “Cheese came to us really. People present us with something they have found and we pick from those except for the ones Bill needed for the cheesecakes and recipes. I’m a little more adventurous I seek out new different stuff. One of those adventures has been the delice (Délice de Bourgogne). It was a replacement for another cheese of which we had run out. They hesitated to give it us because it’s a lot stronger but it’s a bestseller. It’s really a delicious tripple cream.”
This all began when Bill came into the cafe where Terry used to and one day he said “I want to open a bakery.” That was June 2010. Every day after that they talked about it and by August 2011 they were looking at properties. “We had the idea that we would keep going until something stopped us and that still hasn’t happened so here we are.”