It’s a gross understatement to say that Fred Mische took the scenic route to arrive at his present career as the owner of Fred’s Bread in Eden Prairie. From 1990-98, he taught high school science in central Minnesota and also spent time teaching in Fiji; he gave up a teaching career to realize his dream of baking. “I wanted be the classroom teacher, principal and superintendent all wrapped into one without pursuing any of the required training,” Mische says. “I wanted to leave teaching and start some kind of business where I could have things done the way I wanted them.” Hence, a bakery business.
In 1997, while living in Clearwater Township, Mische took classes at the National Baking Center, began to amass professional equipment and started baking with friends and neighbors in his garage. By January 1999, he opened his first bakery there, an instant success. Alas, in 2008, the mighty Mische was felled by that pernicious bug-borne illness, Lyme disease, which wreaked havoc on his joints and sapped his energy. “It was nearly impossible for me to shape a baguette, I couldn’t stand up straight, I was having trouble concentrating,” he says. Reconstructive foot surgery in 2008 was the final death knell for Fred’s Bread—or so it seemed.
He replaced the ovens with books, gathered his wife Mandy Chowen and their pre-school age daughter, and began teaching again, this time in the Bahamas. Teaching in the Caribbean isn’t exactly the worst fate, Mische admits, especially since teaching was his first passion. Mische’s career took a meandering path; teaching here and consulting there until he and his family moved to St. Paul in December of 2012, and opened the bakery again, this time in Eden Prairie. The wholesale business roared to life in January; the storefront came in March. This time Chowen was part of the business. She, too, had studied at the National Baking Center and makes outrageously yummy pastries. “It has been one crazy adventure to say the least,” Mische says.
Freshly baked from scratch goods are almost always delicious, but what makes Fred’s Bread super-special is that every bread has its own poolish. What the heck’s a poolish? Sometimes called “the mother” or the starter dough, it’s a flavor boosting 18-hour pre-ferment. Mische does not go easy on the good stuff (“good” as in tasty, not good as in healthy). He uses European-style butter from the Hope Creamery in Hope, MN which boasts 85 percent fat, higher than what is typically found in most supermarket butter. Each gorgeous loaf is hand-shaped with love and baked in a steam-injected stone hearth oven.
Mische’s multiple careers inform one another. Mische considers baking to be a science and frequently used baking examples in the classroom. “A quality baker uses the power of observation to solve why products might be flat, not have the proper sheen, etc. Biology comes into play with the understanding of living organisms (yeast) and chemistry is involved in the understanding of the way that ingredients interact with each other,” he says.
Chowen and Mische have hit a few speed bumps, one of which is trying to accommodate the company’s growth—not a bad problem to have. Mische must also contend with low-carb and gluten free trends. “It is next to impossible to create decent gluten-free bread,” says Mische. “I keep my focus […] where my expertise is.” Mische’s philosophy is to keep it simple. “Breads or pastries that require a chemistry degree to decipher the ingredient list aren’t really worth eating.”
Mische’s final words on baking? “Baking is not romantic. It is rewarding. It is hard work. It is worth it.”
Visit Fred’s Bread at 6872 Washington Ave. S., Eden Prairie; hours and prices vary.
Check out the weekly bake schedule at fredsbread.com. Baguettes and chocolate chunk cookies are available every day; raisin cinnamon bread and pain au chocolat are offered on Thursdays. There is also a weekly Friday special.