John Kraus rolled into town last winter with a pastry resumé like a prizefighter’s knockout right cross: winner of a Food Network Chocolate Challenge, named twice by Pastry Art and Design Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America” (2005 and 2006), and a 10-year holder of one of the most prestigious pastry positions in the United States, chef de cuisine at Chicago’s French Pastry School. Holy cats! Still, I tried not to be too star-struck when I visited Kraus’s new bakery, Patisserie 46. After all, lots of pastry competitions are won by things like an all-sugar Cathedral of Notre Dame. Maybe this place would be full of inedible showpieces! ¶ There’s no Notre Dame, but, yes, wonders abound. Like the Harriet, oh, the Harriet. Named for the Minneapolis lake nearest the shop, this little cake is as green and velvety as Kermit the frog, which seems like a very curious thing for a cake to be, until you learn it’s that way because of pistachio- and white-chocolate paste forced through an air compressor, a technique that results in tiny chocolate particles that look to the eye like velvet, and read on the palate as the free-floating purest essence of pistachio—and that’s only the exterior millimeter of the pastry! Inside that is a layer of real Bavarian cream made with pistachio paste, and inside that an exquisite bell of frozen gelatin made with fresh rhubarb and strawberries poached with a vanilla bean. Maneuver your fork so that you get all the layers in a single bite and—heavens! It’s fresh and intense, layered with flavor, and yet each flavor sings with its own clear note. As a whole, the dessert is entirely French and entirely local. John Kraus, please accept some more awards because that’s a game changer.
But not as much of a game changer as one of his breads, called La Mîche. La Mîche, you haunt my dreams. And if you are a bread nerd, a bread connoisseur, or even anything more than an interested bread eater, it will haunt your dreams as well. I dare say it’s the best bread ever made in Minnesota, and I would put it head-to-head with any bread in the world. The world! It’s made with whole-grain flour freshly milled in Fountain City, and a special wild-yeast starter that Kraus has been cultivating for the last five years. It rises and proofs for a full three days. The result is like nothing I’ve ever had, meatier than a mushroom, weighty as a chicken dinner, tender as pound cake, and simply echoing with layers and layers of flavor. The thing is gargantuan, far bigger than a breadbox. And while a whole $12 loaf makes a great centerpiece for parties, please know it’s traditional to buy these loaves by the quarter- or half-loaf.
Traditional where? In Paris, of course. Because actually, I lied: this bread is like something I’ve had, the signature bread at the world’s best bakery, Paris’s Poilâne. Oh, by the by, Patisserie 46 also has great coffee, meaningful croissants, provocative gelato, a warm and welcoming fireplace, and a charming outdoor patio. It’s a world-class prizefighter’s knockout, delivered in bread and pastry.
One of the country’s most esteemed bakers might just be making some of the best bread in America.
Ideal Meal: Don’t miss La Mîche, the wild-yeast whole-grain bread. It’s truly profound. Tip: Look for seasonal Bavarians, like strawberry-rhubarb or spiced apple. Hours: 7 a.m–6 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday; 7 a.m–2 p.m. Sunday Prices: Most pastries are $2 to $4. You can spend up to $12 on a whole La Mîche, though most people buy quarters of the loaf. Address: Patisserie 46, 4552 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3257, patisserie46.com