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Meet the Midpeninsula's Swedish home baker

Pop-up bakery offers a taste of Sweden's traditional treats

In Emerald Hills, Denise Touhey, a proud Swedish American, churns out trays of pastries each week for her small, "one-woman show" bakery.

Aptly called Something Swede-ish, a homonym playing off the name of the recipes' origin and the characteristic taste of the baked goods -- "just the right amount of sweetness," she said -- Touhey's pop-up is not only filling a specific niche on the Midpeninsula, but also a lifelong desire of Touhey, who's baked since she was 10 years old.

"I'm literally going off of my heart here," Touhey, 54, said. "My little dream has come true."

Outside of her contemporary wood-sided house, a Välkommen sign ("welcome" in Swedish) and a boisterous Rottweiler greet visitors. Inside, a warm and sweet aroma fills the entire space. It's home base not just for her four kids and husband, but for Something Swede-ish's headquarters, office and kitchen.

Touhey bakes under California's cottage food law, which was passed in 2012 to allow people to run food businesses out of their homes and sell food to consumers either directly or indirectly through third parties, such as grocery stores. For Touhey, there's no overhead cost of running a brick-and-mortar store, no need to hire employees and no commercial-grade equipment or rows of racks that one might see at a bakery.

Instead, Touhey's main workhorses are a few KitchenAid mixers, an oven, her hands and occasionally her kids, who guide her through Google Drive or social media posts to promote the pop-up.

From Tuesdays to Sundays, Touhey will pack up her car and drive anywhere from Woodside to San Carlos to set up her pop-up bakery and help Midpeninsulans experience their own "fika" -- a simple but essential Swedish tradition of winding down with a cup of coffee and a small treat.

"It's not just about taking coffee to go," said Touhey, a first generation Swedish American. "It's about just enjoying that cup of coffee and enjoying that pastry."

The home baker's mission statement is all about sharing Swedish culture. Growing up in Belmont with her grandmother -- the "original Swedish home baker," who hails from northern Sweden -- and with English as her second language, Touhey was always reminded to keep in touch with her Swedish roots.

By baking the recipes she's collected over the years through cookbooks and family traditions, sometimes tweaking them to satisfy her Swedish and non-Swedish customers, she finds that she can preserve the memories of her family's past generations and share them with her local community.

"There's a lot of Swedish out there and a lot of interest," she said.

Touhey is one of the only providers of Scandinavian baked goods on the Peninsula. (The other "competitor" is the Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe in Burlingame.) Staying small is the way Touhey prefers it, with a flexible schedule that allows her to cater a companywide event with 400 pastries or spend time with her family.

"I'm able to have this great little business that's doing really well, but at the same time keep my priorities of being a wife and mother, and daughter to my mom," she said. "Having a storefront would require employees and overhead -- it would take everything from me."

The menu from each pop-up can vary day to day, ranging from cakes, cookies, tarts and date bars to classic Swedish pastries like the cardamom bun, known in Sweden as kardemummabullar, a not-too-sweet, knotted roll lightly sprinkled with sugar.

And, like a careful and nurturing mom, Touhey can cater to her customer's nutritional demands and make gluten-free or vegan variations of her products. Though some items, like the cardamom bun or the Swedish cinnamon bun, kanelbullar, she leaves be.

"I would never change that," she said. "That's full gluten, full tradition."

Other baked goods blend Swedish and American culinary heritage. Her lemon tarts are made with a lemon custard found in everyday American pies and cakes, but the crust comes straight from a Swedish cookbook.

On a recent cold Thursday afternoon at Woodside cafe The Village Hub, scones, almond tarts, Swedish dream cookies (which use ammonium bicarbonate to achieve a delicate and light texture similar to a Mexican wedding cookie), date bars, gluten-free almond cakes and the cardamom and cinnamon buns were just some of eight dozen baked goods on that day's menu.

For Michelle, a retired teacher who visits the Woodside community center to do yoga with her friends, the pop-up bakery was a pleasant surprise to her as a Norwegian with few local options for Scandinavian pastries. For others, like Santina Campi, a Redwood City resident who found Touhey's bakery through neighborhood website Nextdoor, coming to Something Swede-ish has become a morning routine -- her own fika of sorts.

"I made it my little Thursday, go-to morning outing," Campi said. "I have my dog, we come over here, we buy pastries, get a good coffee, give some apples from my house to the horse across the street and then head home and get back to reality."

Now scheduled to be a regular Thursday fixture at The Village Hub, Something Swede-ish donates 10% of the proceeds to Woodside Village Church. When she's not there, the pop-up can often be found at consignment store The Perfect Rose in San Carlos, which her mother owns.

Touhey has no plans to expand in the future. Her only goal at the moment is to get her website live so she can post her menu and let customers know how to reach her.

"For right now," she said, "this is perfect."

Updates on Something Swede-ish's pop-up locations can be found at facebook.com/somethingswedeish or instagram.com/somethingswede_ish.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Don Fabiano
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 14, 2020 at 10:43 pm

Yum! Having only recently discovered The Village Hub's Coffee Bar as a great place for a break on a bike ride, I'll have to make a point to drop by on a Thursday. Something Swedish sounds like a great addition!


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