In the kitchen with Andrea Higgins - Sigrid's Cafe and Fine Bakery
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Every morning at 4 a.m., Andrea Higgins wakes up with a spring in her step. “I look forward to going into work every day,” admits the cheerful owner of Sigrid's Bakery in downtown Barrie. “I grew up in bakeries. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to run my own bakery.”
Recently, this GoodLife reporter stopped by the traditional European bakeshop to chat with the 49-year-old master baker. Sitting next to counters laden with mouthwatering cakes, cookies, breads and other goodies, the business owner dished on various topics ranging from the secret of Sigrid's long-term success and running a family bakery, to the importance of baking from scratch

GL: Sigrid's has been in business for 31 years. What's the secret to your success?
Andrea Higgins: Quality is a must for us. We make everything from scratch, use the best ingredients available and we never take shortcuts. I also believe in being honest with our customers. My parents, who originally started the business, taught me these valuable lessons.  

GL: Following in the footsteps of your ancestors, you're the fourth generation of European trained bakers. Let's chat about your family's baking history.
AH: Sigrid's was founded in 1983 by my parents Josef and Sigrid (the bakery's namesake) Krautgartner. My parents left a very successful bakery in Germany to start a new life in Canada with my sister and me. The idea was to bring a touch of Europe to Barrie. To this day, my parents still help out, but I took over the bakery in 2004. Today, my husband Brian, and our three children help me run the business. Brian is a huge help and is my right hand. I couldn't run the business without him.

GL: How do your kids help out?
AH: Tim (age 24) is my computer wizard and is the main salesperson and general manager of the bakery. Patrick (age 21) helps me with
baking and is currently working on his red seal in baking, while studying at George Brown
College. My daughter, Jessica (age 19) is a real artist in cake decor. Jessica hasn't received any formal professional training yet, but is already winning cake decorating competitions. I'm so proud of all of my children.

GL: Sigrid's is a traditional European bakeshop, specializing in German baked-goods. Do you still use old family recipes?
AH: Absolutely! Many of our recipes have been in the family for generations. Dad is from Austria, mom is from Germany and both of their families owned bakeries in Europe. I completed my training in Bundesfachschule, Hannover and Wolfenbüttel (cities in Germany). As for new items? Times have changed, so I've created some of my own recipes over the years including: diabetic cookies, a black bread (a sour dough bread made with rye meal and pumpkin and flax seeds) and a new gluten-free bread.      

GL: From the constant ringing of the cash register, sounds like you run a busy
operation. What are folks coming into buy?
AH: Year-round, our counters are filled with trays of tempting goodies ranging from date squares and pastries to yummy cookies, butter creams and cream cake tortes. We are particularly well known for bienenstich (a yeast-based custard filled cake topped with honey glazed almonds), homemade breads, buns and our Florentines! Other top sellers include:  mambo dry hazelnut cake, buttercream rum balls and our
ever-popular Swiss Mountain rye bread.

GL: Former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson loves your Swiss Mountain bread. Can you tell that story?
AH: Adrienne Clarkson made our Swiss Mountain bread famous! In fact, the former governor general still shops here with her husband John Ralston Saul whenever they are in town. When she was in power, she would shop here with the RCMP in tow. Once word got out that our Swiss Mountain bread was her favourite — everyone started calling it the governor bread [laughs]. From then on, it's been flying off the shelves. Our bread has also been shipped to Rideau Hall in Ottawa (the official residence of the Canadian Governor General). We even trained one of the (Rideau Hall) bakers because Adrienne Clarkson loves our bread so much. Their baker was here with us for two weeks, and we ended up learning a lot from him. It was a fair trade for baking secrets, and we loved having him here. It was great fun! 

GL: What's your personal favourite
bakery item?
AH: I eat about two or three pieces a day, and I love any dessert with buttercream or whipped cream. A slice of black forest cake, or something like that — I can't resist [laughs]. That's why I have to play so much soccer.

GL: A soft spot for sweets and soccer sounds like a great combination.
AH: I'm soccer crazy! I play on four soccer teams in various leagues. We have a new TV at Sigrid's, so we were able to watch all of the World Cup games. Actually, my husband bought me the TV as an early 25-year wedding anniversary present because he knew I'd want to watch all of the games at work.

GL: It's easy to see you love your job. What do you enjoy about the bakery business?
AH: Baking is a never-ending art. It's a very creative business and there are always plenty of new challenges to tackle. I also love owning a bakeshop because it's a happy business, and it gives me a great amount of joy. It's really fun to help people celebrate weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions with our bakery items. Some customers will come in and say: ‘every year, since I was a baby, you've made my birthday cake.' I just love hearing compliments like that. But sometimes these customers are 30 years old, so it makes me feel a little old [laughs].

GL: You don't mind the early mornings?

AH: When you love what you do, it's easy to get out of bed. Besides, I don't need much rest. I just think I'm too energetic for sleeping [laughs].

GL: Let's hear about Sigrid's wedding and specialty cakes.

AH: I do have my master diploma in wedding cakes, so we can make just about anything. What's really exciting for us is that our daughter Jessica, who is very artistic, has taken a real interest in creating wedding and specialty cakes. She's amazing!

GL: What about the holidays?

AH: The Christmas season is very busy for us. During that time, we sell lots of cookies, specialty breads and stollen (a European fruitcake). Last year, a local company ordered 1,000 gingerbread houses from us! It was a challenge, but we did it and it was great. Thanksgiving and Easter are also crazy times for us.

GL: What's your baking/business philosophy?
AH: Never say no. Never cut corners.

GL: Let's chat about your 20-seat tearoom. What's on offer?
AH: We serve soup and sandwich specials, European wiener plates with potatoes and coleslaw, meat pies and sausage roll plates. We also have goulash soup, which my mother still makes because she doesn't think I can do it [laughs]. It's our most popular item. We also offer coffee, tea and treats from our pastry counter.

GL: What about Sigrid's European grocery and specialty products?
AH: Our shelves are lined with various European specialty items such as: organic chocolate, boxes of truffles, jams, condiments, preserves, candies, canned fish, noodles, along with facial creams and foot and bath products.  

GL: In recent years, many bakeries have been challenged due to dietary concerns surrounding carbohydrates, gluten and sugar. Not to mention, increased competition from grocery stores and large box bakeries. How has Sigrid's managed to stay successful?
AH: You can't be stagnant. You have to follow the latest dietary trends and offer new products. It's a balancing act between keeping your traditional recipes, and creating new products. Sure, it's challenging, but it keeps things fun and interesting. We've dealt with everything from the bagel craze to eggless baking, low sodium, low sugar, gluten-free, peanut-free, low carbohydrate, dairy-free, along with the popularity of natural sugars and rice flour — the list just goes on. I should mention, as a European Bakery, we tend to use less sugar and fat in our products.  

GL: How do you cater to dietary restrictions?
AH: We sell various 100-per-cent peanut-free, gluten-free and dairy-free products. We also offer diabetic cookies and cheesecake. Our new gluten-free bread is just perfect, and it has been a big success for us! It tastes great and everyone loves it! It's easy to cut, and doesn't need to be frozen. Our gluten-free bread comes in plain, sunflower and raisin. For special orders (celiac or severe nut allergies) we need a day's notice to make sure there is no cross-contamination. 
GL: Located in a downtown century home, Sigrid's offers up a family friendly atmosphere. Do you know much about the history of the building?
AH: People have told me that it was a blacksmith's shop many years ago.

GL: What about specials?
AH: We offer daily specials and we post them on Facebook.

GL: Beside's Sigrid's, what's your favourite food destination?
AH: There are so many local businesses that I like to support. Some of my favourites are Michael and Marion's
(michaelandmarions.com), the North
(thenorthrestaurant.com) and Cravings (cravingsfinefood.ca).

GL: What's your favourite item to cook at home?
AH: I love Austrian bread dumplings. I serve them with goulash and they're delicious!

GL: What about the future?
AH: I'm always working on new products to fill our bakery counters. As for the business? I would love my kids to eventually open a second Sigrid's location. That would be my dream! Are my children interested in pursuing that future adventure? Time will tell, I guess [smiles]. 

GL: You've got the ear of thousands of local food lovers, anything you'd like to add?
AH: I like to offer some dessert advice. If you enjoy pastries, then come in and get something special and really enjoy it. Savour every bite, make it count and don't feel guilty about it. Desserts are like all good things in life — they need to be enjoyed in moderation.




MERINGUES
This easy to make treat (called baiser in German) is courtesy of Andrea Higgins of Sigrid's Cafe and Fine Bakery. “Along with being tasty, meringues are gluten and dairy-free,” explains the baker. “And the options are endless. Before you pipe them, you can add food colouring or grounded hazelnuts.”
   
100 ml egg whites (3 to 4 eggs whites)
200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar 

PREPARATION:
1. Place egg whites in medium bowl. Using a handheld mixer, whip up the egg whites until soft peaks form. Turn off  mixer, and add half of the sugar. Beat in sugar until well combined. Add the rest of the sugar (bit by bit), and keep beating until stiff peaks form.

2. Put the mixture into a baking bag with a star tipped pipe. On a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, pipe out the mixture (about the size of an egg) in a circular motion. We call it a Kris Kringle shape. 

3. Place in a 130C (266F) oven. Once in the oven, open up the oven door (just a crack), and immediately turn off the oven. Leave the meringues in the oven to dry out for 12 hours.

4. Remove from pan. Serve as is, or with fresh fruit and ice cream. You can even crumble the meringues over the fresh fruit and ice cream. Makes about 8 to 10.     


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