As bake’s editor for 23 years, I’ve been fortunate to immerse my brain with in-person educational instruction from such bakery legends as Peter Reinhart, Jeffrey Hamelman, and Craig Ponsford. Lately, I must share a new experience, and how the digital age takes everything one giant step forward.

Witnessing what I now affectionately call The Magic Box, I recently received a special holiday package from Manresa Bread, courtesy of its founder Avery Ruzicka, a 2020 James Beard finalist whom I have known since she started her Northern California-based Manresa Bread in July 2014. The Magic Box – my name for it – contains scalded flour mix, one packet of dry ingredients, filling mix, icing mix, wooden rolling pin, and 9-inch cake pan. And there’s an online link to the private class, for good measure.

Just prior to this, Avery and I visited in a Google Meet conversation on Dec. 20. We caught up on life since I visited her at Manresa Bread’s newest location in Palo Altro, across the street from Stanford University. One word lingers from that meeting: wow.

Manresa Bread, which started in Los Gatos, California, and now has grown to five retail stores, is easily one of my favorite bakeries for good reason. Ruzicka has officially transcended from rising star to one of the most recognizable names in baking today, according to the critics. Having since stepped out from Manresa owner David Kinch’s well-casted shadow, Ruzicka is paving her own way in the culinary field by doing what she loves, taking four simple ingredients (salt, water, flour, and yeast) and creating something uniquely special from nothing using just her hands and a splash of experimentation.    

What started as a nighttime baking project in the kitchen of three-Michelin-starred Manresa restaurant quickly became five locations, with nationwide shipping, and a cult-like following for the naturally fermented loaves featuring house-milled grain. The team just moved into a new 3,400-square-foot bakery and 90% of all the flour used is milled in house – with an astounding 500 kilos of grain milled per week on its New American Stone Mill. 

“Fresh milled flour is used when flavor and texture are added,” explains Ruzicka, pointing out the specific purposes that are realized through the use of fresh milled flour. “It does find its way into most things we offer.”

Broadening horizons

The Goods: Among the 5,000 loaves of bread and 15,000 pastries that it hand-shapes each week, Manresa Bread highlights include its popular kouign amann (regular and XL), chocolate babka, croissants and a menu of naturally fermented loaves made with house-milled flour.

“We are in the space to do our jobs with the energy and passion needed,” says Ruzicka. “This is our first holiday in the new location. We are so excited.”

Ruzicka, alongside talented pastry chef Stephanie Prida (a Manresa alum), recently put together a line-up of upcoming holiday offerings and a new bake kit. These kits are made with home bakers and pastry lovers in mind; Manresa Bread offers three Bake with Manresa Bread Kits (cookies, waffles, and brownies – and all can be made vegan) and a more robust “Bake with Avery” baguette kit that comes with everything you need, plus a video link to a tutorial from Avery. The newest addition is a cinnamon roll kit.

For the most recent December holidays, Manresa Bread featured a variety of baked goods available for nationwide shipping, including holiday snack tins, cookie boxes, panettone, babka, and the classic “Bread” sweatshirt.

ManresaBread_HolidaySnackTin.jpgSource: Manresa Bread

Each Manresa Bread store is located in a different town. Each town has a community with slightly different flavor preferences. This is the fun part.

More pan loaves and multigrain breads are planned for the future, as well as Pain de Mie sandwich loaves. Ruzicka possesses individual expertise from a commissary production vantage point that brings her wisdom, patience, and strategic planning.

“The younger version of me would say, ‘Let’s do it now.’ Now I have a strategic plan. These new product goals are very realistic.”

Classic breads and pastries

Conceived in the kitchen of three-Michelin-star Manresa restaurant, Manresa Bread sources high-quality organic and local California ingredients to create the best interpretations of classic breads and pastries.
 Customers can find Manresa Bread in Los Gatos, Los Altos, Campbell, Santa Cruz and Palo Alto. Not in the Bay Area? No problem. Manresa’s pastries are also sold at NorCal Verve Coffee locations and are available for nationwide shipping (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). 

Inside Manresa Bread, there is an 18,000-square-foot commissary with a very large baking space, a pastry room, and a bread mixing and shaping room. There are two large freezers and a large walk-in.  

The bakery’s new equipment includes a larger Esmach mixer with a removable bowl and bowl lift.

“Our equipment is lightening the physical load without taking away from our quality and passion,” Ruzicka explains. “If a team member has to physically lift the dough, which is quite dense, out of the mixer, the physical demand of lifting dough by hand eats up a ton of energy.”

Other additions are a new diving arm mixer, which recreates the dough mixing process of human hands to ensure a natural leavening process without artificially warming the dough.

Her mission: “How can I create the most energy for my team to make the best products.”

Efficient teamwork

The new place affords the Manresa Bread team the ability to craft a broad product line of delicate and delicious pastries with maximum efficiency.

As pastry chef, Prida plugs her expert creative mind into the process of new product development, which results in such unique creations as grasshopper mousse cake and delicious sables – in flavors like coffee or salted butter. After the holidays, Ruzicka says they plan to offer vanilla sables, salted butter sables, and graham crackers year-round.

“For shoppers, it is fun to buy things that will travel better,” Manresa Bread’s founder shares.

Ninety percent of sales at Manresa Bread are store sales, and they “are getting lot of inquiries for wholesale. For us, wholesale is the icing on the cake,” Ruzicka says. “We would love to see our wholesale business grow, but we are strategic about it. We will be in a good position for 2025. We will make sure everything we do is better than ever. And we will continue to commit to the quality of our ingredients and the safety of our team members.”