Home Home Home Home Home Home Home
CakeSpy

 Buy my brilliant books!

Buy my new book!

Buy my first book, too!

 

CakeSpy Online Retail!

 

 

Gallery

Craftsy Writer
« Batter Chatter: Interview with Sandy Ploy, the Milwaukee Cupcake Queen | Main | Cakewalk in Wallingford, Seattle »
Sunday
May182008

The Mystical and Magical Mazurka: The Story of a Seattle Baked Good Icon

Mazurka Bar

(Mazurka pictured made by ace pastry chef Chris Jarchow)

Have you ever stopped to wonder why certain baked goods are popular in your area? 

For us, the discovery of a popular Seattle area treat, the fruit-and-oat bar, which is at times known by various names, started with The Baker's Apprentice, a book by Judith Ryan Hendricks, which our Head Spy Jessie picked up at random at the library last year. Turns out, the novel, which is about a thirty-something woman who is finding herself as a breadmaker after a nasty divorce (which is actually the sequel to the writer's previous novel, Bread Alone) is set in Seattle, and fictional as it may be, the "Queen Street Bakery" featured in the book is inspired by an actual bakery (the McGraw Street Bakery--now Macrina Bakery). But even more than this fact, what caught our attention was one pastry in particular in the book, which turns out to be real as well: the Mazurka Bar.
In the book, the baked good is described as:
"locally world famous--a killer combination of thin, flaky crust, then your choice of lemon, chocolat-espresso, apple-raisin, or raspberry filling, and on the top the crumble layer with its habit-forming, sandy crunch".
Ladro Coffee, and a Mazurka bar from Great Harvest Bread
Reading this, we got a shiver of excitement. We had noticed the proliferation of this fruit-and-oat cookie bar format in the Seattle area--though known by several different names, nearly every coffee shop or bakery in the area has some variation (several are pictured throughout this writeup). Could this mysterious Mazurka hold the key to this particular bar cookie's popularity in Seattle? 

An obsession was born.
We started out by emailing the writer Judith herself, who pointed us in the right direction in our Mazurka hunt, which eventually led us to the Mazurka Maven herself--Jessica Reisman, former owner of the McGraw Street Bakery and the woman who introduced the Mazurka to Seattle. Though Jessica now lives in Beacon, NY (where she owns a different cafe, the charming-looking Homespun Foods), she was more than happy to share the story of the mysterious bar with us:

Macadamia caramel chocolate crumb bar, Seattle
The path to Mazurka monopoly began in 1983, when Jessica Reisman moved to back to Seattle (she had previously lived in the city in the 70's, but had moved around a bit in between) and helped start up Rainbow Foods, a business which has evolved but still exists on Capitol Hill. At the same time, she began making the bars, which were based on Maida Heatter's recipe for Polish Wedding Cakes (in Heatter's description in her cookbook, she notes that they are also sometimes known as Mazurkas). At first the operation was skirting the line of legality--she was making them in her own apartment, and selling them from the back of her car at various festivals and street fairs. Popularity caught on though, and soon enough she was baking from a commercial space in Ballard, where she made enormous batches of Mazurkas which were then sold to wholesale accounts. In retrospect, this was a pivotal time for the Mazurka, and it can be argued as a case of being in the right place at the right time: as a hearty, dense, oaty treat, it appealed to Seattle's outdoor sensibilities--it was the perfect accompaniment for long hikes or mountain climbs, and homey enough for the most gloomy and drizzly days. Timewise, it couldn't have come along at a better time: the Mazurka became a popular wholesale item just as the espresso cart revolution was getting started in Seattle--since new operations would look at the offerings that the existing ones had, the Mazurka just became part of the coffee shop parcel. 
It was at the commercial baking space where Jessica met Nancy Mattheiss, who ran a custom cakes business--though their paths took a few loops and turns, a few years later they paired up again, adding a third partner Sue Fenoglio, to open the Mcgraw Street Bakery, where the Mazurka was a consistent bestseller.

Mazurka
Reisman eventually assumed ownership of the bakery, but sold a few years later. The bakery itself was leased out to various different businesses before eventually housing Macrina Bakery's Queen Anne location. She continued with a wholesale baking business for a couple more years, but eventually sold that too (along with the Mazurka recipe), in favor of returning back East to be closer to her family. She mentions that she thinks the business had since been sold again; though we can't confirm this, we surmise that perhaps it was sold to or absorbed by Great Harvest Bread Company--they are the only retailer in Seattle that sells a fruit and oat bar specifically called the Mazurka Bar, and that seems awfully coincidental to these humble spies. 
Cranberry Oat Bars, Three Sisters
Today, Jessica Reisman owns another bakery/cafe, Homespun Foods, in the artistic community of Beacon, New York (about an hour outside of NYC). The Mazurka lives on at Homespun, but is called the Mt. Beacon Bar. Though it is still a popular item, it never quite took off the same way it did in Seattle. Perhaps this is due to the weather; perhaps the culture; perhaps they just have different tastes on the East Coast. 

It is our belief though, that the Mazurka was in its element in Seattle. It was in the right place at the right time--and even years later, will remain a delicious historical marker of our cultural past.
As for the Mazurka's place in Jessica's heart and appetite? Well, let's just say she's been making them a long time. "I never touch mazurkas anymore," she laughs over the phone, "though I do love the way they smell."
Mazurkas
Want more lore? Definitely start out by reading the chock-full-of-carbohydrate novels Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Heck, while you're at it, go ahead and read her other novel (unrelated to the others but still food-filled), Isabel's Daughter
Also, for an artifact we unearthed along the way, check out this 1992 article from the Seattle Times, about Jessica's Mazurkas!
Want to make the Mazurka? We located the original recipe in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies; though Jessica admits to having taken some liberties and tried out different fillings, this is where you should start to master the mysterious treat:
POLISH WEDDING CAKES
These are called Mazurka in Polish. There are many versions, all rich and moist. This one has a crunchy crust and a tart apricot filling. 

Makes 16 2-inch squares 

Apricot Filling
  • 4 ounces (about 24 halves) dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  1. Bring the apricots and the water to a boil, uncovered, in a small, heavy saucepan with a tight cover over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer until the apricots are very tender, about half an hour, depending on the apricots. The fruit should be very soft and the water should be partially but not completely absorbed.
  2. Press the apricots with a potato masher or stir and mash vigorously with a fork. The mixture should be very thick. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Cool to room temperature. If you wish, this filling may be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
Polish Pastry 
Note: this is not like American pastry. It will resemble a crumb mixture.
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 ounces (1/2 cup, firmly packed) shredded coconut
  • 3/4 old fashioned or quick cooking (not "instant") oatmeal
  • 2 ounces (generous 1/2 cup) walnuts, cut medium fine
  1. Adjust an oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place the Flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. With a pastry blender cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the coconut, oatmeal, and walnuts.
  3. Place half (3 cups) of the mixture in an unbuttered 8-inch-square cake pan. Press it evenly with your fingertips. Cover with a piece of wax paper and with the palm of your hand press against the paper to make a smooth, compact layer. Remove the wax paper.
  4. Spread the apricot filling smoothly over the pastry, staying 1/4 to 1/2 inch away from the edges. Sprinkle the remaining pastry evenly over the filling and repeat the directions for covering with wax paper and pressing smooth. Remove the wax paper.
  5. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes until the top is barely semifirm to the touch.
  6. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes or so; be sure to cut around the sides to loosen from the pan before cutting and serving.
Thank you to Judith Ryan Hendricks, Jessica Reisman, and Nancy Mattheiss for their help with this story.

Delicious Mazurka

 

Reader Comments (52)

Yay! I love mazurkas! Years ago, I was making them all the time- at The Sweet Addition or The Green Cat (now defunct. Tear)

I had no idea they were a local thing though- thanks for the history lesson. I've been doing the whole "plated dessert" thing lately. I think it's time to make a batch of these at home.

May 19 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

Fantastic. My first taste of a Mazurka was in a country town in Australia. It blew me away. They had date and apple as filling and a sweet short crust pastry on the base with the lovely crumb topping. I asked the coffee shop owner for the recipe and was refused. (They don't get mentioned for that reason). I have been looking for a recipe ever since (5 years). We have something similar in Australia that we call a date slice but it's not as exotic. Thank you for the recipe. I will adapt it for the date and apple slice.

May 19 | Unregistered CommenterCorry Garam

it's true that I don't know the book from which you've got the recipe, but about Polish cakes and dances I know a lot - I'm Polish ;)

in my language also the dance is called mazurek :)

and to be honest I don't know any Polish dough with these ingredients... but there are many types of Mazurek, that I thought it might be one of them :)

for sure it can't be typical wedding cake! Mazurek (mazurki, pl.) we eat during Easter :)

May 19 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Owl Chick: That is so awesome! You had the Mazurka in its element!! I only moved here in 2004 so for me it was this big mystery. I loved finding out more about it!

Brittany: Well, I wouldn't say that they're a local invention, but they certainly did enjoy a reinvention--and hit their stride--in Seattle! It is interesting how many directions it took off in. While doing this article, Chris (who baked the mazurka on the top), found another recipe for raspberry ones-- I don't have a link but it's not too different from the apricot one. I think that while I put up the apricot one because it was the "original" which was used as a launch pad, it seems to me that raspberry was probably more popular based on how more frequently I see that flavor combination. I'd love to hear more about your bakery experiences!

Corry: Awesome!! So interesting to see how recipes differ by region etc. Would love to hear how your derivation might come out!

Anonymous: I looked into it a bit more, and it seems like there's just a little bit of translation to blame! It looks like the dance is called "mazurkek" in Polish, but when referring to it in English, it's "mazurka". But both seem to refer to the same dance.

As for the pastry, perhaps that's another bit of being translated--this was found in an American-published book, so perhaps it's a recipe that traveled to America and because of different ingredient availability or any number of factors, was changed and evolved into that particular pastry dough. Who knows, maybe it is even a distant relative of the Mazurek cake--take for instance the French macaroon versus the coconut macaroon--while both share the same family tree, at a certain point they went down very different paths!

I'll be keeping my eyes out for sure for more info!

May 19 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

What great cake gumshoe work! Fascinating story! I think I am going to be right near Beacon for a weekend this summer, so I'm going to get a taste first hand!

Mazurka Bar looks guuuud~! I always get something kind of like this at the local starbucks...

May 19 | Unregistered CommenterLina

Well I am a PROFESSIONAL PASTRY CHEF who draduated from Peter Kump's Culinary School.

If you want to know how to make the fruit bar PROPERLY you can click on my profile and then send me an email.

As you know, I am an executive at SeriousEats and advise people daily who know nothing about cooking.

May 19 | Unregistered Commenterchiff0nade

I live in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania and adore a local coffee shop by the name of Cornerstone Coffee House. They sell these bars at $2.75 a pop! They are by far my most favorite things in the world! You have no idea how excited I was when I read your post. I have searched for this recipe for close to 2 years without any luck. My friends and I tried hundreds of recipes and even tried to bribe one of the workers to get us the recipe. It apparently is very, very closely guarded! I feel like I won the lottery! Thank you from the very bottom of my MAZURKA filled heart! Now to experiment with the fillings... I love their peach, cherry, apricot combo. I believe these use Polander's fruit spread in addition. Believe me when I say we analyzed every ingredient. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

May 20 | Unregistered Commenterlrcrpr

That top photo is amazing! Thanks for the recipe, it looks simple to veganize, woo!!

May 20 | Unregistered CommenterRural Vegan

the mazurka bar looks something to die for..hmmmmm thanks for sharing the recipe :-)

May 20 | Unregistered CommenterDhanggit

great post - really great post. I'd never heard of these things but i will be making them very soon. Thanks!

May 20 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh

I love bars! The best dessert ever! All kinds.

May 20 | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth

I am pretty sure "mazurka" was the name of some folk dance they made us do in grade five phys ed class, complete with hand-washing and faux-barfing in the change room afterwards, to make a big show of how much you did NOT love the boy/ girl you were assigned for dance partner.

May 20 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

what a fantastic story. That picture of the bar looks fantastic.

May 20 | Unregistered CommenterVeron

what a trip - I grew up in Seattle (but haven't lived on that coast for a decade) and those oat/fruit bars were totally a part of my life then...something I kind of forgot, until i realized I haven't eaten one since i lived there.
man - thanks for the memories and the cravings! Off to the kitchen!

May 20 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I love regional specific food like this. They look really tasty too!

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterEB

Stunning and delicious looking. I could eat a whole plate of those bars myself. Yummy!

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterChuck

I totally knew it! Flashbacks to grade 5 folk dancing!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazurka

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

yum! i think i have had it before. and i think it was goooood.

hey, i'm sure i'm not the first, but i gave you the e for excellent award on my blog. www.thecleanplateclub.net

May 21 | Unregistered Commenterkate

Re: the date square--I'm going to post a "Ricki" version in the next couple of weeks or so! Basically, an oatmeal crumble crust on top and bottom with a smooth, sweet date filling inside. It looks very much like the mazurka when cut. :)

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterRicki

T.W.: Thanks! Oh, I hope you do get to visit Jessica's cafe! It seems like a great baked good spot!

Lina: Yeah! They do have versions of it at starbucks! isn't that interesting?

Lrcpr: How fantastic!!! I am so glad that we were able to provide a stepping stone for you to make the coveted treat! Do let us know how they come out, and if you add or omit any ingredients etc to make them more delicious!

Rural Vegan: yes, I think it would be an easy one to vegan-ize, and would not "lose" anything in translation.

Dhanggit: You're welcome! Enjoy!

Leigh: Glad to have introduced you to them!

Elizabeth: We do too!

Amanda: HA!!! How funny because my dancing partner from 2nd grade (it was square dance for us) just got married. NOT to me. I guess that means it wasn't a love match. :-)

Veron: Thanks! They're delicious!

Ashley: AWESOME! So glad to bring back a sweet Seattle memory! What were your favorite type?

EB: What are some of your regional foods?

Chuck: I'd like to see you try eating a whole plate. Send video please!

Kate: Thank you so much!

Ricki: Can't wait to see these date squares. I love learning about new baked goods!!!

May 22 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

A bakery in my hometown used to make the fruit bar w/dates.....Holy Schmoley! was it good. I used to eat them on my way to school along w/a smiley face cookie. They are no longer open :(

Mazurka looks like something I would love and really should try!

I love fruit and oat bars but I've never made them... I'm definitely looking into it!

Hi! Help! Please!

I made them but I know they aren't right. Any suggestions?

http://howtoeatacupcake.blogspot.com/2008/06/black-raspberry-mazurkas-aka-fruit-oat.html

Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.
© Cakespy, all rights reserved. Powered by Squarespace.