Holly Dahlman Talks Bread, Pastries and Kitchen Catastrophes

Flavors, failures and frangipane with the beloved cottage baker

It’s around 1 p.m. on a Saturday at Shorewood’s Draft & Vessel, and a baking pop-up is in full swing. Holly Dahlman has set up a table across from the bar, crates next to her filled with home-baked goods wrapped in brown paper affixed with the logo of her Hollyberry Bakery. Dahlman – who in summer draws long queues to her stall at the Whitefish Bay Farmers Market – is known for crusty, uniquely flavored sourdough breads; flaky, rich croissants and other seriously habit-forming sweets. Since the ban on the sale of homemade baked goods in Wisconsin was lifted in 2017, she’s become one of a growing number of area bakers selling their specialties at markets, pop-ups and the like. 

You’re known for doing loaves with unusual ingredients. What flavors are you obsessed with right now? 

The first that comes to mind is frangipane, a sweet almond pastry cream that I use in a variety of pastries. It’s the filling commonly used in almond croissants, but I also add it to all my fruit-topped danishes. I can’t get enough! I also love poppy seeds and have added them to frangipane in a rolled pastry, to lemon sugar cookies and to bread, as well. I occasionally make a sourdough with poppy seeds, dried cherries and walnuts. That flavor combination was inspired by a dessert recipe developed by [Sanford Restaurant founder] Sandy D’Amato and printed in the Journal Sentinel many years back. 


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One of your most interesting loaves has curry, cashews and dried mango. Where did that come from?

Chicken curry was a special occasion homemade meal for gatherings with my mom’s family. … We always topped [it] with cashews and shredded coconut so I decided to see if I could incorporate those flavors into a sourdough. Ultimately, my [bread] is a turmeric and mild curry-infused dough, filled with chopped cashews, dried mango bits and toasted coconut flakes. It’s a tricky bread to make – the extra ingredients need to be added early in the mix or the coconut flakes will interfere with the developing gluten strands in the dough, and the spices slow down fermentation so it is less forgiving than other bread doughs and must be adequately risen before being refrigerated, as it won’t continue to rise in the cold as well as other doughs. I don’t make it often due to the difficulty level and high cost of ingredients, but it is a really delicious bread that I’m particularly proud of. 

Baking is very exacting. What kitchen tool could you not live without?  

Without question my kitchen scale! I have a couple, actually – a 22-pound capacity scale for most of my baking and then a bigger, 66-pound capacity scale for mixing bread and croissant doughs. I weigh all my ingredients when mixing any dough, plus I weigh cookie dough balls to within 2 grams of each other, and bread doughs so all the loaves of a particular type of bread will have been scaled to within 5 grams of each other. 

Have you had any giant failures in the kitchen?

I typically read through recipes well ahead of time, so I wouldn’t say I’ve had many total disasters, thankfully. But historically my go-to response to a kitchen failure was to get mad, burst into tears and throw it in the garbage. It might seem funny, but watching “The Great British Baking Show” has actually helped me learn how to deal with failures better. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.