Coeur d'Alene's Black Forest Bakery brings fine cakes, strudels and breads to the Inland Northwest

click to enlarge Coeur d'Alene's Black Forest Bakery brings fine cakes, strudels and breads to the Inland Northwest
Young Kwak photo
Black Forest Bakery’s Italian Cream Cake

Every Sunday afternoon, in a town called Mörfelden-Walldorf near Frankfurt, Germany, Doris Sandstrom and her family gathered in their kitchen to eat cake.

Six chairs surrounded a big dining room table where she, her siblings, her parents and her grandmother sipped on mugs of dark espresso. It was a time to be together, though friends would sometimes stop by, too.

"It's that coffee time in Germany," Sandstrom says. "So when you invite somebody for coffee, you don't have to give them a time because they know it's three o'clock."

To prepare, Sandstrom's grandmother made all sorts of goodies — pastries, cheesecakes, breads or an apple strudel from a 100-year-old family recipe. She taught her granddaughter traditional tarts and kuchens, so she could always continue Sunday afternoons with the family.

click to enlarge Coeur d'Alene's Black Forest Bakery brings fine cakes, strudels and breads to the Inland Northwest
Eliza Billingham photo
Doris Sandstrom at the fall Kootenai County Farmers Market.

Today, Sandstrom lives and bakes in Coeur d'Alene, bringing authentic German baking to the Inland Northwest. She started her own bakery soon after moving to North Idaho in 2016. Now, Black Forest Bakery sells fine German cakes and pastries at the Kootenai County Farmers Market, and also offers year-round custom orders for birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers and holidays. Sandstrom also hosts baking classes for German desserts or savory breads, which differ from typical American baked goods.

"In German baking, there's a lot of flavor and it's not oversweet," she says.

A Käse-Sahne-Torte is one of her favorites, a tangerine cheesecake that her mother would make for birthdays. Sandstrom brought it to the summer market every week.

But German baking changes with the seasons. In the fall, friends brought her Italian plums, which Sandstrom put straight into a traditional flat plum cake. She warned customers that the cake wasn't overly sweet, and suggested sprinkling a teaspoon of sugar over the top. But the fresh plums nestled in crumbled pastry were satisfying all on their own, thanks to a European touch.

"I'm more of a savory girl," Sandstrom says. She could eat her Schwäbischen Zwiebelkuchen — a savory, frittata-like onion cake with bacon, eggs and cream — by the pan. But she relies on her American husband, Brian, to taste test most of her streusels, danishes and turnovers.

The couple met at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, an American Air Force base that was returned to the German government in 2005. She was a local dental hygienist; he was an American GI from Long Beach, California. They married in 1990 and moved a few times between Germany and California before settling in Coeur d'Alene, where people are so friendly and Sandstrom is happy to have four seasons again, she says.

When they lived in California, Sandstrom took a head pastry chef job at Old World Village in Huntington Beach. There, she learned how to bake for thousands of people each Oktoberfest, Mother's Day brunch and Christmas dinner.

"It all started with a cookie," she says. "When I started there, it was a deli and a little German shopping center. It was right before Christmas, and I said, 'Do you not make Christmas cookies?'"

The head baker didn't have time, so Sandstrom offered to make a few vanilla crescent cookies.

"They flew off the shelf," she says. "Then we made Linzer cookies. We couldn't make enough. Then my boss offered me the position."

When she moved to Coeur d'Alene, Sandstrom started as a bread baker at Caruso's. She offered to make some handmade pastries for their cold case. Then, coffee shops started calling her to ask if she would sell to them. She rented out a commercial kitchen to fill wholesale orders.

One of her customers asked her for an Italian Cream Cake, which was an American recipe she hadn't tried before. But she went straight to work developing the decadent, coconutty cake, which she usually tops with individual cake pops for extra flair.

click to enlarge Coeur d'Alene's Black Forest Bakery brings fine cakes, strudels and breads to the Inland Northwest
Eliza Billingham photo
Black Forest Bakery’s almond twists

Before long, the loneliness of wholesale started weighing on Sandstrom.

"When you do wholesale, nobody knows you, and you don't know the people," she says. Her business was a constant loop of baking and fielding frantic calls from sold-out coffee shops.

So in 2020, Sandstrom switched from wholesale to face-to-face customers at the Kootenai County Farmers Market, a market known for its strict commitment to local, made-from-scratch, high-quality goods.

"You have that one day in a week where you sell it and you actually learn to know your customers," she says. "They become your friends. That's the reward, to me."

This past summer was her third season at the market. Every Saturday morning at 9, returning customers started lining up in order to get the pastries they wanted. Sandstrom would chat in English or German, since many of her customers are Old World transplants like herself. But as the mornings progressed, Sandstrom always met new people who were discovering her bakery for the first time — and promising to come back.

North Idaho has a friendly German population, and many buy from Black Forest Bakery to remind them of home, parents or grandparents. They also get together once a month for Stammtisch, the German tradition of gathering, drinking, eating and playing games. Sandstrom likes to join when she can, especially during the winter months when the market doesn't monopolize her schedule.

Even when she doesn't have to prepare for market, Sandstrom keeps baking. Custom orders always stack up during the holidays. She's also looking for a bigger space to host baking classes this year. She loves the winter months because she has more opportunity to bake hearty, whole grain German breads. Her sourdough starter is named Fritz, after the baker who offered her the pastry chef job in Huntington Beach.

She likes to share her bread with customers, who may not realize she can make more than cake. But more than anything, she loves to bake for her own family.

"I make our rolls and make pretzels just for us," she says. "I cannot be a week without baking."

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Eliza Billingham

Eliza Billingham is a staff writer covering food, from restaurants and cooking to legislation, agriculture and climate. She joined the Inlander in 2023 after completing a master's degree in journalism from Boston University.