People Are Nuts Over Uncle Mike's Sea Salt Caramel Pecan Kringle
One bite is all it takes to fall in love with the kringle at Uncle Mike's Bake Shoppe.
“We don’t have any real secrets. We just do things the old-fashioned way,” owner Mike Vande Walle says with a laugh. “There aren’t very many places that make things from scratch anymore. We use a lot of butter and all the good ingredients. That’s just the key.”
That’s something you can taste. The public and many pastry judges agree. Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe was the winner of the North American Kringle Competition which was last held in 2014.
For this national event, Vande Walle created the sea salt caramel pecan kringle. The award-winning pastry is a crowd favorite. It’s the right balance of sweet and savory. The tender, flaky pastry is paired with a decadent filling reminiscent of pecan pie. Sea salt and nuts provide the perfect contrast for that sweetness.
This is not the kringle you are used to. Unlike many of the kringles Wisconsinites are familiar with, Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe’s pastry is light, taller and twisted like a pretzel.
“In the 1800s, [kringles] were pretzel-shaped, and so we went back to tradition. We use all European-style butter in it. It has a higher butter fat,” says Vande Walle.
According to the Wisconsin Bakers Association, authentic Danish kringle has 32 layers of flaky dough which are filled with fruit or nuts. The dough is made by repeatedly folding butter and flour together and refrigerating it. The process takes three days.
In 2013, Wisconsin declared kringle the official state pastry. It inspired Vande Walle to experiment with the old-fashioned Danish style.
“I set out to make the best kringle in the state.” he says. He stopped baking the style known as ‘Racine kringle,’ which was popularized in the city in southeastern Wisconsin.
“Of course I got flak for that,” he says with a smile. “People said, ‘They’re supposed to be oval and flat.’ Well, mine is a little puffier and pretzel-shaped.”
When Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe won the North American Kringle Competition, its sea salt caramel pecan kringle not only took the first-place award from the judges but the public, as well.
“The kringle really took off after we won that award. Both my son and daughter are involved in the business, so they’ve taken some of the pressure off. But we’re busy. Right now, we’re making about 1,500 kringle a week.”
Mike and Mary Vande Walle started Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe in 2001, but its origins go back decades.
Mike was in high school when his parents purchased a bakery in Shawano. He spent many afternoons in the kitchen, experimenting and learning the trade.
After marrying his high school sweetheart, Mary, and getting his degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management at University of Wisconsin-Stout, Vande Walle attended the American Institute of Baking.
Over the next few years, the Vande Walles worked at Mike’s parents’ bakery and helped open Vande Walle’s Candies in Appleton with Mike’s parents and brothers.
“When we opened Vande Walle’s Candies that was starting from scratch. It helped us when we opened Uncle Mike’s because we already knew what to expect when starting up the business. A lot of the knowledge was built up along the way, so it wasn’t as hard the next time.”
Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe first opened in De Pere, which did not have a bakery at the time. During the months before opening, locals regularly checked in to ask about the grand opening. “The night before [opening] we were working, and we realized we weren’t going home because there was that much to do. I unlocked the door that morning, went into the back room, came back out, and the room was packed with people at 6 in the morning. That was scary in itself because not everything was ready yet,” says Vande Walle.
“For months, it was just packs-ville. It caught us off guard. We didn’t think it was going to be that busy that quick. So you’re scrambling. It’s just continued since; we have very loyal regulars.”
Today, Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe has locations in De Pere and Suamico and a popular mail-order service. The family business supplies grocery stores, farmers markets and a few local restaurants including Plae Bistro and Rustique Pizzeria + Lounge.