Mirjana Tomas takes her bakery business very seriously. She comes to Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista every day to check on her stock of Mama’s Morsels cookies. She straightens them and takes inventory, then goes home to bake enough to fill any empty spaces.
She sells only in this single location, baking in small batches so her cookies are always sold as fresh as possible. Tomas is running the smallest of cottage bakeries and she could not be happier.
She began her business in 2015, soon after the Cottage Foods Bill was passed.
“I was taking cookies to Anne Caetano’s mother, who loved the cookies because they are not too sweet,” Tomas said. “Anne introduced me to Chang So, the owner of Windmill Market, and he tried them. And that is how it started.”
Her approach to baking is a throwback to an earlier time. She hand grinds her walnuts in an antique grinder. She mixes everything by hand in antique bowls—she does not own a blender. She uses free-range eggs, unbleached flour, honey, local walnuts and home-grown fruit. The dough rests for a day, then she rolls it out and shapes it with vintage cookie cutters.
“What I sell is a summary of cookies I have made at different times in my life,” Tomas said. “They are all traditional and all influenced by my Croatian descent. I want to make a tasty, wholesome cookie that can be enjoyed by adults or children. My oatmeal cookies, for instance, are made with two kinds of oatmeal, raisins, dates, a touch of molasses, and walnuts or pecans—they are really more like a breakfast bar.”
You can taste the devotion to quality. Her cookies are tender rather than crisp and you can taste every ingredient without the flavors being masked with an excessive amount of sugar. These are Old World cookies like my Swedish grandmother made: luxurious, yet pure and simple.
“My confirmation grandmother, Magdalena, could cook anything,” she said. “And I would always watch her—she would take a pinch of this and a little of that. But cooking skill, like anything else, is repetition. You can find the ingredients but you need the skill.”
Tomas certainly has the skill, but she also has the patience to tend to every ingredient and every step.
“A lot of people do not know how to be in the kitchen,” she said. “There are so many ways to make things easier, but it is not always better. Someone said to me, ‘You crack walnuts?’ Well, yes, how else do you get really fresh nuts? If you don’t do it then some machine somewhere does it. And then they’ll put in some preservatives.”
The success of her cookies at Windmill Market has tempted Tomas to look into other outlets, but for the moment she is content with selling them there and getting occasional special orders.
“People keep asking me ‘Don’t you want to make more money?’’ she said. “The idea is to present something genuine and tasty. But money has never been the motivating factor in my life. And Windmill Market has become home to me.”
The Cookies of Mama’s Morsels
Linzer cookies (three cookies for $4.99) – This elegant treat starts as two thin cookies made with crushed walnuts which are sandwiched together with a dollop of her homemade cherry-plum jam and dusted with powdered sugar. “The fruit comes from trees on my property that are not sprayed,” she said. “And I don’t use any pectin—it’s all fruit.” Tomas also sells the jam by the jar at Windmill Market.
Shortbread cookies (five cookies for $4.99) – “I have fun with different forms of cookie cutters, like hearts and flowers,” Tomas said. “People like to give these as little favors.” These are very light cookies with a bit of crispness to them. This cookie showcases the ingredients, particularly the butter, topped with a sprinkle of granulated sugar. A truly old-fashioned cookie—a mix of delicate flavors with no fireworks or heavy sweetness.
Almond cookies (four cookies for $4.99) – “Usually, they are long cookies, like a stick, with an almond in the middle. But I use a pan that has forms in it and so they end up thicker and shorter.” These hearty cookies have the chewy consistency of a brownie and a slightly dark hint of anise. This is a perfect cookie to dunk in milk or coffee.
Apricot cookies (four cookies $4.99 ) – My favorite of the cookies. A slightly spongy dough with cream cheese and honey for sweetness, folded over a spoonful of orange marmalade mixed with apricots. Tomas’s old-world tradition meets our local B&R Farms Bleinheim apricots flavor and the result is a rich and delightful cookie I could eat all day.
BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.