All in the Family: Clasen’s European Bakery

By Kevin Revolinski | Photos courtesy Clasen’s European Bakery

In 1958, Ralf Clasen left his home in Germany and followed his brother, Ernst, to Madison, taking a job in a bakery. The brothers soon started selling their own breads out of their apartment, and in 1960, when a bakery went up for sale in Middleton, they bought it and Clasen’s European Bakery was born.

Ralf’s daughter, Michelle, started baking at a young age with recipes “off the back of cereal boxes.” Her father frequently brought her to the bakery on weekends, where Michelle notes she would play around.

In a nod to her heritage, Michelle went to Germany in 1986 to obtain a pastry degree, and she took over the business six years later. Like her father, she also brought her kids to the bakery often, and two of them ended up studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.

Clasen’s produces European breads, pastries, chocolates and quiches, with an emphasis on German recipes. The bakery still uses several of the Clasen brothers’ original German recipes, and both Michelle and her son, Tony, who will be the bakery’s third-generation owner, have added recipes of their own.

During the holidays watch for gingerbread, cookies, and German stollen. They’re also well known for their whimsical gingerbread house displays. Clasen’s quiches are also big around the holidays, notes Michelle.

On display at the bakery are baking tools her father and uncle brought with them from Germany to the U.S.

“My dad is still alive… [he was] an inspiration for me personally during COVID to keep it going,” says Michelle.

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