For the past couple of years, croissant lovers have followed Blooms End, a whimsical and popular pastry pop-up. Pastry chef Mary Denham took her traveling bakery on the road by circling different spots around the Bay Area, so fans had to mark their calendars and wait in long lines. But now, she’s permanently parking a pastry wagon at a farm stand near Petaluma. Starting this autumn, she’ll have regular hours and hot drinks at the new Blooms End at Neighboring Fields. It promises to be a sweet day trip — rolling through hills dotted with cows and feasting on Denham’s Gravenstein apple-pistachio nests and kabocha-rye snails.
Denham is a skilled baker and an intriguing character. She grew up in Livermore, where her parents own a wine shop, before training at the CIA at Copia in Napa. She joined the opening team at M.H. Bread and Butter in San Anselmo, rose to head pastry chef at Outerlands, and mastered croissants at Neighbor Bakehouse. Contemplating the next chapter, she tried a couple of pop-ups at the end of 2018. At that time, she saw the pop-up scene as “a lot of chef bros trying to make a buck — like bare folding tables,” Denham says. “It looked ugly, and I don’t like ugly.”
So she rewrote the story in her own unconventional style. She calls Blooms End a traveling bakery — instead of traditional locations at restaurants and bars, she seeks out farm stands, ceramic studios, and flower shops. She sets a full scene, unfurling vintage tablecloths, arranging fresh flowers, and displaying the croissants in an antique letterpress drawer. Her partner Jason Cryer also happens to be a graphic designer, so he designs the weekly menus almost like party invitations, some including bold and colorful designs and others leaning retro and handwritten.
Denham likes listening to Thomas Hardy novels as audiobooks while shaping croissants, and she borrowed the name Blooms End from an old farmhouse in the Return of the Native, although she also enjoys how it echoes names from Ulysses and Howards End. “I like to feel wrapped up in a story and a place,” Denham says. “All of my favorite books are ones that build worlds.”
Whether or not you’re into soul-wrenching romantic tragedies, however, the croissants are technical and stunning. Denham folds together different varieties of heirloom grains, both sourdough and yeast to balance the rise and flavor, and no fewer than three different types of butter, including the clean taste of New Zealand butter and the rich culture of Normandy. She shapes that complex dough into a dozen different shapes with fun names from “moons” to “snails.” Then tops them off with ever-changing local and seasonal produce from the farmers market.
For the new menu at the permanent location, Denham plans to focus the number of croissants slightly, in order to add more cakes, pies, and cookies. The ephemeral flavors will still swap week to week, but she promises the heirloom “tomato pie” croissant will roll all season. She also can’t wait for sweet quince with savory manchego, and regulars would go crazy without the coffee-cardamom monkey, which rarely leaves the menu. The current cake stars spiced zucchini with cream cheese frosting, but it may soon be eclipsed by the fig jam with fig leaf cream. Drip coffee will come courtesy of Mother Tongue, and herbal and floral teas from Molly’s Refresher, both women-led and local to Oakland. Plus, Denham hopes to simmer apple cider and hot chocolate as the weather cools.
Blooms End has already popped up at Tenfold Farmstand with “Field Day Fridays” over the summer. But with the announcement that she’s making it permanent, Denham will be winding down all other spots in San Francisco and the East Bay. Going forward, Blooms End will only be available at the farm stand, starting with Fridays and Saturdays, and expanding to more days. But for pastry adventurers, Denham promises it’s not far, only 30 minutes from her kitchen in Sausalito and less than 10 minutes from downtown Petaluma.
It’s also a lovely drive — as soon as you peel off the highway, the road starts rolling through the historic dairy farms of West Marin. Owner Catherine Clark opened Tenfold Farmstand in 2019, starting with produce from her own backyard, before moving it to a two-room schoolhouse built in 1895. The market now offers fresh local produce, meat, sourdough, and flowers. “There are falling fence lines and cows, grass, and oak trees,” Denham describes. “This is part of the experience, people coming through this way and finding pastries at the end of this journey.”
Blooms End will be setting up shop in the shape of a covered wagon permanently parked on the lawn. Currently under construction, it’s technically a 13-foot trailer, but shaped round and painted white with brown trim, drawing inspiration from Little House on the Prairie and the Oregon Trail. An awning will pop up on one side to reveal a window and counter. Denham may lean a cabinet against it to display her favorite antiques and flowers, and she’ll bring her old cassette player to play country mixtapes. As always, she plans to dress for the party, wearing vintage dresses and piling her curls on top of her head.
“Sweet things have this extraordinary ability to transport us to another time,” Denham says. “Leaning into that with the tablescape, aesthetic, and my personal appearance highlights that special power.”