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St. Louis artisan Madeline Hissong is taking sourdough to new heights

Damn Fine Doughnuts

Sourdough doughnuts are one of the bakery's bestsellers. 

Madeline Hissong, chef-owner of Damn Fine Hand Pies, has spent her entire adult life in the restaurant industry. It wasn’t until she changed her relationship with herself, however, that her relationship with the food scene shifted.

“I took some time away from the kitchen, and I got sober,” Hissong says. “I took some time to figure out what I wanted.”  After that break, she began working at local spot KNEAD Bakehouse. There, she was introduced to the "majesty and magic" of sourdough bread.

Less than two years later, Hissong is regularly selling out of her baked goods at the Tower Grove Farmers Market. She started with hand pies, but because there was already a hand pie purveyor at the market, she added sourdough bread to her roster and has never looked back. “Something switched in my brain,” she says. “The process of bread baking and dough has consumed me.”

In addition to classic sourdough bread loaves, Hissong makes a variety of other sweet and savory goods that all begin with her sourdough starter. Her doughnuts are her pride and joy. “They’re so much fun, and people love them,” she says. “People walk by, and they see that my doughnuts are giant. It makes me happy to make other people happy.”

You never know what doughnut flavors Hissong might cook up from week to week. Currently in development is a Coca Cola-glazed doughnut topped with candied peanuts  a spin on a classic Southern beverage.

She also makes two sourdough-based focaccias every week: a classic olive oil and sea salt, as well as a rotating specialty flavor, like grape or Calabrian chili and lemon. The focaccia has a shatteringly crunchy exterior paired with a moist, soft and yeasty interior. It makes for a great accompaniment to pasta or as a base for a next-level version of avocado toast.

Hissong's sheet pan pizza  another rotating special  is an ode to her time in the restaurant industry. “Every Saturday night when I was working at Juniper, we would make these giant, full sheet pan pizzas,” she says. “It was so fun, and that was something I always enjoyed. So this is like my homage to [the] staff meal.” Her most recent pie included thinly sliced eggplant, garlic, onions, oregano and lemon zest.

Hissong currently sells at the Tower Grove Farmers Market on Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings, but she has her eyes set on a brick-and-mortar operation. She imagines it as a spot to pop in and grab a loaf of bread for the week, order a croissant and a coffee, or sit, relax and catch up with friends. “The most important thing to me is that I want people to understand how much I care about them when they come into my restaurant,” Hissong says.

With her new focus on sourdough, Hissong is planning to rebrand her business to Merchant Bake Shop soon. Whatever name or form her business takes, you can be sure it will be located in St. Louis. Hissong, who is originally from Colorado, is now proud to call St. Louis her home.

“I’ve fallen in love with the city here,” she says. “I got sober here. I made a family, I made a community here, and I’ve never felt like that anywhere else in the world.”

Damn Fine Hand Pies,

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Managing Editor

Mary Andino is the managing editor at Feast. She loves making gnocchi, talking with farmers and makers, and promoting sustainability.

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