Ingrid Schatz can’t pinpoint the moment in her childhood where she fell in love with baking, but summer strolls through the Swedish countryside picking blueberries for pies with her mother and grandmother proves a top contender. Since Schatz left her post as Ellwood Thompson’s head baker in 2020, she has been channeling her heritage and passion for posh pastries into her own small baking business: Axelsdotter.
Schatz’s American father first met her Swedish mother while they both worked at the U.S. embassy in Stockholm. Although her mother served as a translator, her closely held hobby of baking was the gift she passed along to her daughter. The family’s prowess with dough and batter can be traced all the way back to Schatz’s great-grandfather who owned a Konditorei (sweets shop). To brand her own small business, Schatz hearkened back to the Scandinavian naming tradition of a surname plus a role; Axelsdotter means “the daughter of Axel,” her great-grandfather.
The idea of launching her own bakery was a fantasy Schatz had toyed with for the better part of a decade. Bored with the drudgery of a menial marketing job in her 20s, Schatz suddenly quit, left her life in London, and moved to Paris to begin classes at a culinary academy. An internship with the famed French bakery, La Duree, transitioned into two years of intense patisserie production. The long distances between Schatz and her parents and sister eventually persuaded her to return to the U.S. for a pastry chef postion with the W Hotel in Washington, D.C.
A job posting for a head baker at Ellwood Thompson’s provided the perfect opportunity for Schatz to make the move to Richmond, a city that seemed ideal for her and her kids to settle in. Although she loved her stint at Ellwood’s, the pandemic prodded her to take a leap of faith on an old dream she had been deferring.
“I wanted to finally break out on my own,” explains Schatz. “It was something that had been at the back of my mind for about ten years, but I always thought I needed more experience. Then finally I said, ‘Ingrid, if you don’t do this now, then you never will.”
All of Axelsdotter’s flavors feel taken straight out of a cookbook of Scandinavian classics. Cardamom and almonds form the contours of her flavor palette yearround while saffron takes center stage throughout the winter. Whether she’s baking vanilla buns or vegan chocoloate tarts, Schatz takes pride in preparing all her products just like she used to enjoy it in the motherland.
“Everything is inspired by my Swedish heritage,” she says. “One of the top comments that I get from my customers is that American desserts are too sweet. What I make is not quite so toothache-inducing.”
The result has been a booming business with more customers than Schatz can easily serve, including a surprisingly large contingent of authentic Europeans who consume her creations with the same fervor as a cult classic.
On Mondays, Axesldotter delivers cardamom buns, cookies, and cakes to Sefton Coffee Co. downtown. On Fridays and Saturdays it’s vanilla danishes and vegan tarts to Afterglow Coffee Cooperative in Scott’s Addition.
For folks looking to sample an assortment of Axelsdotter’s best-sellers all at once, Schatz suggests ordering a “fika box.” Every Tuesday she posts a menu with the list of baked goods awaiting eager customers on Saturday. Orders close promptly Thursday morning to allow her enough time to hand prepare each pastry and product.
Fika box fan favorites include Schatz’ cinnamon buns topped with pearl sugar for an added crunch, Maseriner almond pastries with either a raspberry marmalade or glaze, and little green logs dipped in chocolate on either end whose name means “vacuum cleaner” in Swedish for the 1950s appliances they resemble. Perhaps Axelsdotter’s most famous creation is the Princess Cake, a sponge base layered with raspberry jam and vanilla pastry cream covered in whipped cream and a thin layer of marzipan to create the illusion of a perfectly formed semi-sphere sweet treat.
For a pastry chef of Schatz’s caliber, such complex creations are no longer a challenge. “Everything is hard before you try,” she says with the matter-of-fact tone only a true Northern European can muster.
With business booming, what’s next for Axelsdotter?
“I eventually would love to have an actual cafe and bakery here in town,” explains Schatz. “With a 3-year-old and two older sons, I don’t think I'm at that point yet. My medium-term goal is to move into a bigger space and bake more than two dozen buns at a time so that I can serve more customers and don’t have to cut off my orders anymore.”
Until she can find the perfect place to expand operations, Axelsdotter’s legions of loyal customers will have to settle for finding her cakes, cookies, and pastries at cafes around town. Whether you enjoy her creations at a local coffeehouse or in your own home, the flavors will always reflect Schatz’s childhood favorites.
“Every time I write a post about my products I say, ‘This is one of my favorite things,’ but it is all true!”