Lisa Haggstrom continues her mother and grandmother’s food tradition.
Some of our most cherished memories of the holiday season come from gathering around the table with family and friends. Apple Valley resident Lisa Haggstrom of Cookies and More by Lisa remembers the anticipation of biting into that first slice of walnut Potica—a traditional Slovenian dessert prepared by her mother and grandmother.
Potica, (pronounced poh-TEET-sah), is a pastry that can be sweet or savory in flavor. Once the dough is rolled out and stretched thin, a filling is spread over the top. “Potica is a big deal for Slovenians during Christmas and Easter,” Haggstrom says. “It’s the labor of love type of dessert. If you’re ever gifted one, that’s a big deal. It’s labor intensive.”
Potica is derived from the Slovenian word poviti, meaning “to wrap in.” The tasty dish is well-known among folks living up on the Iron Range. Haggstrom spent most of her childhood in Eveleth, Minnesota, alongside her two younger sisters and one younger brother. Her Slovenian heritage comes from her mother’s side of the family.
“I come from a long line of cooks; everything was homemade,” she says. “That’s how you show your love, you feed people.”
After meeting her husband, Haggstrom moved down to the Twin Cities and raised their two sons in Apple Valley. She spent 30 years in the food service industry, working as a corporate restaurant training manager and later as a bakery manager before launching her own venture in 2015. “I like the business side of food,” Haggstrom says. “I like the science side of food. It’s fascinating to me.”
Cookies and More by Lisa is a custom, made-to-order Minnesota cottage bakery, specializing in decorated cookies, home-style bars and cookies, potica, cocoa bombs (a sphere of chocolate with cocoa mix and marshmallows inside) and more.
While her cookies are her best sellers, she still gets plenty of requests for potica around the holidays. Typically, she receives about 12 to 24 orders for Christmas and 18 to 24 orders for Easter. She makes an apple potica as well, but most of her customers ask for walnut. “Some people do almond, but the walnut flavor is the tradition at Christmas and Easter,” Haggstrom says. “Tarragon is one that is still very popular over in Slovenia.”
Rolling the dough is a time-consuming task, so acquiring the right table is essential—one that’s large enough and at a good height for rolling out dough. “It gets stretched thin, so that it covers the whole table,” she says. “The goal is always to have real thin layers.”
The process of rolling and stretching the dough takes about an hour; the recipe she uses makes about five or six loaves. “If you’ve never seen it stretched or seen it done before, it’s really hard,” Haggstrom says. “It takes patience. You make a dough with water, flour, sugar, yeast. Let it rise; roll it and stretch it thin. That’s the tricky part … Putting the filling on without tearing the dough, again, is more patience. Make sure the dough is warm and the filling is cold.”
Although some folks prefer to bake potica in a Bundt pan or roll it into a circle, she’s proud to still be using her grandmother’s loaf pans. Haggstrom recalls as a young girl watching her grandmother prepare the dish for her family. “We didn’t do the stretching,” she says. “We were allowed to chop nuts; we were allowed to put stuff in the pans and then get out of the way.”
While it took a few years for Haggstrom to grow her customer base, she says she’s seen the biggest growth in sales over the past five years. Then, the pandemic changed everything. “I was busy before that and then when COVID hit, cottage food producers were making bread for people,” Haggstrom says. “Then, we did the whole contactless pick up, which has been a lifesaver. It’s so much easier.”
Meanwhile, she says she’s always working on new ideas for her customers and encourages folks to stop by her website often to check out her latest creations.
Christmas Cookie Countdown
Inside Haggstrom’s home in Apple Valley, an entire room is dedicated to her cookie-making craft. Known for her intricate and uniquely designed baked goods, she has a desk set up in the middle of it all, allowing her to decorate with precision.
She ends up selling thousands of cookies between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. This season marks her fourth year of selling Christmas Advent cookie calendars, offering either a decorated version of her vanilla, almond flavored cookies or a digital art version. “I love making Christmas minis,” she says. “They’re so cute.”
The Advent calendars are packaged in 12-day and 24-day boxes, and each cookie is individually heat-sealed in its own packaging to preserve its taste and ensure a fresh experience.
Haggstrom updates the designs every year, too, riffing on themes like snowflakes, gingerbread men, Mrs. Claus and Jolly Old Saint Nick. “You can’t have the same cookie,” she says. “So, it puts the pressure on.”
A 12-day box typically costs about $50, and a 24-day box typically costs $85. Her digital art cookie Advent calendars are $40 and $70, respectively. She offers early bird pricing too, so folks can save a few dollars around the holidays.