At least one thing I make each week doesn’t live up to my expectations, or it fails outright. I can blame ingredients on occasion, and the humidity might be a significant factor at other times. It might be because of injury (two weeks ago), or mechanical failure (mixer mishap last week), However, in the end, it falls to me. Injury or mechanical failure can usually be attributed to inattention to detail or circumstances.
Problems with ingredients or humidity might be a little out of personal control, but again, attention to detail can help overcome those as well.
Attention to detail. It’s important.
Yes. I do.
I do have some help in the shop. In the past Michael Kelley assisted me, and that young man is a highly skilled assistant. Madison, my lovely daughter, is working full time for me now and learning the trade. I have help mixing and prepping materials, but in the end, every loaf of bread, every bagel, every croissant, etc., is my responsibility.
So yes, I bake it all, despite how incredulous that might seem to some.
*Except the cookies. Jacob does those. They are his private enterprise, so when you buy his cookies at the market, you are directly supporting an industrious 13 year old.
I’m a baker, not a pastry-chef.
If I was a pastry chef I would make many g-free items, as well as gluten-heavy items.
If you are celiac, I feel for you. My wife is celiac. I don’t bake bread for her, though, either. I can’t in my shop. There is no way to determine whether or not I’ve cleaned everything well enough to make something that is safe for her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ogre. I make very good gluten free treats like clafoutis, and I’ve made several delicious gluten-free cakes (pound cakes, carrot cakes, etc.), as well as gluten free corn bread, but no gluten-free breads. I make them in the house, not in the shop. And they are for special occasions, not daily consumption. They are also not for the markets.
Logistically, I can’t bake what I do AND experiment with gluten-free items. I have a small shop (your deck is probably bigger) and limited help (my children). And frankly, I’m not really interested in learning to bake items for an extremely small portion of the population that, in the end, won’t be willing to pay the price for them. Considering the extra effort and cost of goods that go into them, it’s not a wonderful niche-market for a small-scale baker. Large scale manufacturers have a wonderful niche market in gluten free items because they market based on the fear and ignorance of consumers, and they charge exorbitant prices for the product. I’m not going to lie to you about a product and overcharge you for it.
Unless you are a diagnosed celiac, or someone suffering with autoimmune disease, and you want to discuss alternatives to gluten products, I don’t want to talk about your g-free diet. I’m a bit frustrated with folks changing their entire eating lifestyle, feeling healthier, and then saying that going gluten-free is what made the difference. Bad logic? Yeah.
We have been selling at Farmers Markets for 6 years now. During that time there have been several questions that get asked over and over, and some of those get asked more often than not.
We love answering questions. We’re selling a product that we love, that we believe in – despite all the bad publicity and misleading information in the press and on the internet about gluten. Using quality ingredients that cost us a premium price, even in bulk, it is important to us that you know that. Different consumers want different information. There are those who want us to describe the entire process of how a particular loaf was produced, and for those people I will gladly geek out and go in to intricate detail. Others want to know about the provenance of our ingredients. Some want pairing information with other foods. We try to do what we can to help all these folks.
All this to say I’m going to try and answer some questions that are bread related here. Probably the most often asked question we get is about our starters. Probably 95% of our breads are naturally leavened with sourdough cultures. A sourdough culture is simply water and flour, mixed together, which allows the yeast that is naturally present on the grain, to multiply and ferment. The sourness of the culture is determined by certain species of bacteria, lactobacilli (think yogurt, cheese, and fermented foods like kimchi) and acetobacters (think vinegar), that are also resident on the grain as well. The yeast and bacteria live in a symbiotic relationship in the culture, both adding to the flavor and character of the bread. A properly maintained and refreshed culture can survive indefinitely.
Benefits of using sourdough cultures to leaven bread include the fact that sourdough breads are self-preserving, in that they provide an inhospitable environment for mold growth. I occasionally run ‘experiments’ with my sourdough rye breads, to determine maximum shelf-life. I have a loaf of Finnish Rye bread in the shop, placed in an area that experiences fairly drastic temperature extremes. It is bagged in plastic and has been on the shelf for over six weeks now without the first sign of visible mold growth. The bread is still moist and edible.
Another benefit of using a sourdough culture is that the acidic conditions in sourdough, along with the fact that the bacteria are also producing enzymes that break down proteins, result in weaker gluten, and a denser, chewier bread. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that people who have a hard time digesting wheat do better with sourdough because of this. Anecdotal is the key word here, though.
Another benefit is that they simply taste more interesting, without the need to load them up with extra ingredients for flavor.
Bread is pretty simple stuff. Basic bread consists of 4 ingredients. Water, flour, yeast of some kind, and salt. The difference in taste and texture from one loaf to another consists of a myriad different factors. Percentage of starter to flour, type of sourdough culture used (wet, dry, cool, room temperature), the refreshment schedule for the starter, mixing and kneading processes used, proofing schedule for the dough (room temperature or overnight retarding in a refrigerator). Other factors include the humidity, ambient temperature, types of indigenous yeast and bacterial cultures in the area. Taking all these factors into consideration, the same formula of bread made in Boone, NC, and Hacienda Heights, CA, are going to taste different. It may be subtle, it may be drastic, but it will be different. And it will still be good bread.
However, I’m going to start trying.
I posted this on Facebook yesterday and thought I should post it here as well.
I’ve been doing this for several years now, baking that is. Business is good, and I’m happy doing what I do. Really happy. It’s nice to be ‘the baker’ and receive the praise and compliments each week at the farmers market. I can’t do it without help, though. When we first went commercial, I was ably assisted by a couple of volunteers who worked for bread. When I was able to finally start paying help during the busy summers, I was fortunate to have excellent help well worth the money. Now the business is run by myself, my wife Brandy, and my two youngest children, Madison and Jacob.
And I could not do it without their assistance.
Our lifestyle is different because of what we do. We don’t have the same days off, or free, as other families. Your day off is probably the busiest day of the week for us. Sometimes my children don’t seem to have the same level of ‘freedom’ in their lives as others do. At the same time, my children have learned to take responsibility of tasks that many adults I know aren’t capable of completing or doing well. And, for the most part, they do it joyfully.
All this to say, thanks for letting us serve you, and by serving you, allowing us to grow as a family. We appreciate it.
“For less than the cost of a Big Mac, fries and a Coke, you can buy a loaf of fresh bread and some good cheese or roast beef, which you will enjoy much more.” ~ Steve Albini
I haven’t actually done the math, but I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Albini’s statement above.
I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday! We enjoyed lunch with family, then later in the day we celebrated at home, just the immediate family, thankful for the blessings of the past year and looking forward to the coming year. This year’s turkey was, in fact, a duck from our friends at Harmony Acres. You should check them out. They do a lot more than poultry and produce.
December is upon us. Company parties & lunches, departmental parties and breakfast meetings, family dinners and get-togethers with friends. Remember us when you are making plans. Elevate the cold cut tray to another level altogether, accompanied by rolls made from our naturally leavened doughs. Consider our wide selection of bagels, our Chocolate & Cinnamon-Walnut Babka, our French Country Chocolate Cherry paired with a good Chevre. Owl Creek Breadwork’s own Austrian Apple Strudel is now available for order as well. Also available are Whole Wheat Sourdough Sticky Buns, Sourdough Croissants & Pain au Chocolat, Savory Chop Blocks, Pumpkin-Apple Bread and Muffins. SO, we’re taking orders for Christmas season now. Hurry up and get yours in soon.