Reflections on Crusty Loaf's...
I have many good memories from the now defunct bakery where I slaved for a good few years, early in my baking life. I don’t think that I have since worked in an environment where it was clear that we all loved what we were doing and we had such a good time doing it. I think that we were all bonded by the fact that we had a boss who didn’t give a shit about the business, who tried to keep the reigns tight on us from many miles away in Minneapolis. We all loved the place and wanted to see it do well. I think that we even plotted to one day try and pool our funds together to buy the place. I often wonder what would have become if we had indeed pulled that off. I miss it sometimes. I miss all the doughs, all 12 of them, rising in the buckets scattered throughout the kitchen and hall. The Honey Wheat, Rosy Sour, Pumpernickel, Walnut Scallion…all with their yeasty, bready savory and sweet smells. I miss the huge bucket of Sourdough starter, that needed constant nourishment, maybe even some talking to..and in return he provided us that tang and rise to our breads…then, there was the Rye Starter, whom I introduced to the bakery when we changed the way we did our Rye Bread. He was smaller, but much more pungent with the flavor of onions in his blood. Man, he made a good bread…that Rye, it always sold out.
I miss those mammoth mixers and that godly Bongard 3 deck oven, too. I think that the actual baking of the breads was my favorite part of the process, although I did love the feel of shaping each bread in my hands. Every dough had its own personality, its own quirks. The oven was definitely the heart of the bakery though. It lay at the very center of the store, in plain view from every angle, especially from the front door, where people walking by would be drawn in by the smell, walk through the front door and see the loaves baking through the oven windows…I loved tending the oven. First, loading the loaves onto the gurney, scoring and garnishing them with salt, or seeds..then, lifting the gurney to the deck where the breads would be magically transferred, with a quick push, and a pull. Voila, the loaves were now perfectly placed onto the baking stone, steamed with a quick push of a button, and left to bake until they needed some rotation. Probably the most dramatic part of the process was when the loaves were set to come out of the oven. Using the 10 ft long peel, I would thrust it into the oven, grab 5 or 6 or 7 loaves of crackling and crusty bread, delicately balance them on the flat end, pull them out of the oven and oh-so dramatically, flip them onto the cooling racks. There was always a crowd to watch this, and I always remember feeling this great sense of pride in my craft when I would hear the sighs and people exclaiming, “look, there she goes…such beautiful bread..” I think that this was such a great selling point, walking into a bakery filled with the most wonderful smell ever, baking bread…seeing fresh bread being pulled out of the oven and deposited onto the cooling racks before your very eyes…then, actually being able to walk up to the counter, point to that very steaming loaf, buy it, and walk out with it, still crackling in the paper bag, under your arm.
People loved this place.
It became clockwork at one point. We had it down to a science, when each type of bread would crackle and steam its way onto the cooling racks. We would actually write these times on a chalk board sign that stood on the sidewalk outside, and then, our regulars would arrive, like clockwork too.
11:30 am….Multigrain…11:45 am Sesame Tuscan…12:00 pm French Rolls…
We even had names for them. The Rye Bread guy. Crazy Sweater guy. Chocolate Roll girl.
It is funny, every so often now, I see a familiar face and think..oh yeah, there is that ‘Sliced Honey Wheat’ guy..
We had so many kinds of bread, but we definitely had the favorites among them. The breads that always sold out. The Apple bread was one of these. This was the lagger in the group, always the very last to come out of the oven. I think this was because we often forgot to prep the apples ahead of time
….ah crap…damn apples.
So, often times, we would have all the breads out of the oven, and we would have people coming in at the ‘usual’ Apple Bread ready time of 2pm.. “Is the Apple Bread ready yet??” So we rushed…peeling the apples at warp speed, chopping the apples into the dough, portioning the dough into the pans and tossing them into the ovens. Then, the people would continue coming in, while the bread was in the oven. So often, I would pull the bread out just as it was perfectly ready, and rush to frost it while impatient customers drooled up front. “Is the apple bread ready?”
I too, loved the Apple Bread, but I sometimes felt like it was the bane of my existence. It was a little more work than some of the other less fussy loaves, and the people always wanted it when it wasn’t ready.
A few years have passed since those days, and every so often I find myself with a craving for some of those breads again. So I scale down the recipes from their 50 pound batches and I make me a loaf.
Even the Apple Bread.