Bakers are often searching for their perfect loaf; their image of what bread should be and taste like. Sometimes they will get close, but often they will be far from it. Self scrutinizing, their goal can often overshadow their daily accomplishments.
At Rustica we are headstrong through a transition, and as a co-head baker, I've been keeping an eye on our daily accomplishments. We recently received an email from a longtime customer who, native to Europe, has relied on our crusty wholesome sourdough breads to get through the week. Their message was an in-depth critique of our Miche, Multigrain and Fruit & Nut loaves, pertaining to the inconsistent nature of the crust, color, and shape as of late. It is not completely surprising, nor do I believe the inconsistencies lie only in these breads.
Consistency comes in many forms. The hands mixing and shaping the dough, the humidity, ingredients, the voracity of our sourdough cultures, the heat of the oven. We rely primarily on our senses in the bakery. We have a modern oven, but it can be quite temperamental. Some days breads bake hot and fast, some longer than others, and for that, we rely on the color of the bread, how it sounds when rapped on the underside, and our internal clocks.
For ten years, baker extraordinaire and founder of Rustica Bakery Steve Horton himself, baked off all the Miche, Multigrain and Fruit & Nut before anybody else arrived at the bakery. For Atom, Kelsey and I, this is completely new territory and something we have been familiarizing ourselves with. And thus, you may find these loaves to be the most varying in nature.
In the past few months we have hired a multitude of people, both for the café and bakery. Some of our new bakers have prior experience, but we are also teaching this craft to new hands. For those who have joined our team with experience, it may take a month or more to really get a grasp for what Rustica doughs should feel like. For those who are new, the two biggest hurdles are adjusting to a new daily (nightly) rhythm, and having dough not stick to their hands. Their progress has been astounding to watch - babies beginning to walk.
Although convenient to bring in bakers with previous experience, I find it especially important to bring in fresh sets of hands, teach them the craft, and pass along all the knowledge that I and others have gained. Four years ago I was given the opportunity to learn to bake bread at a small bakery in Portland, Oregon. That first year was a flurry of sensory and technical information. It wasn't until I moved on to a bakery in Northern California that everything clicked and the process became fluid and quick. I spent a year and a half there, and my best loaves were probably baked the month prior to my departure. I've been with Rustica since August and my perception of these breads continues to grow deeper. There isn't a day that passes when what I hold in my hand doesn't fill me with pride.
I’ve been granted tremendous luck having had great teachers and mentors, including Steve. I work hard, along with all the staff at Rustica, to pass on the knowledge that we have acquired. I still dream of the perfect loaf, but, for now, I'm focusing on watching my new pals grow up.
That being said, please pardon our provisional inconsistent tendencies.
- Klaus -