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Authors: Andy King

Baking by Hand

BOOK: Baking by Hand
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Copyright © 2013 Andy & Jackie King

First published in 2013 by
Page Street Publishing Co.
27 Congress Street, Suite 205-06
Salem, MA 01970

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

Distributed by Macmillan; sales in Canada by The Canadian Manda Group; distribution in Canada by The Jaguar Book Group.

16 15 14 13 1 2 3 4 5

ISBN-13: 978-1-62414-000-6
ISBN-10: 1-62414-000-9

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013936601

Cover and book design by Page Street Publishing Co.
Photography by Eric Laurits

Printed and bound in China

Page Street is proud to be a member of 1% for the planet. Members donate one percent of their sales to one or more of the over 1,500 environmental and sustainability charities across the globe who participate in this program. Since 2002 1% for the Planet has helped facilitate over $50 million in donations to these charities worldwide.





It sounds like a silly coincidence or a fateful prognostication, but Jackie and I knew we were going to be bakers together from very early on. We had known each other for less than seven months, had recently starting dating, and Valentine’s Day was coming up. Fantastic. I scrambled around to buy her a present, and settled on a great find from the local bookshop in Montpelier, Vermont, where we both were attending the New England Culinary Institute. We had connected over the simple things that let you know you’re going to be with someone a while: food (obviously), a love of family, late nights watching the Game Show Channel, that immediate comfort that allows you to sit in silence and not feel weird about it. I knew I was going to marry her in about five minutes.

For Valentine’s Day I bought Jackie a beautiful, large, coffee table book called
Artisan Baking
by Maggie Glezer. I met up with Jackie later in my little dorm-style bedroom to exchange presents. As I reached behind my back to present my gift, she did the same. We brought our gifts forth. And we both held the same present, with the exact same bookstore wrapping paper and ribbon.

It was clear that baking was in both of our bloods.

Fast forward four and a half years, and one of those books sat in our makeshift office, earmarked and dirty, along with some of the other invaluable reference books that helped us answer our own questions as we started a bakery. As much experience as you may think you have—and working for three and a half years at one of the best bakeries in the country, Portland, Maine’s Standard Baking Co., gave us plenty of that—nothing prepares you for having to solve every problem yourself. These books kept our brains afloat. It was 2006, and we were up to our ears in dough, debt—and, thankfully, customers. Salem, Massachusetts, welcomed our little bakery with open arms, a steady stream of interested and open-minded locals allowing us to make it through that rough first year.

Jump forward another six and a half years, to the present. We’ve brought many of our books home from the bakery, as we’ve made so many mistakes and solved so many problems that we’ve discovered that now our experience is what’s leading us. Our training, our research, just the day-to-day living with dough is what informs our decisions. We meet with our amazing bread and pastry bakers and talk about production and schedules and flavors, and we eat and argue and laugh, and then we get back to working and arguing and eating and laughing some more.

We love what we do: the passion, the people, the problem solving, the fun, the sweat, the end result. We just love to make and eat good food. When the act of dining starts to focus solely on the plate and less on the gathering of friends, that is bad. One of the reasons we love artisan bread is that, while it should be amazing on its own, it’s also a perfect starting-off point for greater things. I’m not just talking about food—I’m talking about gathering those you care about near to you, facing one another and sharing a meal.

Once the loaf is made and sold, I want customers to come back and tell me what they did with it. I want to hear that it made an amazing bruschetta, or that it’s the only sandwich bread little Delia will eat, or that you sawed some ciabatta in half and stuffed it with deli meats and sharp provolone to eat while watching football with the gang. I don’t want to hear these things because I need to hear compliments about my product. I want to hear that it fulfilled its intended destiny as a canvas for your own food obsession.


There is a vast canyon between a good loaf of bread and a bad one. They might all have the same ingredients, but you can spot a bad loaf just by looking at it. A pale, dull crust. Small, dense, a bit wonky on one side, no real definition to it. A quality loaf, however, is tall and proud, sporting a beautiful russet crust, a sharp burst or carefully slashed design. You can thump the bottom and hear that it has a nice, airy open crumb underneath a crackling crust with a matte sheen. It looks healthy and strong, and not least of all, delicious.

There’s no magic to it, no secret ingredient to that second loaf, but the uninitiated are tempted to say that there is, and I don’t blame them. There are few humbler food items than a loaf of bread, fewer still that are claimants of both the phrase
staff of life
and, in some circles, the title of
all that is unhealthy about your diet.
I find both positions a bit extreme and way too close to politicization. Making artisan bread isn’t spell casting, it’s not a statement, it’s not part of a movement. It’s a series of actions that create a final product that is greater than the sum of its parts, and therefore worth putting a bit of time into if one wants to understand the process.

And to those who claim that making a beautiful loaf of bread is an art: I humbly disagree. Our goal is to create a literal consumable; we want you to tear our product apart, not present it at a gallery. There are artistic elements to our baking, but most of those elements have functional purposes. The multicolored layering on a perfect croissant is a result of proper lamination (layering). The slashes on a loaf of North Shore Sourdough are there to carefully release expanding gasses from the loaf so as to achieve greater volume and uniform shape. The flour stencil of the turkey on the Thanksgiving Grand Levain is … well, okay, maybe that one is for fun. Take a photo of that bread and call
art. But if that loaf or that tart doesn’t end up in someone’s belly in short order, it hasn’t fulfilled its purpose.


For whatever the reason, I’ve always been drawn to food traditions that have their roots deep in the culinary soil. Fermentation of all sorts (beer brewing, wine making and, of course, bread baking), working with active cultures, charcuterie and sausage making and cooking over open flame. Time-tested tradition and homage to the past have been hallmarks of almost everything I enjoy, from music to literature to cuisine. Jackie is the same way in her out-of-bakery endeavors (sled-dog running, vegetable gardening and raising farm animals, to name my favorites) and places great value and emphasis on family, hospitality and tradition. So it makes sense that we were both drawn to the warmth of the bake-shop early on in our culinary careers rather than to the tightly controlled chaos of your average kitchen line.

Baking is also a discipline that rewards not only careful attention to technique, but also supplemental research into the science of the craft. The baker relies on the healthy activity of the most basic forms of life to create the product and, therefore, a thorough understanding of how those organisms work (and under what conditions they thrive) can only benefit the artisan baker. There are scientific realities to why your bread is behaving the way it is, and most of them are easily understood and applied to your bakeshop, be it at home or at work. There are books and websites dedicated to food science—Harold McGee’s
On Food and Cooking
is an essential read—and those who know the hows will most definitely know the whys. Baking can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, but the more you understand about the science of baking, the better a baker you’ll be.

In baking, as in many other things, the simplest things are the proof of your talent. Judge an ice cream maker on the quality of his or her vanilla—there are no chunks of candy or fruit to cover up the ice cream base. If you want to understand the heart of a concert pianist, listen to how he or she treats the simplest sonata rather than a bombastic showpiece. Similarly, our bakers coax the most amazing baked goods out of most basic ingredients. Both the North Shore Sourdough and the ciabatta have almost the exact same contents, but their flavor profiles are miles apart. Why? Because when you apply science, knowledge, technique and tradition to simple ingredients, you can make them say a lot of different things.

BOOK: Baking by Hand
13.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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