Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Notes from the Baking Trail

First Stop Brick Maiden
I’ve taken a good many road trips in my life, mostly in my teens and twenties. Back then I was unstoppable. I traveled endlessly to pursue my passion for food and to discover what my niche in the food world would be.

Now I’m on a new kind of road trip, this time to San Francisco to begin my baking career. Believe it or not, and I don’t quite believe it myself, I’m no longer twenty. My passion for food hasn’t diminished, but I’ve got a few more aches and pains. I may be growing older but as Laurie Anderson brilliantly said, now that I’m fifty, I feel like five ten-year olds in one body.

My first stop was to visit Celine Underwood, the owner/baker at Brick Maiden Bakery in Point Reyes, California. Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco (he’s next on my list for a visit) used to bake his bread there before he moved to the Bay Area. Celine bought Chad’s business and she now bakes her bread in a wood fired oven—my dream!

When I walked into the bakery at 11:00 am, Celine was mixing dough, an assistant was shaping dough, the oven was being fired up with wood, and Celine’s husband was getting ready to feed the starters. Celine’s breads are made using a live sourdough starter, which has to be fed a couple of times a day. She shared with me that she has been to known to take her starter on vacation with her so she could continue feeding it. That's commitment! I can’t envision a more ideal operation.

Celine uses almond wood because it is sustainable. I’ve been eager to visit a bakery that uses wood because there is something unbelievably romantic about it. When I get my operation going, almond will be my wood of choice.


After a few minutes with Celine, I got a really good sense of how incredibly physical and laborious bread baking can be. Doing everything by hand, without the use of dough machines, really tests your stamina. No wonder few people do it which explains why most of the bread we get is machine-produced crap!

Celine works with wet dough, something new to me. Wet dough is not used in commercial baking because industrial machines can’t handle it. Wet dough is much more pliable and elastic than other dough. Watching her work with it is like watching a dancer move. Because the dough is so loose, cutting and shaping depends on timing. To the onlooker it seems nearly impossible to control the dough as it is poured out of the tubs. But Celine and her team are masters, skillfully mixing and folding the dough, so that it can shaped.

Celine tells me that she started baking at nineteen. And now, at thirty-four, she feels her body is starting to wear out. She wants to expand her business but she is already baking four hundred loaves a day for her wholesale clients and various farmers’ markets. To get ready for this coming Sunday market she has to start baking at 1:30 am on Saturday!

I’m getting a reality check here and I’m starting to panic. What have I gotten myself into? If Celine is only thirty-four and feeling worn out, maybe I should stop now. When I ask her if I can come back and watch her bake the next day, I’m hoping she doesn’t suggest I appear at 1 AM. I’m thrilled to find that I don’t need to show up until 7 or 8 am.


Celine is my hero. When I calm down I realize that I understand her passion and her commitment. And I think I’ve learned from her, that no matter how hard the job is, if it speaks to your soul you will be fine, if a little tired. As I leave, she joins her assistant in shaping dough and placing it in on the linen couches ready to go into the retarder, where the fermentation will be controlled until baking.

So this was my first stop. I’ve got a ways to go on my baking travels. I couldn’t be more excited. Until next time.

Brick Maiden Bakery
40 B Street
Point Reyes Station, CA 94945
415.663.1203
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3 Comments:

Blogger annelies said...

How did day 2 go? Did you leave feeling inspired about baking or nervous? I think you'll be great!

November 27, 2009 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Lora Z said...

day 2 was great, my bread is getting better and better

January 29, 2010 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger David Aplin said...

Hi, I am glad I found your blog. Great writing about a subject close to my heart. The pictures and text do justice to what bread baking is all about...we bake for love, not money. I hope you check out my space on the web, I have been doing this too for a few years with my wife.
www.cliffsidebakery.blogspot.com

Best regards,

David Aplin

April 3, 2010 at 11:48 PM  

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