Tuesday, December 11, 2012

We are truly Thankful . . . .

"How can a nation be called great
if its bread tastes like kleenex?"
~ Julia Child ~

The BakeHouse has been a buzzing since the Thanksgiving Holiday and Christmas right around the corner. Las Cruces is a tourist destination and the mild winter climate brings in new visitors every weekend. Since we're still a floating vendor (we don't have a permanent spot yet) new local customers are discovering us each weekend!

Customers arrive very early to get their bread.
Sometimes the tent is just about set up and we're selling bread!
I never have to worry about anything at our booth with
both my mom (Jolan, on the Rt) and my Mother-in-Law (Rita)
running the show! They are such a wonderful blessing to me,
the BakeHouse wouldn't be the same without them!
There's nothing like customers to keep you on your toes and to keep you striving to do your best. Just about every Saturday since we started selling BakeHouse Breads at the market there has been at least one person that asks for Rye bread. And when we introduced our big BakeHouse Miche, which is a 95% Whole Wheat Sourdough, many of the Rye customers purchased that bread over the others.

The thought of adding another bread, especially Rye bread, was very difficult for me. Rye, the Rye I wanted to make, seemed to have its own schedule of fermentation. And no matter how I tried to weave it in to the schedule, it just seemed like it would be a struggle.

BUT there was this one customer from Sweden. I don't know what it was about her, but she was able to coax me into making a Rye. She wasn't demanding, or pushy, in fact she was tremendously gracious as she shared with me her enjoyment of the BakeHouse Miche. I think it was when she started sharing with me the reason Rye bread was the bread of choice in her country as she grew up. It was simple bread with a very important place on the table. It was purchased out of need. To not have this bread in the home meant that stomachs would be hungry. Because of the keeping quality of the bread, the loaves were made in very large rounds so that they could sustain a family for a week. A slice of this bread with a meager slice of cheese, or a spread of lard, would offer the body fuel for the day.

My desire to recreate Old World Breads is what inspires me as a baker. The bread she spoke about was not quite the dense German Rye that I had researched. I found myself reading about Polish style Rye breads, and there it was, the Polish Cottage Rye, a Sourdough Rye that had the same exact fermenting schedule as the Miche. I became overjoyed with the realization that I could actually add this bread to our line up!

As with all the other BakeHouse Sourdoughs, the Cottage Rye starter is prepared
14 hours before the dough is mixed.

The dough, once mixed and fermented for 2 hours is as soft as velvet!
There is very little evidence of the typical increase in size that you usually
see with a dough made with wheat flour.

The Cottage Rye dough wasn't as sticky as I thought it would be. It was actually very easy to scale and shape.

If you look closely, you can see some of the gas pockets that have formed in the dough

Now that I know how the dough handles, I will be scaling them at 5lbs each.
I dusted the linen heavily with flour to assure that the dough would not stick.
After proofing for 2 hours at 72°, the dough was ready to go into the oven.

The oven temperature was perfect at 475°

The oven bloom was amazing!

It was very hard to do, but we waited until Saturday morning to actually cut a loaf.
The smell was amazing. The Rye flavor was very much there and the taste was

Saturday morning was going to be the real test. To offer this bread to our loyal customers and to give part of a loaf to the very person who coaxed me into making this wonderful bread, my Swedish customer, Inge. She was so pleased to be chosen as the official taste tester. I told her that she needed to follow up with me, good or bad, and let me know what her thoughts were. 

I received a call on Monday. Inge gave the Cottage Rye an A+! And she thanked me over and over again for bringing this very special bread to Las Cruces. She again shared with me how it was this type of Medium Rye that was a staple bread in many homes throughout Europe. I was so grateful for her experience with this bread and for her encouragement. And to confirm that this bread was needed, the BakeHouse Cottage Rye was the first bread to sell out!

It is a privilege to be able to make these wonderful breads. As our customers come and purchase their special loaf of bread each week, I can't help but watch them walk away, hugging their loaf, wondering if they realize that they are carrying a little piece of history. 

To all of you, our friends, our family and our customers
We wish you a Very Merry Christmas!
Thank you ~ Kath

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Three years ago today . . . September 26, 2009.

Today marks the day three years ago that our last bake took place in New Jersey before we moved to Las Cruces, NM. I've been thinking about what I would post today regarding this milestone and I realized that what I posted on October 9, 2009 still resonated in my heart today.

As I look over our blog and all that's taken place to rebuild the BakeHouse here in New Mexico I am awestruck, deeply moved and overwhelmingly grateful.

So with that said, I redirect you to the post on October 9, 2009. It's been and continues to be, an amazing journey.


Monday, September 17, 2012

A Baker's Challenge (issued by the Oven Builder) . . .

"If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens." ~ Robert Browning

It all started with a conversation that Tom and I were having about a bagel shop in Mine Hill, NJ, Bagels on the Hill. We were reminiscing about going there and Tom getting his large coffee, light and sweet, I'd get a large tea with 2 tea bags and room for half and half. We'd check out the NJ Star Ledger newspapers piled by the door as our Everything Bagel with Lox spread and a Sesame Seed with Olive Spread were being assembled and the smell of Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese filled the air (this sandwich is as unique to Central and Northern NJ as the local Gordita is here in Southern NM).

Then the conversation transitioned and Tom started talking about how he'd watch the guy at Bagels on the Hill make his bagels. It was a tiny shop, just big enough to house the deck oven and the boiling pot along with a few baker's racks. And the front of the shop had the Deli cases and a grill which fit snugly in the corner by the big picture window. I do remember thinking to myself "this place is so efficient, it's just the right size for what they do". And their hours made sense, they were open early in the morning and closed shortly after lunch. If you went to get bagels after 1pm, they were usually sold out.

That's how the creation of our Sourdough Bagels came to be here at the BakeHouse. I have to say, I never ever thought that I'd find YouTube to be so tremendously helpful. I'm a very visual person, so watching and doing is the key for me not necessarily reading. So the last month of watching bagel makers on YouTube and test baking has been extremely valuable for me as a baker. I was committed to making our bagels with the same philosophy as our European Sourdough Bread. I wanted our bagels to honor a tradition of baking that is slowly disappearing. The "craft" of baking that centers around quality ingredients and minimal tampering with the use of only Sourdough as a leavening, flour, Kosher salt, water and Barley Malt.

So this presented another challenge. Finding a bagel formula (recipe) that used only Sourdough as a leavening on a commercial scale. I finally found one that originated from an Jewish Bakery in Brooklyn, NY from years ago. BINGO! I had to tweak it a bit, but the basic info and the percentages that I needed were there, so I was able to move forward with testing it.

The first few bakes were a challenge. I wasn't happy with the overall rise, but our customers encouraged us that the flavor and crust was there, that was important. Getting a better rise was easy once I understood the dough. The dough doesn't need any turns after it's been mixed for almost 6 minutes in the spiral arm mixer. It just sits in the dough bucket for one hour after mixing, then I shape the bagels and put them in the fermenting room with the bread overnight. Easy fix. It's a beautiful dough. Creamy and soft but very strong. It feels and cuts like hand made Mozzarella Cheese. So different from the bread dough. And they bake up so beautiful in our oven. Now we just need to keep up with the growing demand as customers are discovering them. And the word is spreading, as we now have people come up asking if this is the booth with the fresh baked bagels.

Which brings me to another experience the bagels are bringing us. Meeting all the New Yorkers that live in Las Cruces! It's almost like there is this secret ingredient in the bagels that just permeates the air and draws the New York natives to us! It's absolutely amazing. And the fun part is how our discussions are just like the discussion Tom and I had about Bagels on the Hill.

The life of our Bagels. This sourdough was started with the culture we use for our breads.

Our boiling pot! This baby is BIG, and it get the job done.

Tom made our Bagel boards.

Bagels stay on the bagel boards for only 4 minutes and then
they are flipped over, off the boards and the tops are then exposed.
The finished product. I only wish I could post the aroma!
And if this Bagel adventure hasn't been enough for the month of August and September, we also did the Tularosa Basin Wine and Music Festival. This two day festival takes place in Alamogordo, NM, about 70 miles from Las Cruces. It's home of the German Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. We've been getting many of our German customers from this area and thought it might be a good idea to be there in person and let more folks in that area know about us. It was a good marketing decision for us and we did extremely well. Between Monday, Sept. 10 to Sunday, Sept. 16th we processed 200+ loaves of bread and bagels, it was a whirlwind. I find that today, my body is grateful to have a day off. 

Tom ready for the day. One of the vendors noted that Tom could sell sand in the Sahara!
He is such a blessing to me and shoulders so much so that I can concentrate on
the craft of making the bread.
Erin was Tom's helper on Saturday. She also helped my mom the previous
Saturday when we had RAIN! She did a fantastic job!
What I don't have is a photo of my mom, Jolan and my Mother-in-Law, Rita working the booth at the Las Cruces Farmer's and Crafter's Market on Saturday. They were in a new spot at the market and it drew a lot of new customers. My Mother-in-Law must have passed on her selling skills to Tom because word got to me that she too can sell sand in the Sahara and she got the Bagels sold out before the bread! Then when they were done, my Father-in-Law, Tom Sr. came and helped them pack up. 

So as you can see, it's a family affair. I couldn't do any of this without the love, help and support of my family and the enthusiasm of our precious customers. Each and every one of our customers becomes a part of the BakeHouse in some special way. They share their experience with our bread. They tell us stories from their past, and on some days, they come weary and worried and reach for a loaf of bread to help cheer their spirit. And then there are the bagels that draw out the New Yorker who has been searching for this elusive creation. It's my deepest desire that the BakeHouse Bagel gives them what our Sourdough Breads has given our European customers - giddy joy!

Blessings to everyone - thoughtfully - Kath 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Working out the kinks . . . .

A Yiddish Proverb: "Everyone is kneaded from the same dough; but not baked in the same oven"

A customer came to our booth this past Saturday all the way from El Paso, Texas.  He admitted that he had become addicted to BakeHouse Sourdough Bread. There was another lady that came by, she's a diabetic, and once she found out that all our breads are made with the Sourdough Method, purchased her loaf with joy and proceeded to walk away with a smile hugging the bag (my mom, a nurse, had just read an extensive article about how Sourdough Bread is the bread choice for Diabetics since it affects the Glycemic Index in different way when compare to conventional breads, and doesn't spike blood sugar). And then there are our German, Russian and Polish customers. You wouldn't think that Las Cruces would be a place where you would have a large European community, but there is. Especially in El Paso, TX with Ft. Bliss Military Base and also the German Air force Base in Alamogordo, NM. Both of these locations about 50 to 60 miles away. It's these Europeans that keep me on track. When we showcased the 5 lb Miche for the first time at the market, three German ladies saw it from across the street and came over, almost jogging. The first gal to reach the booth looked me straight in the eye and said "I know what that is, I will to buy it", the second lady went on in German obviously excited about their discovery, and the third lady said "thank you for making this bread. I can't have it unless I'm in Germany".  I offered them a sample, which they gladly accepted, and I watched them savor the bread they had longed for and had found. As they continued down the street with their bread, chatting away in German, I started to cry . . . . tears of gratitude.

On 8/3/2012 the BakeHouse Oven changed. Just like our oven in New Jersey, within three months I noticed a shift in how the oven retained the heat and baked the bread. It's amazing how it just "happens". There is no warning, no subtle change, it just  . . . is. The only advantage I had this time was the experience I had from our first oven. I knew that the three month window was approaching, so I referred back to my Oven journal notes from our first oven and waited to see if our new oven would follow the same time line.

There is one huge difference with our new oven. It stores heat longer, and it bakes more gentle. It's hard to explain this, it's something that as a baker you can see through your Oven journal notes. But basically what this looks like is that even though I start baking my BakeHouse Sourdoughs at 595°, they come out of the oven without being scorched and they are golden brown. It's amazing when you consider that it's the firing of the oven the day before that dictates the next mornings bake. I can't just turn the knob and get more or less heat! And I can't start another fire when I have over 100 loaves to bake and get to the market by 7:00am!
What I love about this part of the journey is that I get to "know" my oven! I'm getting familiar with it's personality, and believe me, it has one! I anticipate that there to be at least one more shift in how the oven holds heat and bakes, I'm thinking another 2 to 3 months. At that point, it will then be complete and it's true personality will be established. And as long as I do my part as the oven tender, and fire it properly, it will function like a well made clock and never skip a beat.

Our signature BakeHouse Sourdough. This is the first bread that gets baked.
The oven temps for this first bake are around 595° and when the bake is
finished, the oven temps are around 565°. If left to rebound, temps go
back to 575° within 20 to 25 minutes.
BakeHouse Breads ready for the market
It's these wonderful interactions with the customers that encourage me as the other aspects of running a business are with me every day. There is this romance people have in their minds about what it is to be a bread baker. But the bottom line is, it's a business and it has real challenges just like any other business.

We are still working on getting the BakeHouse Oven building finished. We had a setback due to a very unprofessional contractor. There were a few days where we thought that we'd have to dismantle part of the BakeHouse building for the Electrical Inspector, but, the inspector gave strict instruction the contractor and the problems were fixed. We now have our approval sticker and can continue working on the BakeHouse Oven building which includes several items that need to be completed for the Board of Health. They gave us our license based on these items being completed.

The hand sink for the BakeHouse Oven building was the first item we chose to tackle. We have no running water out to the BakeHouse Oven, so we had to come up with a way to get a hand sink out to the building. There are several companies that make portable hand sinks, but they are a bit pricey for what we needed. So we went to YouTube! And we found what we needed. A great video of a guy who made his own portable hand sink! Here's how we did it!

This Sterilite cabinet was purchased at WalMart.

Tom cut the top out for the sink insert.

We found this great little hand sink on eBay!

Wheels added to the base so we could move it easily.

Mini Electric hot water heater and waste water.

Electric and water connection.

We have water!

Our hand sink works like a charm!

Ah, as I'm finishing up this post I just got a whiff of roasting chili from our neighbor. He farms several acres about 5 miles from here and New Mexico's Green Chili season is upon us! It's such a great smell. Between his roasting chili and me baking bread, we fill our neighborhood with a wonderful aroma!

And just for fun, I thought I'd share with you a photo from our Pecan trees! They are covered with these wonderful clusters of nuts. The Mesilla Valley is starting to explode with produce ready for harvest, it's a very festive time here in Las Cruces.

Our Pecan trees are loaded down with nuts!
So until next time . . . blessings to all and thank you again for following along. Thoughtfully - Kath

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Quiet Mornings

With the weekly posts of the oven construction slowing down considerably, the rhythm of the BakeHouse has started to take shape. It's hard to describe, it's not just one activity, but several. And it's not just the "doing" part. It's the more subtle things, like sound. In fact, I think the sound part is what I enjoy the most. There is the still sound of the early morning, usually 2:45 am. No birds, maybe a gentle breeze and right now, crickets ( I call them Jimminies ). The cleaning out of the oven before baking. The scraping out of the ashes. Metal to brick, with a rhythmic steady motion. Then the sweeping out of the chamber, that gentle whisking sound as the bristles run along the hearth bed. The sizzle of the damp mop running along the hot hearth bed catching all the left over ash. The shuffle of bakers racks as I check the loaves that have been in the cooler since the previous afternoon. And then back in to the house to make my first cup of strong tea and check on my builds. I open each container, I use three different builds, and first listen. There is a gentle bubbling sound of the build as it reaches it's final stage of development. Then the smell, it has a tender sweet smell, not sour, but almost floral. Especially the Rye culture - which lately has a beautiful undertone of Lavender.

BakeHouse Sourdoughs ready to go in to the oven.
I am grateful to be back with my bread, creating loaves each week to share with the community. There is something to be said about having something your passionate about put on hold. I grieved. Although I didn't understand it at first, but now I realize that the BakeHouse wasn't just what I did, it was my creative expression. Like oil paint and canvas to a fine artist. All this to say that the baker is . . . gratefully content to be back in her element!


Las Cruces, New Mexico is crazy about bread! I keep adding bread to our bake each Saturday thinking that we've reached our limit but we keep selling out. This "problem" challenges me and my response it to create more bread. For the last three weeks I've been playing with a 5 lb Miche. This bread has captivated me. It's huge, dark and it bakes bold (dark). What I love about it most is that it uses up the left over heat that I have from previous bakes and it likes to ripen for a day or so before you actually cut in to it or release it for sale. This ripening fascinates me. When you do cut open the loaf, the first thing that is presented is the color of the crumb. Here this basically light bread has developed a crumb that is a rich Sepia color. The flavor is complex. First there is the subtle wheat, then it changes and there is an earthiness to it, then you start to taste Rye and then it all comes together and you find yourself cutting another slice! The bread just cries out for a good Hard Salami, Havarti Cheese and grainy mustard along with a Stout beer ( We miss Long Trail  & Magic Hat Breweries in Vermont ). The test baking of this bread has been a blast. Here's the process - enjoy!

First I created a Stiff Levain from my liquid culture

First two ingredients, flour and water are mixed only until they pull
together and then mixture rests for one hour.

This bread is a very soft, loose dough. This is 20 lbs of dough.

Pre shape and rest for a few minutes while I line the baskets.

Went to the local .99 Cent store and snagged four of these
giant colanders. They are perfect for the job! 

I lined the baskets with Flour Sack towels and dusted them
quite heavily so the soft dough wouldn't stick.

Each basket went in to a bag to protect the dough from drying out in our desert climate.

Tom created a makeshift peel for me using
one of my proofing boards. He's so clever!

The peel is the perfect size for this mass of dough.

Oven Hogs. They need a full 1 1/2 hours in the oven.

The finished loaves. 
The size just makes you smile. It's huge!
We'll be bringing them to the market on Saturday whole and cutting them
into quarters. I'm curious to see if we have anyone who wants to
buy the whole loaf. If anything, I think it will make people stop and take a look.

And the reason I do have left over heat that sticks around long enough to bake like this is the insulation that Tom decided to use. The Ceramic Fiber Blanket is amazing. I'm using less wood to fire the oven and the heat retention is incredible. Something so simple that adds a whole new dimension to the design of our oven. Thanks Tom!

Here you get a view of the blanket over the baking chamber.
Vermiculite was used to fill in all the gaps between the
wall and the chamber.
Here you can see where Tom set the Thermocouples in such a way
so that they can be replaced if needed. It's so nice that they are not
buried in the vermiculite like our last oven, we'll actually be able to find them.

I hope you've enjoyed this little peek into our world of bread making. I look forward to sharing the next post with you. Thoughtfully, Kath

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Las Cruces has welcomed us with open arms!

Our first official press release has appeared in an offshoot publication of our local paper. Every weekend has been filled with meeting new customers and learning the names of all our repeat customers. We are so grateful for the enthusiasm of Las Cruces for the BakeHouse!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Blogging and Baking!

As I started to create this update today I realized how quickly time has gone by! It's was much easier blogging about Tom's work on the oven compared to me baking and getting to the market. Today is one of my official days off, so I thought I'd share with you all that's been going on.

The oven if firing like a charm. All the construction tweaks that Tom had made are proving to be good choices. We finally installed all 6 thermocouples and I'm now able to track just how much heat is being stored. Tom also decided to order a Ceramic Fiber Blanket to cover the cladding over the baking chamber. This will arrive tomorrow. Once this is placed over the cladding, we'll fill up the rest of the space with masonry vermiculite, and then the oven will be considered completely done!

We're still working out how much bread to bring to the market. We've sold out at every market within 3 hours. It's safe to say that Las Cruces has embraced us. It's been very, very encouraging. We're up to 120 loaves a week and growing. Our ultimate goal is 300/400 loaves a week. I really appreciate the moderate speed at which we're growing since we basically hit the ground running. I found that my body remembered the physical workout of putting out the bread, BUT, it's taken a bit to get back in shape from the 2 1/2 years that I was not baking.

Meet the biggest challenge of my bread making day:

You got it. The high temperatures and the very, very low humidity. Fortunately my Commercial Kitchen has a Swamp Cooler and the BakeHouse also has a Swamp Cooler. This actually helps to keep the temperature pretty consistent throughout the process. Both of these areas I'm able to keep at 75° and the Swamp Coolers add moisture into the air.

The market has been a wonderful experience. It is a year round market and there are several hundred vendors that attend each Saturday. Wednesday's market is much quieter, but we're finding that folks are starting to take advantage of being able to buy bread twice a week.

What has really been a blessing to us is our Block Captain. He's really tried to keep us in the same basic location each Saturday and this has been a real benefit for us and our new customers.

Our Block Captain, Dodds.
Here are some other views of the market:

Mom getting the table set up.

Our bread display. The vintage table cloth with the Cherries
comes from my Aunt Elsie!

The Special of the Day nestled in another vintage tablecloth.
Thanks Aunt Elsie!

One of the many entryways into the market.

We're ready for customers.

We are gearing up for another busy week. Kalamata Olive will be the Special for Saturday. We're not sure how Las Crucens will respond. This was one of our most popular breads in the East, so I'm curious to see how it sells here in New Mexico.

Thanks again for checking in and I'll look forward to sharing more with you as we get settled in baking bread in Las Cruces. Thoughtfully Kath