Crafting Artisan Breads

The Grain

Clockwise from top left: hard red spring wheat, spelt, rye, kamut

Clockwise from top left: wheat, spelt, rye, kamut

The day before baking we mill all of our whole-grain flours on a stone mill imported from Denmark.  We use only organic grains, including wheat, rye, kamut and spelt. The freshly-milled flour contains all the aroma and nutrients of the grain, which begin to dissipate as soon as the grain is milled.

Our wheat comes from Stephens Land & Cattle, a family farm in Jennings, KS.  It is an heirloom variety called Turkey Red wheat, a tall, winter-planted variety that was commonly grown in the 19th century.



The Oven

Our wood-fired brick oven

We bake our bread in a wood-fired brick oven.  The oven has a hearth that is five feet wide by 7 1/2 feet deep, and can hold about 72 loaves of bread at one time.  The hot oven core is made of firebricks and high-temperature mortar, built to a 9-in thickness in the hearth, walls and dome.  It is extremely well-insulated and can retain an immense amount of heat for days.  Read more about our oven and how it was built here.

Firing the oven

Firing the oven

We begin the process two days before baking by firing the oven on Thursday mornings.  We load it with scrap wood from local woodworkers and sawmills and light the fire at the front.  Over a six- to twelve-hour period, the fire burns from front to back.  The fire builds heat until it reaches a complete, high-temperature combustion (smoke and soot is burned off).  The first, small load of wood brings the temperature up from about 300 to 450.  That evening, we fill the oven and light a fire that will burn down to coals by morning, bringing the masonry temperature up to about 550 degrees.  Friday mornings we light a last, small fire to bring the oven up to temperature.  The fire burns out in afternoon, and we place a heavy, insulated door in the opening and let the heat equalize for 4 to 6 hours.  Before retiring, we open the door briefly to clean the ash from oven with a brass-bristle brush and swab it out with a wet cotton rag.  The oven is ready for the overnight bake, when the masonry will be an even 650 to 670 degrees throughout.

Preparing the starter

Ripe sourdough starter

Ripe sourdough starter

We keep a natural sourdough culture that we started with our freshly-ground Indiana wheat several years ago.  The night before mixing dough, we mix enough fresh starter to leaven most of the 300 loaves we will be making.  After fermenting at the ambient temperature for a few hours, we retard the starter in the cooler so that in the morning, the batch of starter has fermented just the right amount.  We also prepare poolish, a yeasted sponge, to be used alone or in combination with sourdough for some of our breads.

Making the dough

Eric folding dough

Eric folding dough

Friday mornings we mix dough.  For the first 3 years, we mixed everything by hand in large tubs.  Due to the immense amount of labor involved, we came up with a technique for developing the strength in the dough without much intensive kneading.  Instead we folded the dough many times during its fermentation, between 30 to 40 minute periods of rest.  While we enjoyed the work and found the results to be outstanding, we have incorporated a mechanical mixer to save our strength and time.  The results of our folding and resting technique were so great that we maintain this method, and limit our use of the mixer merely to incorporating the ingredients, and achieve most the dough development through gentle folding.

 Dividing, Shaping and Proofing the dough


Rounding lumps of dough


Rolling baguettes

When each dough has fermented sufficiently, we turn it out on our wood-top table and scale it into loaf-sized lumps.  We round each piece and let them rest on the table.  Then we shape each loaf.  Some are formed with a bit of water on the table and rolled in seeds.  The loaves then proof, or rise, until late evening, when we will start baking them.  Each batch of bread is moved to our walk-in cooler when it has risen enough, and will finish the rise at cool

Rustic sourdough loaves proofing in baskets

Rustic sourdough loaves proofing in baskets

Loaves of sunflower sourdough going onto a board to proof

Rolling the sunflower whole wheat in seeds and placing onto boards to proof

temperatures.  Some of the bread proofs in linen-lined baskets, others between folds of linen on a wooden board, and a few loaves proof in pans that they will also bake in.




Preparing Croissants

Folding in the butter

Throughout the day on Fridays we spend time with the croissants.  We mix the dough the night ahead, and in the morning while one baker mixes the other doughs, another baker laminates the croissants.  We pound grassfed, cultured butter into squares and enclose each square in a packet of dough.  We roll out the packets and fold them in thirds and repeat this process two times

Shaping croissants

during the day, until each packet is comprised of 27 layers of butter sandwiched between 28 layers of dough.  After a rest in the cooler, we roll out each packet and cut triangles and rectangles and roll up the croissants.



Baking the bread

Loaves of sunflower sourdough are scored and ready to load into the oven

Loaves of sunflower whole wheat are scored and ready to load into the oven

Scoring the rustic sourdough

Scoring the rustic sourdough

After a dinner break, we return to the bakery late Friday to bake the loaves.  The oven is about 660 degrees when we load the first loaves in with wooden peels.  The loaves sit directly on the oven floor, or hearth, and the rapid heat transfer into the loaves causes them to spring to nearly double their size.  Before they are loaded, we score each loaf with a razor blade to give it a place to burst in a pleasing way.  As we are loading the oven, we add some steam with a copper watering wand.  Once the oven is full, the baking loaves produce their own steam in the sealed chamber, which billows out when the door is opened.

The oven as the last loaves are dropped in

The oven as the last loaves are dropped in

After 10 minutes the loaves have sprung up nicely

After 10 minutes the loaves have sprung up nicely

The oven holds about 72 loaves when full.  Each load is a carefully planned mix of different doughs, loaded in a specific sequence to optimize results.  Whole grain loaves are loaded first, in the right half of the oven.  Then rustic sourdough loaves are loaded, which spring more and require a more steam-saturated oven.  A space is left at the front of the oven, and a peel full or two of baguettes are slid into place just before the door is closed.  They will bake quickly and will be accessible for us to remove right at the front.

Croissants fresh from the oven.

After each load of bread is removed, we sweep the burned flour and seeds from the oven and let the oven rest for 10 minutes, while heat rises from the deeper layers of brick up to the surface.  After several loads of bread, the surface has cooled below 500 degrees and we bake the pastries.




After the bread is baked, the oven surface recovers to about 510 degrees over a period of several hours.  By Wednesday, the day before firing the oven, the temperature has dipped to below 350 degrees, and we bake 60 to 100 pounds of granola, muesli and granola bars.  We are glad to take advantage of the “free” heat to make another product.  Read more about our granola here.

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