25th Anniversary Loaf: The Gathering Process

Macrina turns 25 on August 27th, and I can hardly believe it. I never imagined baking as many loaves as we do now, not to mention the pastries, cakes, and so much more. Our values have always been tied to supporting the community, so creating products made with local ingredients has always been a priority. We know where we get our food matters, so for years and years, the origin of our vegetables and meats has been a focus. In bread, however, we weren’t asking the important question: who grew the wheat? We’ve been working hard to close this gap and making the effort to learn about the farmers who grow the wheat we use. In turn, they can tell us which wheat varieties they’re growing. This makes all the difference when making artisanal, hand-formed bread. To celebrate our milestone, I’ve been creating a Macrina Anniversary Loaf, made only with grains grown and milled locally.

Local Grains

Since Macrina started in 1993, our local grain ecosystem has also come leaps and bounds. Washington is one of the largest producers of wheat in the country, and the current number of grain varietals grown in Washington State is staggering. This abundance has paved the way for specialized local mills to spring up, meeting the growing demand for freshly-milled, whole-grain flours.

At the heart of this change, just north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley, is the Bread Lab. Chief wheat breeder, Dr. Stephen Jones, runs the lab, which is an extension of Washington State University. Jones approaches the subject of locally grown wheat from every angle: with a farmer’s knowledge of the fields, a scientist’s discipline and a chef’s passion for food.

Over seven years ago, the Bread Lab invited me to be on their advisory board. Back then I had no idea how impactful it would be. For many of us on the front lines of baking, Jones has been a leading advocate for the benefits of local wheat.  It has been remarkable having a front row seat to observe what they do.


Bread Lab’s Grain Gathering

Every year, the Bread Lab hosts an annual conference called Grain Gathering. Professional bakers, bread enthusiasts, brewers, farmers, and chefs from around the country gather in the Skagit Valley to talk all things bread. A few years back, Dr. Jones had a group of six of us taste a bunch of loaves mixed up by resident baker, John Bethony. Until then, I hadn’t tried a bread made entirely from whole grain milled wheat. Whole grain milled flour is usually blended with conventional flour to enhance baking, otherwise the bread tends to bake inconsistently. That wasn’t the case for the Bread Lab, where they had come up with wonderfully flavorful and beautiful loaves. It was an introduction into a whole new world.

We contrasted each loaf for taste, texture and appearance. The natural flavor of the grain blew me away. The range of flavors matched the range of wheats and each distinctive loaf tasted of the type and terroir of the wheat used. From that point forward I’ve incorporated more native wheats and whole grain flours into Macrina’s breads. It was that tasting that lit the fire for the soon to come anniversary loaf.

Anniversary Loaf: Leslie’s Gathering Process

I always have several bags of different flours open in the kitchen. They have names like T-85, Yecora Rojo, Expresso Hard Red Spring Wheat, and Skagit Magic. This is how my gathering process works. My notebooks are full of new techniques I’ve been learning. I also have bags of various locally-produced malts, oats and barley.

Baking is a mix of science, rigorous precision, intuition and feel. I’ve experimented with many variables: adding diastolic malt powder (produced locally, of course), oats and emmer, blending native wheats in varying ratios, baking earlier with longer ferments. Of course I’m using the Macrina Casera starter, the starter I created 25 years ago from champagne grapes planted in my backyard. Many of the loaves I’ve tested have had a wonderful crumb and great flavor, but they’re flatter and denser than I want. My goal is to make a voluptuous whole grain bread, one with a stunning presence as well as a stunning flavor profile.
For me, so much of baking is tactile, so it takes time. I need to feel the dough in my hands when I mix it for the first time, or after a long rise. I’m inching closer and closer, and will keep working until it is just right.

Stay tuned…

Quy Nguyen, Savory Department

Since I opened Macrina in 1993, so many amazing people have helped make the bakery what it is today. In honor of our 25th anniversary, we are spotlighting a few key employees. Each fills an essential role at Macrina. 

A year after I opened the bakery, I took over an adjoining space and opened the Belltown café. Customers could sit down for a slice of quiche, weekend brunch or a sandwich made with Macrina’s fresh bread. Back then, the savory items we made didn’t require a whole department. Brunch was an all-hands-on-deck affair, but as Macrina has grown and our lunch and brunch crowds have expanded, we had to do something to keep up with demand. Because of this, we now have a Savory Department. They prepare all the sandwiches, quiche, soups, spreads, salad dressings, and meze for our cafés. Quy is one of the stars, a talented cook who is efficient and graceful, two desirable qualities in a bustling kitchen. 

Leslie

Quy Nguyen, Savory Chef

On weekends, our Sodo Café bustles with brunch customers. In front of the stove, Quy Nguyen keeps her focus on the pans of eggs, sizzling applewood smoked bacon, herb-roasted potatoes, and heaping plates of French toast. Her hands quickly dart between the knife and pan. New orders come in and servers deliver hot dishes to tables. The kitchen heats up, but Quy stays cool. She churns out one pan of perfectly-cooked over-easy eggs after another and beautifully garnishes the plates. 

The rest of her workweek is just as important, but less intense. 

As a critical member of our Savory team, Quy preps and makes savory items for all of the cafés at our Kent bakery. After ten years, she knows all of the recipes and techniques. She works with the same precision and focus she employs on the brunch line, but she has time to share stories and chat with the other staff. “I like to joke around with them,” she says, through a translator. “They are like a second family.”

Still, nothing tops those busy mornings at the Sodo Café. “The favorite part of my job is working brunch. I find it very rewarding,” she says.

More about Quy

Quy moved to Seattle from Dalat, Vietnam, in 2003 with her husband and teenage daughter. The climate in Seattle is very similar to that of Dalat, whose temperate climate stands in contrast to Vietnam’s otherwise tropical climate. The region’s valleys are cloaked in mist much of the year, leading to its name “City of Eternal Spring.” For the first five years living here, she stayed at home while her daughter went to school. When it came time for her daughter to graduate from high school, she thought about working again. A friend recommended Macrina, so she interviewed and was hired and she’s been an essential part of the team ever since.

Quy does enjoy cooking at home. She primarily cooks Vietnamese food for her family, but has developed quite a taste for the diversity of cuisines in America, especially those of the French and Italian influence. Macrina’s Mac & Cheese is her current favorite dish to eat. 

She returns to Vietnam every two to three years to visit her mother, along with her sister and brother. She likes sharing with them recipes that she’s learned, and has begun teaching them how to make soups and salad dressings similar to Macrina’s. 

Marilyn Mercer manages the Savory Department. She says, “Quy amazes me. She’s willing to do any task needed to support our success. She’s quick and efficient, sometimes under hectic and stressful situations during brunch. Her food is always on point. Everyone at Savory and the Sodo Café appreciates her skillful teamwork. I truly enjoy working with her.”

Alfredo Machorro, Steward

Since I opened Macrina in 1993, so many amazing people have helped make the bakery what it is today. In honor of our 25th anniversary, we are spotlighting a few key employees. Each fills an essential role at Macrina. 

To those who deliver our supplies, Alfredo Machorro is the face of Macrina. His kindness is genuine. But he’s no pushover. If something isn’t right about an order, he straightens out the invoice or refuses product that doesn’t meet our high standards. With his rare combination of rigor and sweetness, Alfredo has earned the respect of our suppliers and admiration from all of us at the bakery.

Leslie

Alfredo Machorro, Steward Lead

Most of our customers never see Alfredo Machorro, but without him we’d have a hard time making a single product. Alfredo is our Steward Lead and Receiver. He greets each of our suppliers at the loading docks, checks in their deliveries and carefully ensures the quality and contents of each order. 

Alfredo takes great pride in his work and the knowledge that, indirectly at least, he has a hand in everything at the bakery. He ensures that the fruits and vegetables that arrive are of the highest quality and that the meats and cheeses have been refrigerated properly. He also manages an extensive inventory of various flours, sugars, butter, and all the different items we use for bagging and packaging our baked goods. 

“Each day is a little different, but each day is very busy,” Alfredo says. “I’ve been here seven years now, and with each new year I’ve taken on new responsibilities. I like everything about my job.”

Blake Gehringer, Alfredo’s supervisor, says, “Alfredo works hard to make sure that every single product Macrina orders is correct, gets dated and rotated appropriately one hundred percent of the time. I really appreciate how thorough and organized he is. I also guarantee that he is the nicest receiver in the Pacific Northwest, even when he needs to turn away product.”

This quality of kindness and thoroughness, both in his work and his relations with co-workers, has endeared Alfredo to everyone at the bakery. Not to mention how many rely on his knowledge of exactly where anything is. 

During the week, Alfredo arrives at 6 a.m. and works until 2 p.m. Incoming deliveries, rotating stock, taking inventory, and ordering new supplies take up most of his time. “Moving to the bigger space in Kent has made my life much easier,” he says. “The Sodo space had gotten too small for us. Now I can manage the inventory much better.”

Family, Food and Travel

Alfredo moved to Seattle almost 20 years ago from the historic city of Puebla, located in Central Mexico. Puebla has a climate quite similar to Seattle, so the rain and cool nights weren’t a hard transition. Eager to start his next chapter in America, he worked a variety of jobs, building a robust skill set. Before Macrina, he worked as a forklift driver, which is a tool he frequently uses at Macrina. 

Three of Alfredo’s sisters followed him to Seattle, settling near Burien, where Alfredo lives. They get together on Sundays, “After church on Sunday I visit my sisters,” Alfredo says. “I live alone, so it’s nice to play with their kids and enjoy time with family.” On special occasions, they make make Alfredo’s favorite dish, Mole Poblanos.

Alfredo also enjoys visiting his favorite restaurant, Azteca. The original location for the regional chain is near his home in Burien. It started out as a small mom and pop place in 1974. “The food is great,” Alfredo says.

When he’s not spending time with family in Burien, downtown Seattle has always been one of his favorite places to explore, though he does like to make it out of the city. “When I have a little vacation time, I like to visit the Oregon Coast, or sometimes I go to Wenatchee. I like all the apple orchards.”

Mike Johnson, Delivery Assistant Manager

Since I opened Macrina in 1993, so many amazing people have helped make the bakery what it is today. In honor of our 25th anniversary, we are spotlighting a few key employees. Each fills an essential role at Macrina. 

Mike Johnson is a devoted and passionate member of the delivery team. He arrives at work while most of the city is asleep, gets the orders together, helps pack the delivery vans, and often drives one himself. Mike and his team are on the streets well before daybreak so that Macrina’s bread and pastries are at the many groceries, cafés and restaurants when you arrive.

Leslie

Mike Johnson loves to drive. So much so that he spends as much of his free time as he can watching the races at Skagit Speedway. “Dirt racing is my passion,” Mike says. “I just got a car that can race in the tuner class, the slowest type of cars. I hope to start racing soon.”

Fittingly, when he joined Macrina in 2013, it was as a delivery driver. If Mike wasn’t so observant of company policy, we might worry about him screeching around corners. “Mike is a man of rules and likes to run a tight ship, he works by the book enforcing company policies,” says Sergio Castaneda, the Delivery General Manager. “He is very thorough and organized, which helps ensure that orders aren’t missing items.”

From the beginning it was clear that Mike was ambitious, had a positive attitude and wanted more responsibility. Impressed with his work, Sergio promoted him to lead driver and then soon after to assistant manager. 

“At my previous job, I dealt with a lot of angry customers,” Mike says. “Here, our customers love our bread and pastries, so I’m mostly dealing with happy people.” 

Except for the one time he nearly got clobbered with a frying pan. 

On an early morning delivery, he had to use the bathroom. “I went toward the back looking for it, thinking I was alone,” Mike says. “What I didn’t realize was that a girl had just started her shift. She was half asleep, and for some reason she was carrying a frying pan. As I come around the corner, the frying pan goes up in the air. I screamed ‘Macrina.’ It was all I could think to say. Fortunately, she lowered the frying pan. After we recovered our wits, we laughed. Most deliveries aren’t so exciting.”

Mike talks about his time at Macrina, “I’ve been handed a lot of responsibility as the company grows, but I have lots of support. Sergio, my supervisor, is a great teacher and listener. I’ve developed more internal strength from this job than any other because the owners and management have been so supportive of me.”

Seeing Mike’s success at Macrina, his sister Kelly followed and now works with him in the delivery department as a packer. Raised nearby with his two sisters, Mike has stayed close to his family. “My dad is my number one mentor,” he says. His parents host the occasional weekend family gathering at their house in Kent. 

Mike and his sister Stephanie Johnson at a Mariners game

Treating people in his department like family is part of Mike’s success as a leader. He often arrives at 1 a.m. and works with a team of packers to load the delivery vans. With so many routes to prepare the bakery is bustling throughout the middle of the night. “We drink a lot of coffee and the occasional Red Bull,” Mike says. “And while we work hard, there is a lot of teamwork and laughter.”

A few months back, several members of the pastry packing department were out sick. Mike saw they were in trouble. If something didn’t change, the delivery vans would be forced to leave late, meaning many cafés would be missing their Macrina pastries when they opened. Despite the fact that Mike had his own work to do, and it wasn’t his department, he donned an apron and gloves and began boxing pastries. Sergio says, “Mike has strong problem-solving skills. He finds solutions to problems and does so much for the delivery department. He is passionate, cares about getting things right, and holds his position with a lot of pride.”

As Macrina grows, new challenges arise. Mike has helped develop better organizational plans for getting our various products out of the oven and delivered to our customers. “We’re growing exponentially as a company, which brings opportunity,” Mike says. “The management team values my input. It’s nice to feel like you’re an important part of the changes that are happening.”

Rebecca Gutierrez, Pastry Manager, Belltown

Since I opened Macrina in 1993, so many amazing people have helped make the bakery what it is today. In honor of our 25th anniversary, we are spotlighting a few key employees. Each fills an essential role at Macrina.

When I interviewed Rebecca Gutierrez I had a hunch she would be one of our best. She had recently graduated from pastry school and was eager to learn more. She trained with one of our finest pastry chefs, Jane Cho, who is now our production manager. Rebecca has become a first-rate pastry chef. Not only does she head the pastry team at our Belltown Café, but she also does all our specialty cakes. We’re lucky to have her.

Leslie

Rebecca Gutierrez, Pastry Lead, Belltown


Nothing beats a pastry still warm from the oven, or the smell of fresh baked goods that permeates the café. Our cafés in Belltown, Queen Anne, and Sodo each have a team of pastry chefs preparing baked goods specifically for that café. Rebecca Gutierrez is not only one of our most talented pastry chefs, but she has also become a great teacher of the craft.

She grew up in Bellevue and went to pastry school at South Seattle College. After a short stint at a small wedding cake company, she discovered Macrina. Over the last seven years, she’s worked at all of our cafés at one time or another. If you’ve ordered a custom cake from us, chances are she made it. She also helps develop new products for our pastry case.

“When I interviewed for the job, I was impressed with how cool and down to earth and nice Leslie was,” Rebecca says. “If I didn’t already know, I never would have guessed she was the founder. Since the first day, I’ve liked Macrina a lot. The people are the main reason. I’ve made a lot of friends and management takes really good care of us.”

Erica Olsen, Macrina’s head pastry chef and Rebecca’s supervisor, says, “Rebecca is one of the hardest working people I know. She’s a phenomenal mentor. I enjoy working with her not just to witness her mad skills, but because time goes by so quickly when you’re working with her because she’s super funny.”

Because the pastries must be ready when the café opens, the morning pastry shift starts early. Rebecca often arrives at 4:30 a.m. She enjoys the relative calm in the kitchen before the café staff shows up. “It’s a pretty fun way to start the day,” she says. Working when others are sleeping means that sometimes you’re sleeping when they’re still playing. “I’ve had to say no to things my friends invited me to do, but they understand. They know my job comes first.”

But starting early means getting off early. And Rebecca lives near Discovery Park where she loves to go running with her dog while most others are still working. If the weather is beautiful, she likes to take an adventurous hike. 

Rebecca with her sisters and her dog

Rebecca is also very close to her family and her Mexican heritage. Her parents were raised in Eastern Washington. “My parents are both one of eight, so I have a ton of family,” she says. “Family is super important to me.” Both sets of grandparents came to Washington State as migrant farmers. Her mom and dad, born in Arizona and Texas respectively, grew up in the nearby towns of Sunnyside and Prosser. They met at Yakima Valley Community College. About the time Rebecca was born, her family moved to Bellevue.

She sees her parents at least once a week and often her brother and sisters are around, too. “There’s always something going on,” Rebecca says. “My nephew will have a recital, or one of my nieces will have something.” The family also gathers for Seahawks games. “I’m not really into sports, but I go for the food and to see everyone. My mom is a great cook.”

And her family looks out for her. Burns are not uncommon in a kitchen with so many hot things, and Rebecca has gathered her share over the years. “One of my sisters does makeup,” Rebecca says. “She jokes that if I ever get married, she’s going to have to do my arms to cover up all the scars.” 

Humor is an essential part of her family life, and likely where she picked up her great sense of humor. “They joke around a lot. They’ve started picking on my boyfriend when he joins me, good-naturedly of course. That’s how you know you’re in. They must like him because it didn’t take too long.”

Bay Phan, Wholesale Pastry

Since opening in 1993, many amazing people have helped to make Macrina what it is today. In honor of our 25th anniversary, we are spotlighting a few key employees. Each represents an essential part of Macrina.

Bay Phan is an integral part of our wholesale pastry team. The team arrives in the mid-afternoon and works into the evening. Bay’s knowledge of our recipes and her precision and her skill with many types of dough is part of why our pastries are so consistently good. She leads by doing everything the right way and stays calm even when we’re in the midst of our crazy holiday rushes.

Leslie

Bay Phan

 

Bay Phan joined Macrina in 2009, shortly after arriving in Seattle from Vietnam. Her friend, Phuong Hoang Bui, our head baker, encouraged her to apply. She began in the wholesale pastry department and proved herself to be a quick learner and a hard worker. Nearly nine years later she’s become one of our leaders in the tight-knit group.

Speaking through a translator, Bay says, “There are about 20 of us, and most speak Vietnamese. We work together like a family. They know everything about me, me about them.”

“Bay is one hard worker,” says Tramy Le, the manager of the wholesale pastry team. “She’s very nice to everyone at Macrina and I am so happy to work with her.”

In 2016, Macrina’s wholesale pastry production moved from behind the Sodo café to a much larger facility in Kent. Bay says, “We were getting way too crowded there. Here we have the space we need to spread out. It’s much more comfortable.”

With growth comes new challenges, one of which is navigating the new food safety regulations. “Learning all the new rules is probably my biggest challenge, but it’s necessary,” Bay says. “But as I get used to them and all the new records I have to keep, it is getting easier. It’s a good thing!”

Training new employees who don’t speak English is another challenge for her. “Teaching employees who can’t read the recipe takes some time, but if they’re determined to learn and listen carefully, it’s rewarding. I always remember that I was like that when I started here. Once the new employee masters one pastry, we can move to the next. They become part of our family. I’m so grateful to Scott and Leslie for welcoming so many from the Vietnamese refugee community.” 

Bay lives in the Sea-Tac neighborhood with her husband and two children. Her son attends the University of Washington, and her daughter is a registered nurse working at St. Francis in Federal Way. Beyond spending time with her family, two of Bay’s great pleasures are going for walks and runs in local parks and cooking. Pho is her favorite dish. She hasn’t taken to the many other ethnic foods available in the Seattle area. “I love Vietnamese food. The only non-Vietnamese restaurant I’ve found that I like is called Mongolian Hot Pot. The food tastes really good,” she says.

Next year her daughter is getting married. The wedding planning is already underway. “My daughter is looking for an American restaurant for the wedding,” Bay says laughing. “She doesn’t want an Asian restaurant.”

Bay has returned to visit her mother and four siblings in Vietnam twice since she moved to Seattle. She says, “It’s a long trip. Twenty hours.” She hasn’t explored Washington State much, but when her daughter was in nursing school in Yakima she visited a few times. She says, “I love the farms over there. I would like to explore more in that area.”

 

Hi Spot Café

Hi Spot Café: A Neighborhood Restaurant

“It’s wonderful to have a place like the Hi Spot Café, a true neighborhood restaurant. Formula places are starting to take over, and speed is always of the essence. The whole ritual of leisurely going out —spending time in the community, enjoying yourself, talking with friends or family, having a delicious cup of coffee and terrific brunch— is such a thrill! Seattle is a big brunch town, and the Hi Spot Café is one of the places that have made it so.”

-Leslie

The History

In a rapidly growing city, where hot new restaurants come and go like wild mushrooms, it is reassuring to find a place that has been making the same mushroom omelette since 1983. Hi Spot Café, located on 34th in Madrona, is so homey, it is actually built into a 1904 Victorian house. You enter through a storefront, which is set up with a coffee bar and pastries. Dining areas are up a short staircase connecting it to the house. The various rooms provide semi-private spaces, making the restaurant feel less crowded than it usually is.

The storefront, which was connected to the Victorian when it became the café in 1983, was originally built as a bakery. The baker and his family lived in the house. In fact, it would be accurate to say that generations of Seattleites have been getting breakfast at this location for 114 years.

Hi Spot Café Store Front

The Store Front

Mike Walker has owned (he bought it with a partner he’s since bought out) and operated the Hi Spot since 1994. He knows many regulars by name, even more by their favorite dish. “When I bought it it was a true to life hippy hangout,” Mike says. Great food, baked goods, tasty brunch, and a relaxed atmosphere made it a community favorite. Mike grew the business organically by focusing on doing more of what already worked.

Hi Spot Café 1994

Hi Spot Café in 1994

In the early nineties, a national CBS ad campaign called Breakfast for your Head had featured Hi Spot Café. “Tourists who’d seen the commercial used to make their way up here to take pictures of themselves at the Hi Spot.”

Breakfast, Brunch & Lunch – No Dinner!

Hi Spot Café serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch, seven days a week. Mike tried dinner shortly after taking over, but it didn’t work. Back then, there were very few other restaurants on 34th, and the neighborhood could be dangerous at night. Madrona, like Seattle, has undergone enormous change and people now flock to 34th for dinner, but Hi Spot Café won’t change again. Old school has worked for them, and they still even have an AOL email address, which to them is a point of pride. As flashy new restaurants draw the headlines, they can sometimes vanish as fast as they appeared, it is refreshing to know a place can thrive by not changing.

“Over the years people have said, You should do this, you should do that,” Mike says. “I listen, but I took over a place that had a vision. I’ve worked to honor that, making small improvements over time. A steady vision of what your restaurant is and what it should be is essential. In a rapidly changing city, we are a point of stability. We know who we are and our customers value that.”

Cherished recipes and a steady vision aren’t all it takes. Finding great ingredients and suppliers is another key. “I’ve been using the Macrina Herb Roll and the Brioche Bun for 24 years. Macrina’s Brioche Buns make the best hamburger buns. I first got to know Macrina and Leslie when I was managing the Pink Door. Later, she lived nearby and frequently came in to eat.”

Eggs All Day

Hi Spot Café has 25 employees, many of whom have been there for years. The chef has been there for 23 years; some waitstaff are going on 15 years. “I’ve got very loyal people,” Mike says. “I treat them with as much respect as possible. I’ve worked in 28 restaurants and I fashion my management style on what not to do with employees.”

When warm weather arrives, the Hi Spot patio opens, doubling the seating. Even with the extra tables, don’t be surprised if there’s a waitlist. In addition to locals, people from all over the city flock to the restaurant. Occasionally you may even spot Mike McCready or Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam.

All of this happens with nothing more than word-of-mouth advertising, but the occasional blast of national attention doesn’t hurt. Four years ago, a recipe from Hi Spot Café was featured in an issue of Rachel Ray Every Day. “I don’t know how they found us,” Mike says, “but I’m glad they did!” The recipe was showcased alongside other breakfast recipes from across the United State, and the “El Pacifico Omelet” was chosen to represent Washington.

“We just keep doing what we do, making breakfast and lunch, eggs and Reubens,” Mike says. “I don’t really change the menu. I carefully add to it. It’s hard these days to find a place that makes a really good BLT, a great tuna melt. We make All-American food, simple with high-quality ingredients, and we consistently prepare it well. It’s an honest plate for $13.95.”

Home-made Favorites: The One-Day Artisan Loaf

One-Day Artisan Loaf

I made this video a few years ago to demonstrate how you make one of my favorite home-made loaves, the One-Day Artisan Loaf. It amazes me how much interest the video still generates. The recipe is simple. It produces a beautiful loaf—domed, with a crisp caramelized crust, irregular crumb and complex flavors.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.44.55 AM

I created the One-Day Artisan Loaf for my second cookbook, More From Macrina. The premise of the cookbook adapts Macrina recipes for the home cook. I made all of the recipes with typical home equipment. The inspiration for this loaf came from an article in the New York Times back in November 2006, featuring Jim Lahey, the owner of Manhattan’s Sullivan Street Bakery. The article describes a revolutionary method of creating full-flavored, artisan-style bread mixed entirely by hand, without any kneading. Time and a heavy dutch oven do most of the work that kneading and expensive steam-injected ovens do for professionals. I began fiddling around with the technique to create a version of my own.

one-day artisan loaf

Baking

My recipe includes milk and olive oil. These add a slightly fermented flavor. Rye flour provides another dimension to the flavor. I shorten the preparation time but incorporate a few extra steps for manipulating the dough, including a series of folds that resemble a brief kneading, and a couple of baker’s turns between rises. The results make it worth the extra bit of work.

The video also demonstrates how to make a whole grain version with a garnish of sunflower and pumpkin seeds and diced dried apricots. The whole grains give the loaf the delightful flavor of roasted nuts, notes of apple cider, and an earthy flavor that I love.

One of the keys to baking a beautiful one-day artisan loaf is having a humid atmosphere when the bread first hits the oven. This is where the dutch oven comes in. The hydration level of this dough is high, so when baking in a covered dutch oven, the air inside will remain moist for the first few minutes. The bread achieves a soft outer surface to rise before it forms a hard crust. By using this technique, you’ll end up with a crusty bread that has a rich caramelized color and a lovely depth of flavor, much like one you’d get at Macrina or another artisan bakery.

The Name

When naming this loaf, I thought of the word artisan because of the loaf’s characteristics: a crackly, caramelized crust, a wide, irregular crumb, and a complexity of flavor. A few comments have come in saying the bread isn’t truly artisanal. Most artisan loaves are naturally leavened and use very little if any, commercial yeast. They are also usually slow-fermented overnight and hand-formed. Maybe artisan-like would be a better name. Whatever you want to call it, if you are a fan of a rustic European-style domed loaf, with many of the great qualities of artisanal loaves —that doesn’t keep you in the kitchen all day—this loaf is for you! Start in the morning and you’ll impress your dinner guests with wonderful, freshly baked bread, without breaking a sweat!

Leslie

Wheatstalk 2018

Wheatstalk 2018

IMG_9847I joined the Bread Bakers Guild of America in 1993, the same year I opened Macrina. It was an insanely busy time in my life, but I knew I needed a community of artisan bakers for support and guidance. The Guild provided that and more. The Guild was much smaller 25 years ago. Not surprisingly, its growth has mirrored the rise of artisan baking in America.

IMG_9156Now, I’m on the Guild’s Board of Directors. For the last 16 months, I’ve been busy working with the other eight directors to plan Wheatstalk, the Guild’s most significant event, which starts February 27. The three-day celebration of baking is filled with lectures, hands-on classes, demonstrations, and maybe most importantly, a chance to visit with fellow bakers.

IMG_9860We’re holding this year’s gathering at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Of the Guild’s 2200 members, 525 members entered a lottery for the 125 available spots. All told, with the lottery winners, the teachers and volunteers like myself, about 200 artisan bakers will descend on the city. We’ll leave flour dust in our wake!

The Guild isn’t only comprised of professional bakers, but also super-talented home bakers and tiny CSA’s that bake once a week. At previous Wheatstalk events, I’ve picked up valuable tips from passionate home bakers who bake in backyard wood-fired hearths, as well as people that produce at a scale larger than Macrina’s.IMG_4182

Wheatstalk takes place in six classrooms, an amphitheater and a lecture hall. Featured speakers include two celebrity bakers from France, Hubert Chiron and Patrice Tireau. Stephen Jones of the internationally renowned Bread Lab, located in Mount Vernon, will be talking about the Wheat Movement in America. Also, some of the country’s best artisan bakers, bakery owners, and pastry and savory instructors will be teaching—including Jane Cho, Macrina’s Production Manager and pastry chef extraordinaire, and Scott France, Macrina’s CEO.

IMG_9025Scott is teaching a class called Growing Your Bakery with Amy Scherber of Amy’s Bread, a New York bakery that is a little bigger than Macrina and opened just a year earlier. Our bakeries are similar, both with cafés and wholesale operations. Scott and Amy will cover essential questions like, Do you really want to stop baking? Because when you grow, you spend a lot less time kneading dough. Out of necessity you get into the business of managing employees, training, retaining employees, pricing, food safety, and charitable donations. Scott says, “Amy and I should complement each other well. She is the baker who started her business, and I’m not. That difference should be useful.”

IMG_9202Once all the organizing is done, my job at Wheatstalk is very hands-on—preparing three days of breakfast and lunch for 200 people! It’s a big job, but I’ll have plenty of help. I’m serving a very Macrina-centric menu of tasty comfort food. There’ll be Macrina’s Macaroni and Cheese with Spicy Broccoli one day, lentil soup another, savory salads, and all the beautiful loaves of bread made fresh each day in the morning classes.

IMG_4280After months of planning, I can hardly believe it’s about to happen. I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones, to learning new techniques and recipes. Everyone walks away inspired and with a handful of new friends and an even deeper connection to this awesome industry than they thought possible!

Leslie

Mean Sandwich

Mean Sandwich draws a great cross-section of people throughout the day. The generously-sized sandwiches are all served on Macrina’s Seeded Buns, and everything else is made in-house. The bun absorbs the juiciness of the fillings and keeps the generous pile of inners together. Kevin and Alex are usually there, and you’ll occasionally find their adorable three-year-old daughter holding court with the customers. If you love a delicious sandwich get on over there!

Leslie

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Mean Sandwich

John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, is said to have invented the sandwich so he didn’t have to leave the gambling table to eat. Three hundred years after his birth, the now ubiquitous finger food ranges from humble to haute. At Mean Sandwich, located in Ballard, everyday street food and elevated cuisine find a happy meeting place. You can grab something to nosh on when you’re in a hurry, or treat your snobbiest foodie friend to lunch. They won’t be disappointed.

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Mean Sandwich is the brainchild of Kevin and Alex Pemoulie, formerly chef/owners of Thirty Acres, a critically-acclaimed restaurant that landed on Bon Appétit’s 2012 list of 50 best new restaurants in the country. Before that, they both worked at David Chang’s legendary New York restaurant Momofuku. After the birth of their daughter, they wanted to refocus. They shuttered their ode to fine dining and moved to Seattle, Alex’s hometown, to focus on casual, accessible food.

“We’re challenging ourselves in a different way entirely,” Kevin says. “Before we opened, I worked for a long time on the menu for Mean Sandwich. Obviously, everything here is going between two pieces of bread, but we make everything in-house, from the corned beef of our namesake sandwich to our sausage.”

Already high expectations for Mean Sandwich were elevated last fall when Eater put it on their list of 23 most anticipated openings around the country. Now, open nearly a year, the Pemoulie’s have backed up the hype, so much so that they made Bon Appetit’s 2017 list of 50 best new restaurants in the country.

The menu is simple: six signature sandwiches, a side salad, and Skins and Ins, an awesome combination of fried potato chunks and their skins. All sandwiches are griddled and served hot on a Macrina Seeded Bun.

The eponymous sandwich features tender thick-cut corned beef, pickled red cabbage, yellow mustard, mint, and a subtle dash of maple syrup. It’s based on a Thirty Acres dish and it’s worth a driving across town for—even at rush hour. None of the sandwiches feel too precious, but each has a special twist, that something you couldn’t do at home. You get the sense that the same care and effort they once put into each creative small plate at Thirty Acres goes into each sandwich. In addition to the standing menu, a special sandwich is offered every day, such as the Glazed Pork Belly with pine nuts, radicchio, and roasted tomato mayo. With the onset of the cooler weather, a fresh daily soup is also available.

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Behind the small storefront, the interior space is simple with a couple of booths and seating lining the windows, 18 seats in total. In warmer weather, the large backyard is an oasis of fun. Diners pack the eight picnic tables and many wait for a turn at the ping-pong table. Patrons of Peddler Brewing can order sandwiches through a pickup window located in the brewery’s beer garden.

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With a successful first year nearly behind them, Kevin and Alex are interested in opening a second location. “If the right opportunity came along we’d definitely entertain the idea,” Kevin says. “It seems that if you divide the city by a harsh north-south line, a lot of people wind up sticking to their neighborhoods during the weekdays, especially during the cold months. It’d be helpful to be in another part of the city.”

Meanwhile, to expand their reach, Mean Sandwich plans to make their sandwiches available through every delivery service in Seattle. “We just want to serve people great sandwiches,” Kevin says.“Right now we’re operating exclusively with Caviar, but we’re looking to use UberEats, Postmates, Doordash, Amazon Restaurants. We literally just want to use every single one.”

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Kevin and Alex have embraced Seattle and its food scene. They frequently take their daughter along as they try new restaurants or return to favorites. “The city is great,” Kevin says. “We live half a mile from Mean Sandwich, see Alex’s parents a great deal, and love our walkable neighborhood.”

Their gamble to leave fine-dining behind and take their talents West has given Seattle a chef-driven take on the old standby. They’ve kept the everyday convenience of the Earl of Sandwich’s pedestrian invention and made it tasty enough for the most discerning diner.

Mean Sandwich opens at 11 a.m. seven days a week. Check their website (meansandwich.com) for evening closing hours and much more.