Cindy and the kids and I took our annual winter trip to Saskatoon last weekend for some good food, good shopping and good connecting time. But I can’t seem to suppress my baker urges so we weren’t in town 10 minutes before I called Bryn at Night Oven Bakery to see if I could come hang out in the early morning and watch his Saturday bake.
Bryn opened his bakery nine months ago and is really going strong. While his focus, like mine, is long fermentation sourdough bread and classic french pastries, he also mills much of his own flour and bakes in a massive, hand built, 9 foot diameter wood fired brick oven. That really took me back to my backyard brick oven days, but on a much larger scale.
While my family slept, I arrived at around 1:30AM, without the aid of an alarm. (!) Bryn was finishing off his brioche dough mix and firing the oven. Large red coals still coated the brick deck; we would wait for the brick to soak up the heat from the coals for several hours more. The sight of the coals warmed my soul whenever he opened the oven door to check on them. His bread baker Sheena wouldn’t arrive for another half hour yet so we got to catch up on things while the mixes finished and I tried not to distract Bryn too much.
Once Sheena arrived at 2AM, the real work started. All the bread dough had been mixed the day before and was slowly fermenting in big tubs, so tub after tub was dumped onto their huge workbench and scaled and shaped. Country White Sourdough, “Super Seeded” Bread, Rye, Whole Wheat, Spelt, Walnut Raisin and more. Bialys, Brioche and even some special Kolach for Ukrainian Christmas. Before long there wasn’t an empty rack or table in the bakery — every surface was full of bread.
Bryn’s production schedule is radically different from mine, mainly due to the brick oven, I believe. Even when it’s fully heated up, there are only a few hours when the internal temperature of the oven is optimal for bread baking. So his goal is to get all the bread shaped and ready to bake at close to the same time. It makes for a very logical process: mix everything, shape everything, top / finish as needed and then bake everything. At Orange Boot we seem to be mixing one dough while we shape another and a third loaf is baking in the oven. Bryn’s process gave me a lot to think about since everything seemed much more relaxed.
It also helps that he’s got a second oven (a small convection oven) for pastries. Sam came in at 5AM and for the next four hours she used the small oven to bake pan after pan of cookies, croissants, danishes and scones. She was in her own efficient, very tasty world but could still see and chat with the rest of the team. Very nice!
By around 6:30AM the brick oven was perfectly hot, the deck had been swept and cleaned and the bread baking began. Loaf after loaf was hand peeled onto the bricks, then we’d wait, then they’d all be unloaded onto a rack 10 feet away. Bryn’s peel had a 10 foot handle so he could stand in one spot, unload the bread and swing the big peel all the way to the rack. Very cool!
By 9:30AM all the baking was done, the doors were open and the best part of the day started. Customers! Bryn’s built a good following already and there were several regulars itching to get their bread fix when the doors opened, even on a very chilly January morning. All I could do was order a latte and an onion bialy, sit down for a minute and reflect on a very interesting morning. Thanks Bryn!
I’m amazed at how a production schedule that is so very different from ours works perfectly for Bryn and his team. It’s almost completely opposite from the order we work in and yet his baking is beautiful, tasty and by all accounts quite popular. My visit inspired me to question some assumptions about how we work at Orange Boot. I’d love to reduce the amount of rushing around we do on a busy Saturday and still get everything baked on time.
I wonder how often one gets stuck in the mindset of “we have to do it this way” when there’s an easier solution available. I bet it happens to everyone. How about you? What do you need to work on this year to improve the way you work?