Here’s a mind blowing fact. Betty White, born January 17, 1922, is older than sliced bread. Sliced bread was first sold in 1928 and advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” So now you know, the greatest thing before sliced bread was wrapped bread. Aren’t you glad that you read this blog today?
Why is bread on my mind? I recently took a behind the scenes tour of The Essential Baking Company in Seattle, and saw the craftsmanship that goes into creating the breads, pastries, crackers, and desserts enjoyed throughout the Pacific Northwest. It was like stepping into Wonka’s Chocolate Factory with all of the wonderful smells, whirring machines, and the small army of people making it all happen.
One of the best surprises of the tour was the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and actually bake some bread. George DePasquale, company founder, portioned out some dough and then showed how to form perfect loaves. While we continued on the tour, the bread went into the oven and baked into delicious goodness that I got to bring home. My car smelled like a bakery for about a week after I drove home with all that fresh baked bread.
After the baking experience, Tom Campanile, the company’s President and CEO, provided the grand tour of the facility. I visited the bakery in the evening, and the place was alive with activity as the teams prepared the bread that would be delivered overnight to restaurants and grocery stores throughout Seattle. Teams of bakers mixed dough in giant machines, formed it into loaves, and then placed the dough onto racks for baking. A fine layer of flour coated the floors and the air was warm from the industrial ovens.
Tom shared that The Essential Baking Company makes bread using the best local, organic, and natural ingredients they can find. They start with four basic ingredients: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Water, Sea Salt, and naturally occurring yeast. I saw a room filled with tubs of sourdough starters, which would be used fin a few days, when the natural fermentation process is completed.
The giant ovens, like the one pictured above, are used to bake the breads with a thicker crust. They had a row of other ovens, each about the size of a refrigerator, that would bake a full rack of bread at a time. When the bakers turned on the ovens, the racks would spin around, giving the bread a little Disneyland ride as it baked to perfection.
After baking, the bread sad in front of a bank of fans to cool, and then it was either sliced or packaged. Tom shared that the team was initially resistant to selling sliced bread because it would dry out faster, but it has proven to be one of the biggest selling items. The bake-at-home breads have also been a popular addition. In Washington, you can find the bread at Costco, Metropolitan Market, Whole Foods, QFC, and a few other locations. I brought two of the bake-at-home loaves home from the tour, and the shrink wrapped bread stayed fresh in the pantry. It worked out great when we baked it at home a few weeks later.
The final part of the tour took us through the kitchens where the pastries and classical deserts were prepared. I watched as giant cinnamon rolls were iced, croissants were filled with chocolate, and racks of muffins and other pastries cooled. Similar to the craftsmanship put into the bread, The Essential Baking Company creates their pastries using all natural ingredients. The scones that I took home were top notch and I’m still dreaming about the macaroons. I visited the bakery just before Christmas, which meant that a few seasonal favorites were being created. Gingerbread people and buche de noel cakes were among the special treats that I got to sample.
It was such a treat to see all that goes into producing some of Seattle’s best baked goods, and I am thankful for the time that Tom Campanile, George DePasquale, and their team took to show us around. And of course, I am very appreciative of the bag of goodies that I got to bring home! If all of these photos left you starving for your own supply of fresh-baked breads, pastries, crackers and desserts, you can stop by the bakery’s Georgetown cafe. The Essential Baking Company’s selection of organic and gluten-free breads can be found in many stores throughout the Pacific Northwest (and are likely in the breadbasket at your favorite restaurants).