Friday, June 18, 2010

Our Visit to Cucina Bread

After routinely picking up ciabatta and baguettes (the two best-sellers, we learned) from Sherri McKelvie's Cucina Bread at the Memphis Farmers Market, we decided to ask her if we could hang out with her for a little while when she's baking and see how it all happens.

Her bread-baking is compacted into an intense 12-hour schedule each Friday starting around 4:30 or 5 a.m. Last week, we strolled into a yeasty, flour-suspended-in-midair whirlwind of activity around 11. Sherri makes 300 loaves, a combination of the following kinds in addition to our original favorites: rosemary, semolina, focaccia, honey whole wheat, jalapeno cheddar, cranberry walnut, and kalamata olive.

She pointed out a baby loaf of kalamata that she had set aside for us. Later, it made it to about Southern and Highland as we ripped off pieces and devoured it together. It was one of those serendipitous taste memories that can't be topped, just salty and savory with pockets of warm air throughout and a nice chewiness. Somehow the heat settled down the strong kalamata taste and made it into an accent, not something overwhelming as that kind of olive can be.

The process of baking bread calls for a little bit of talking in-between forming and baking the loaves. I wondered when Sherri started baking since she made it look so organized and had expert moves and advice. Twenty years ago, she was snowed in while house-sitting in Ashland, Oregon, and she decided to making some bread in order to pass the time.

Soon, we were wishing that we knew some secrets to making bread, and she divulged a few:
1. Get the dough a little wet while also adding a little flour.
2. Roll it around gently into a ball but mostly shape it by moving it side-to-side with the palms of your hands until it's smooth.
3. Get ready to live life in 10-minute increments because that's how long everything takes.
4. Read the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It's "all you need to be an artisan bread baker," she says.
5. Put some water in your oven (we put it in a shallow bowl) to assist in the baking.
6. Practice!

It was great on Saturday to see the fruits of her labor, and we branched out and bought a loaf of cranberry walnut bread because the dough looked so amazing the afternoon before and we had heard it was a great flavor. It's been our breakfast toast all week.

*Sherri's bread sells out quickly, so be sure to stop by early and see her on Saturday to try some of the great stuff she's baking!

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