Winkler Bakery, Winston-Salem, NC

A wood-fired brick oven, hand-mixed dough, and a pioneer spirit mark this historic bakeshop in Old Salem, little changed since 1800.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Winkler Bakery faces a quiet brick lane in preserved village of Old Salem.

If you want to see how bread was made before modern machinery and taste the all-natural results, go to Winkler Bakery in Old Salem. You’ll find a wood-fired beehive-shaped brick oven and dough mixed in manger-like troughs by bakers gripping long wooden paddles. These period-costumed artisans are as much interpreters as bakers, patiently explaining each step in the process to curious visitors.

Baker Bobby James with honey-wheat loaves fresh from the wood-fired oven. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Every step in the slow-paced process is done by hand.

Established in 1800 by Moravian families from Eastern Europe who settled in what is now Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the bakery uses methods unchanged for centuries. Bakers stack split white oak firewood into little log-cabin-like ricks, shove them into a 9-feet-deep, 7-feet-wide, 10-feet-high oven with a flat floor and a domed ceiling, and light them early in the morning. As fire heats the oven to 600 degrees, the bakers mix dough, weigh, knead, and shape loaves at a sturdy wooden table, and set them near the oven’s warmth to rise.

Split white oak fuels this old-fashioned operation.

They also make sugar cakes and cutout cookies, timing each batch to bake as the oven, swept clear of embers and ashes, slowly cools to just the right temperatures: 450 degrees for bread, lower for cakes, and lowest for cookies. The workday isn’t complete until bakers haul more firewood from a nearby shed and arrange it for the next day’s production.

Glowing embers heat the bricks.

“This is the way bakers have done things here for more than 200 years,” says baker Bobby James. “People can step in, watch us work, and ask questions. They’re always interested in how things happened before everything became so mechanized. It’s really a very simple process.”

Baker Jeffrey Sherrill shoves bread into the radiant oven.

One thing is different. “We use a thermometer now to determine oven temperature,” says baker Jeffrey Sherrill. “In the old days bakers knew from experience. They would toss in a pinch of flour and count how many seconds it took (24 was good) to turn a golden brown.”

ABOUT THE NAME The first bakers to work here weren’t named Winkler. Christian Winkler arrived a few years later in 1807 and baked for 30 years. His descendants ran the bakery until 1926, plenty of time to make the name stick.

WHAT THEY MAKE Winkler Bakery makes three main products daily, all for sale in the next room from women wearing long cotton dresses and neat white aprons and bonnets or from men in suspender-held trousers reminiscent of the early 1800s.

  • Peek into the cave-like chamber to see bread baking. As many as 90 loaves can fit inside at once.

    Bread: They start with the basics—water, flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and yeast—then for variety add honey, rosemary, garlic, and other ingredients to some batches.

  • Moravian Sugar Cake: A dense, gooey coffeecake similar to what some call honey buns or monkey bread, it’s rich with brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.
  • Cookies: Thin cutouts, often laced with ginger, come in the shapes of flowers, stars, leaves, crescent moons, Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas trees, and more.

In the shop you’ll also find oatmeal raisin cookies, cinnamon raisin bars, banana nut bread, and other treats made at a newer facility nearby. There’s an entire line of construction-paper-thin cookies too, packed in tubes or tins, that feature ginger, lemon, cranberry-orange, apple, maple, chocolate, and other flavors.

Tools of the trade.

MAIL ORDER Can’t get to Winston-Salem soon? Some baked goods, especially a variety of thin spice cookies, as well as Old Salem beeswax candles and other items, are available by mail. Click here to see the mail-order menu.

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Winkler Bakery sits at the heart of Old Salem Museums & Gardens, a lively historic village that recalls the community’s formative years in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It includes 100 acres of restored landscapes, heirloom gardens, 80 preserved buildings, a tavern, a gunsmith shop, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

Old Salem staffers look the part. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Also in the historic village stands Salem College, the all-female liberal arts institution founded in 1772 that pioneered equal education for women in this country. Just seeing so many young people (the student population is about 1,100) moving around Salem’s brick streets and grassy paths lends a surprising exuberance to a setting known for showcasing antiquated farming, baking, building, and blacksmithing skills. Their presence reflects the original Moravian settlers’ philosophy, which held schooling in high regard.

LOCATION Winkler Bakery, 525 South Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101

HOURS 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Sat, 1-5 p.m. Sun

INFO www.oldsalem.org, 336-721-7302 (Winkler Bakery), 336-721-7300 (Old Salem); for more about area attractions contact Winston-Salem Visitor Center and Visit North Carolina.

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2 responses to “Winkler Bakery, Winston-Salem, NC

  1. Do you bake gluten free bread? My wife requires gluten free products. – Clu Powell

    • Glad you asked, Clu, because I just recently came across a great resource for finding gluten-free bread makers anywhere in America. An outfit called the Gluten Free Registry self-publishes a series of magazines listing gluten-free sources by region. I turned to Issue 14 ($7.95 online from MagCloud, a Hewlett-Packard-based print-on-demand magazine publishing operation in Oregon) because its 36 pages lead to 1,441 gluten-free-friendly businesses in states near where I live (FL, GA, AL, MS, LA). There’s bound to be a similar book for wherever you live. Patch the following link — http://www.magcloud.com/browse/Issue/64697 — into your browser to get to a MagCloud web page about one book in the series, and look at the bottom for a link to the version covering your region. That’ll help with BUYING bread for your wife. If you find a good book of recipes for BAKING gluten-free bread at home, be sure to let me know about it, because I’m looking for one too. – Bakery Boy

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