Tag Archives: Boone NC

Bakers’ Peels, Dough Bowls & Cutting Boards

Handcrafted Bakers’ Peels, Dough Bowls & Cutting Boards

Home bakers feel like stylish pros using bakers’ peels and dough bowls crafted by Tom Sternal of Elkland Handwerke.

by Bakery Boy

I found this Elkland Handwerke baker's peel at Stick Boy Bread Co. in Boone, NC. Photo by Bakery Boy.

If you’ve ever seen a baker use a big flat board with a long handle to shovel baked goods around in a hot oven or move them to cooling racks, then you know what a “peel” is. Peels used by commercial bakeries—sometimes six feet long and three feet wide—won’t fit easily into your home kitchen or oven, but scaled-down versions work fine and even look cool hanging on a peg between uses. Don’t settle for the cheap metal kind you see at pizza joints. Get one of the handcrafted beauties Tom Sternal of Elkland Handwerke makes out of hardwood trees he salvages around his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

From this slab of hardwood Tom Sternal will sculpt a beautiful dough bowl. Photo by Robert Stein of http://www.robertsteinphotography.com.

A retired art professor who taught sculpting at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, Tom now works with wood and stone at his studio in the former Elkland Elementary School in the tiny town of Todd. He mostly makes hefty tables, chairs, benches, and other furniture from massive slabs of fallen, storm-damaged, or construction-removed hardwoods. “I call them ‘maverick trees,’ too big or too oddly shaped to fit in most sawmills,” Tom says. “They’re harder to handle but have far more interesting grains.”

Devoted to recycling and determined to waste nothing, Tom turns leftover pieces into artful peels, bowls, cutting boards, spatulas, ladles, letter openers, and more. He even makes kindling and charcoal from splinters and sawdust.

Here are a few things he makes suitable for us bakers:


A baker's peel, scaled down for home use. Photo by Bakery Boy.

BAKERS’ PEELS As a kid I marveled at the quick agility on display as my father, grandfather, uncles, and other bakers wielded giant peels to transfer hot loaves from oven to cooking rack. When I first noticed ushers at church working their long-handled baskets in a similar fashion at collection time, I thought they were all bakers too. Now I finally have my own smaller peel to use at home, a thin slab 12 inches wide and 24 inches long counting the slender handle, shaped from a single piece of tulip poplar. “I use whatever kind of wood I have leftover from bigger projects,” Tom says. “Poplar, cherry, oak, walnut, maple—they all have wonderful grains that show really well when they’re milled just right.” Price range: about $20-$50 depending on size.


Dough bowl made of cherry. Photo courtesy of Elkland Handwerke.

DOUGH BOWLS You could let your bread dough rise in any kind of bowl, but there’s something rewarding about choosing one of Tom’s handcrafted dough bowl instead. Made from a single chunk of maple, oak, walnut, poplar, cherry, or other hardwoods, each is different because he considers the grains, knots, and other characteristics as he shapes it. On non-baking days, leave your artisan bowl out as a conversation starter. Price range: about $28-$100.


Thick hardwood cutting boards look good and leave plenty of room for knuckles above kitchen counters. Photo by Bakery Boy.

CUTTING BOARDS You probably already have several utilitarian boards, but these thick slabs add something special to chopping chores. Tom cuts them thicker than most for a reason. “Think about how many times you’ve hit your knuckles on the counter while cutting on a board that’s too shallow for the knife handle you’re gripping,” Tom says. “My boards are several inches thick so when you’re chopping there’s room for your fingers.” Price range: $12-$32.


Each Elkland Handwerke creation has an elk shape burned in wood or chiseled in stone, a tribute to the former Elkland Elementary where Tom lives and works.

CARE & MAINTENANCE Tom coats his kitchen-bound woodwork with mineral oil. It seeps in to keep the wood from drying, visually enhances wood-grains, and has no toxic effect on food. “You can clean these pieces with soap and hot water,” he says. “It’s best not to leaving them soaking. Don’t put them in a dishwasher. When they start to look dry, re-apply some mineral oil. And especially those thin bakers’ peels: Don’t drop them!”


That's Tom with some of his heftier woodwork. Leftover scraps become household items. Photo courtesy of Elkland Handwerke.

WHERE TO FIND Tom’s work goes as fast as he can make it, so truth is there’s not a large supply on hand anywhere. Here are a few promising places to look.

Elkland Handwerke – Buy direct from the source in Tom’s studio-gallery; 10279 Three Top Road, Todd, NC 28684; www.elkland.com; 336-877-5016; elkland@elkland.com.

Fall Creek Woods – Tom’s friends Paul and Beth Bloedel run this online woodwork shop; 2599 Fall Creek Road, Purlear, NC 28665; www.fallcreekwoodsnc.com; 336-973-5308; info@fallcreekwoodsnc.com.

Todd Mercantile & Bakery – If there are more pieces here than elsewhere it’s because owner Emilie Enzmann, Tom’s feisty sister-in-law (who nicknames her place the Todd Mahal), pulls strings; 3899 Todd Railroad Grade Road, Todd, NC 28684; toddmahalbakery.wordpress.com; 336-877-5401; emyenz@yahoo.com.

Stick Boy Bread Co. – This is where I first found Tom’s peels and cutting boards, an appropriate setting because they make terrific baked goods (see the Stick Boy article on the Bakery Boy Blog); 345 Hardin Street, Boone, NC 28607; www.stickboybread.com; 828-268-9900; info@stickboybread.com.

The Shoppes of Farmers Hardware – Elkland Handwerke joins other crafts at this market in a former hardware store; 661 West King Street, Boone, NC 28607; 828-264-8801; shoppesatfarmers@bellsouth.net.

Watauga County Farmers’ Market – Saturday mornings May-October in the parking lot for the outdoor drama Horn in the West (about wilderness pioneers and the American Revolution); 591 Horn in the West Drive, Boone, NC 28607; www.wataugacountyfarmersmarket.org; 828-355-4918; info@wcfm.info.

Ashe County Farmers’ Market – Saturday mornings April-October on the Backstreet in downtown West Jefferson, NC; www.ashefarmersmarket.com; info@ashefarmersmarket.com.

INFO www.elkland.com or www.fallcreekwoodsnc.com

AREA INFO Boone Visitors Center, Boone Chamber of Commerce, Visit North Carolina.

SPECIAL THANKS South Florida-based photographer Robert Stein of Robert Stein Architectural Photography (www.robertsteinphotography.com) contributed the image of Tom Sternal working on a dough bowl.

Stick Boy Bread Co., Boone, NC

For its impressive baked goods, Stick Boy belongs on any bakery fan’s must-try list, even if the name begs explanation.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Thin bakery owner Carson Coatney often gets mistaken for Stick Boy.

Stick Boy breads include crusty, aromatic loaves, often with inventive ingredients. Photos by Bakery Boy.

With the name Stick Boy Bread Co., I half expected its owner to be skinny. Or maybe, I thought, the menu will involve baguettes (bread “sticks”) and not much else. It turns out Carson Coatney is indeed a thin man and yes he makes some lovely baguettes, but that’s not where the name comes from and certainly not the only thing he makes. A few minutes into my first visit to the Boone, North Carolina, establishment it quickly became one of my favorite bakeries ever, both for the variety offered and the energetic attitude.

“It happens all the time, people thinking Stick Boy refers to me,” says Carson, co-owner with his wife, Mindy. “I hope the real story doesn’t disappoint you.” In short, as they prepared to open in 2001, a friend in Virginia spotted an apparent joke of a sign stuck to a utility pole and sporting the words “Lost—Stick Boy,” plus a hand-drawn stick figure and a fake phone number. She laughed, told them about it, and suggested it as a bakery name. Initially they scoffed, but the idea grew on them.

Spinach Feta French Bread

Mindy’s artistic aunt, Suzie Sadak, designed a logo showing a chef’s-hat-wearing stick boy running with a loaf of bread, and soon the couple’s bakery was off and running too.

A local woodworker crafts baker's peels like this, for sale at Stick Boy.

SO MANY CHOICES Keep your head on a swivel at Stick Boy, because options abound. A wall of shelves holds hefty, aromatic, artisan loaves—crusty outside, softer but firmly textured inside—ranging from Spinach Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Sourdough to Italian Ciabatta, Honey Wheat, Organic Whole Wheat Multigrain, Organic Spelt with Raisins, Cranberry Pecan French, Rustic Apple, Pumpkin, Fig Walnut Wheat, Kalamata Olive, Blueberry Oatmeal, and others. Showcases teem with fruit pies, carrot cakes, chocolate tortes, scones, cookies, and amazing sticky buns loaded with cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts. A hot espresso bar and a cool smoothie station diversify the offerings. There are also beautifully handcrafted cutting boards and baker’s peels (those flat shovel-like tools used to move hot goodies around) made from fallen trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains at a nearby woodwork studio called Elkland Handwerke (see more at Fall Creek Woods).

Summer Stollen

SUMMER STOLLEN During the holidays a popular item is a dense Christmas Stollen laced with golden raisins, candied orange peal, cranberries, and almonds. “Instead of waiting all year, we created something similar that works in summer,” Carson says. “The Summer Stollen has blueberries, cranberries, pineapple, candied lemon peel, pecans, and a glaze of blueberry icing.”

"Blueberries and cherries for our pies come from from nearby orchards," Carson says.

LOVE THOSE BLUEBERRIES “In summer we bake a lot of blueberries into pies, scones, bread, and pastries,” Carson says. “There’s a blueberry farm nearby called Old Orchard Creek, and the owner brings me fresh-picked fruit all through July and August. We go through half a dozen 6-quart buckets every week. We like to use local, organic, and fresh ingredients whenever possible.”

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS Carson grew up in western Kentucky, studied economics and chemistry at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and frequented Boone, where he met and married Mindy, a Boone native. “We had the idea to start a bakery before we knew anything about baking,” Carson says.

Pie time at Stick Boy.

“I’d recently graduated when we happened into the Great Harvest Bread Co. in Alexandria, Virginia. We liked what we saw: terrific artisan breads, all kinds of fresh-baked goods, a lot of organic and local ingredients, and bakers who seemed happy with their work. We thought, Boone needs something like this, and we could be those happy bakers.”

Current and former Appalachian State University students make up much of the Stick Boy staff.

Carson completed a one-week bread-making class at a Minnesota baking school and experimented at home until he felt he had enough successes and enough variety to start Stick Boy. “We rented a tiny place, a thousand square feet, just enough room for an oven, a mixer, and a table,” he says. “There was hardly room for customers. We gradually added more bread to the lineup, then scones and cookies and pies. When the laundry next door closed, we tripled our space, rounded up more equipment, worktables, and showcases, and things really took off.”

They hired a friend, then a relative, and then a succession of enthusiastic students from Appalachian State University located across the street. Mindy is at home more now that they have three sons (ages 8, 6, and 4), but remains integral to the operation.

SERIAL ENTREPRENEURS “I think I’m genetically wired to be an entrepreneur,” Carson says. “I had an uncle in Kentucky who was always launching some sideline that I’d help with. At Duke I started a laundry service for students.” Following Stick Boy’s success, the Coatneys partnered with a former employee (Katie Dies and her husband Josh) to open a second Stick Boy Bread Co. in Fuquay-Varina, about 200 miles east on the outskirts of Raleigh. Along with another trusted employee they recently bought the Boone restaurant Melanie’s Food Fantasy from a bread customer who was ready to retire. “As serial entrepreneurs,” the ambitious Carson says, “we always look for opportunities.”

LOCATION Stick Boy Bread Co., 345 Hardin Street, Boone, NC 28607 (across U.S. 321 from ASU)

HOURS 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sat

INFO www.stickboybread.com or 828-268-9900

AREA INFO Boone Visitors Center, Boone Chamber of Commerce, Visit North Carolina