Tag Archives: Dutchess Bakery

Santa Bread

Put a little Dough! Dough! Dough! in your Ho! Ho! Ho!

by Bakery Boy

This Santa Bread photo came to me from Joan, a loyal subscriber to the Bakery Boy Blog and a friend and neighbor of my sister in Virginia. Joan works at a physical rehabilitation center and says a thoughtful patient presented this homemade flaxseed Santa Bread to the staff as a token of her appreciation.

I’m glad Joan took a minute to snap this picture before she and her coworkers tore into their holiday treat. Seeing it reminded me of various shapes my father made out of bread at the Dutchess Bakery where I grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. He’d make Santa heads, reindeer, Christmas trees sleighs and more, all out of creatively shaped bread dough.

For some reason I’ve never figured out — since we didn’t live in alligator country — my Pop made alligator bread complete with scissor-sniped spikes running along the backs and tails and with mouths propped wide open through a clever arrangement of folded cardboard during proofing and baking. Maybe he just made them because he could and because it was fun, which would be reasons enough. I made some recently just to see if I could remember how. They turned out well and kindled a fond memory, just like Joan’s Santa Bread photo did.

For a couple of years while I worked as a baker at Le Panier Very French Bakery in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, I made elaborate holiday stars out of braided bread. Some were nearly a yard a wide, great for dangling in the shop’s windows as bakery-themed decorations. Others were about the size of a regular loaf, used as table centerpieces for parties. The smallest would fit in the palm of your hand and served as Christmas tree ornaments.

Good times. I’ve also seen bread shape like a cable car and a sea lion in San Francisco, bread shaped like a cactus and a fish and a donkey-pulled cart in Albuquerque, and bread shaped like a lobster in Maine. Someday I should write an article all about bread shaped to look like something other than bread.

There’s no recipe or how-to lesson with today’s post. You can find plenty of those just by entering Santa Bread into any search engine. TasteOfHome.com has a nice version and so does MarthaStewart.com, to name just two.

Or you could just take your favorite bread dough recipe and wing it, using your imagination and maybe a little well-placed food coloring to devise your own version of Santa Bread. Maybe it’ll turn out great or maybe it’ll be an absurd mess, but either way you’ll have a little fun and create a new holiday memory.

Whatever interestingly shaped bread you make please snap a picture and send me a copy (find my email link at bottom right). I’d like to put together a slide show of the best and the worst — as well as the funny, the odd, the what’s-that-supposed-to-be? and other gallant efforts — for a blog post to run next year at about this time.

Until then, happy holidays!

Rusty Old Bake Shop Sign

This rusty old bake shop sign marked my family’s bakery for generations. So where is it now?

by Bakery Boy

I must have passed under that rusty and dented old bake shop sign a million times, starting from before it got quite so rusty and dented and old. It was mounted above the back door of my family’s Dutchess Bakery in Charleston, West Virginia. It faced an alley where delivery trucks idled while dropping off flour, sugar, salt, and other ingredients or picking up fresh breads, cakes, donuts, and cookies. That sign hung for decades in silent witness as an endless parade of bakery employees, friends, night-shift cops, salesmen, and miscellaneous characters came and went.

At the time I probably didn’t notice it much. I didn’t need a sign to tell me where I went nearly every day of my life. Only when it disappeared, leaving a rectangle of paint faded to a different shade, did I suddenly feel an urgent need to see that familiar heirloom again.

Had it been stolen, I wondered? Did someone sneak it to a pawnshop for quick cash or slip it to an antiques dealer with a made-up story about its origins? Would it turn up as rustic décor in some themed restaurant? Had my brother Ed, who runs the bakery these days, stashed it away to protect it from thieves? I should have asked him directly, but because I’m the brother who left the business to pursue a writing career, I really don’t have as strong a claim to such keepsakes and didn’t want to appear covetous.

Two years after realizing how much I missed that rust-pocked bit of nostalgia, I found it, and I believe it’s in a good place.

I was in New York City visiting bakeries worth featuring on this website, and I dropped in on my nephew Nick, the younger son of my brother the baker. He grew up working in the same bakery as me and probably passed under that battered and weathered sign just as often as I did.

Self portrait with family heirloom. Photo by Bakery Boy.

Nick is an architect now working to preserve the grand and venerable Park Avenue Armory built in the 1870s near Central Park. He has a keen eye, an artistic style, and a genuine appreciation for history, including our family’s history. A newlywed living in a basement apartment, he has the sign, a gift from his father, mounted above a bedroom dresser and mirror, where he no doubt sees it every day.

I’m glad that rusty old bake shop sign is still in the family and watching over a flesh-and-blood direct descendant of our scattered bakery clan. I’m especially glad I once again know where to find it—so every now and then I can go enjoy a memory-stirring glimpse.

Raised by (Wild) Bakers

Growing up in a bakery inhabited by flour-dusted men and icing-flecked women.

by Bakery Boy

When I tell people I was “raised by bakers,” they always seem to hear “raised by wild bakers.” Somehow the phrase conjures images of a feral child living with wolves (Mogli in The Jungle Book) or apes (Tarzan in deepest Africa) or sheep (the mysterious Sheep Boy of Ireland). Despite the shock factor, it is a pretty good conversation starter.

Working dough by hand builds muscles.

I was indeed raised by bakers in my family’s place, known as the Dutchess Bakery in Charleston, West Virginia. The men all had Mark McGuire arms, their biceps bulging not from steroids or athletic training but from endlessly working dough into loaves at long wooden workbenches. The women always seemed to have smudged rainbows of cake decorating icing on their aprons and under their fingernails.

Some were actual family members—my grandparents, parents, siblings, uncles and cousins. Others seemed like family because several generations of employees worked with several generations of shop owners. I was a teenager before I realized otherwise.

For years my clan lived in a cramped apartment upstairs from the original bakery, which has since been razed to make room for a hospital expansion. Later they made the jump to suburban living and “commuting” more than a down a flight of stairs to get to work. There was a high school across the street and an elementary a few blocks away, so we were never far from home and hearth.

Four generations of my family have used this giant oven, which can hold hundreds of loaves of bread on six rotating shelves.

I mean hearth literally: A giant Ferris wheel-style Middleby-Marshall oven with six long rotating shelves radiated intense heat at the heart of our bakeshop. Before I was tall enough to see inside, I learned to flip a lever and stop those spinning shelves on a dime for bakers loading goodies in and out—a 5-year-old following in the family tradition. In winter that oven was a comfort. In summer it provided incentive to arrive early, finish quickly, and head to some shady swimming hole by noon.

As for whether the bakers who raised me were “wild” or not, that’s a subject for future posts. Certainly not wolf-boy or ape-man wild, though I did grow up hearing plenty of hair-raising stories about Depression-era survival, World War II-era brawling, and Cold War-era worries from the men and women who shaped my worldview. As a relatively wild young man myself, I did my share of sleeping off Friday nights by crashing on hard flour sacks in the storage room in order to be on hand for work Saturday morning.

I launched this blog to share stories of growing up as a bakery boy and as an excuse to continue visiting bakeries every chance I get. In my extensive travels (I’m a journalist and travel writer by profession), my bakery fascination has led me to hundreds of them, where I often meet others who were raised by bakers, and we start swapping stories. If you like bakeries too, feel free to share your favorites here…wild or otherwise.