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A Superior Breadman

Bert Archer has always been a craftsman and artisan of sorts.  As a general contractor in California for nearly 30 years, he designed, built and installed custom kitchens and cabinetry. However, a heart attack several years ago left him unable to return to the demands of that job and ultimately led him to relocate to Superior, Arizona and devote his time and talents to bread making.

The change suits him just fine. Bread making it turns out is much like crafting cabinetry and laying out kitchens. It requires the right tools, precise measurements, a firm grasp of the basics – in this case, the science and chemistry behind bread making, and an artists’ passion for the process and the product itself.

Initially he opened a small eatery in downtown Superior along with partner Mary Karlin, who is herself an acclaimed cookbook author and educator who has taught at Ramekins in Sonoma, California for decades. While Mary split her time between Ramekins and their place in Superior, Bert ran the day to day operations and began baking artisan breads for use in the restaurant and for sale over the counter.

“TOAST was well received by everyone who found their way to the shop,” says Bert “ but what we didn’t know is that while you can see all the traffic driving by on the 60, most are not stopping.” He remembers talking to people who were surprised to find the place. They would say things like, ‘We’ve been driving through Superior for years and never knew it had a downtown.” Although the restaurant had good support from the locals it wasn’t enough to keep the doors open and TOAST closed within a year.

Bert sells at the Globe Miami Farmers' Market in Globe from June - October.
Bert sells at the Globe Miami Farmers’ Market in Globe from June – October.

Bert then moved the enterprise and his passion for bread making back into their home in Superior.  At the time he only had one large wood fired oven he had built on his back patio. Open to the elements, it was none the less great for pizza parties and his own baking needs, but when TOAST closed he had to move equipment home, including his 3-ton 1910 commercial oven he had brought with him from California. To protect his ovens he enclosed the patio area with walls and a roof and, over time, added heating and cooling,  wash sinks , a walk in cooler and stainless steel drying racks. Still it would be some time before “he was back in business.”  But like any artist who has to create whether they have an audience or not, Bert had to bake bread.

He says he happened upon an idea for an ‘exchange’ of sorts – loosely based on the ‘Burning Man’ concept of exchanging goods and services.  He called it Bert’s Bread Exchange and he invited people to offer something – anything – in exchange for a loaf of bread. It could be a jar of jam, a bushel of fresh fruit, or a haircut, Bert explains. He would even deliver the bread if it was in Superior.

Getting the loaves ready to go into the oven
Getting the loaves ready to go into the oven. Photo by LCGross

The bread exchange idea supported his need to bake and share bread with his community until he could get the licensing to operate a bakery from his home. Once that came through, he launched Brick House Bakers and in addition to selling at the Globe-Miami Farmers’ Market from June – October, he is now launching a Community Supported Bakery in which patrons can pay monthly for a membership which ensures fresh baked bread at a local drop off point every week.
My max,” says Bert “ is about 100 loaves a week.  Right now I’m doing about half that, so there is some room to expand – but not much.  I can’t do much more production without affecting my health, so I’m happy with baking every week for my community.”  He is partnering with Porter’s in Superior and Simply Sarah’s in Globe as weekly drop off points for bread orders.   All monies will be paid in advance and members will receive an email from him listing the breads he is baking that week so they can make their selection from this.

Proofing loaves of cinnamon-raisen, foccaccia and daily bread
Proofing loaves of cinnamon-raisen, foccaccia and daily bread. Photo by LCGross

Currently he is producing dinner rolls, daily bread, raisin, pecan and cinnamon bread, multi-grain bread, ciabatta and various focaccia breads. Bert is prepping for the Holidays and says he will be adding sweet breads to the selections this season, and is currently evaluating whether to add other specialties like his pizza crust.

THE PROCESS OF BREAD MAKING

There is a bread revolution which has been occurring for the last twenty years or so, according to foodies like Bert and Mary. It’s a push back  against the deteriorating quality of bread as we know it today. supermarket bread, produced on a large scale typically uses flour that which has been bleached and bromated, and later injected with additives to improve texture, control color and enhance nutrients and preservatives to extend shelf life.

“I wouldn’t even use the same flour, “ Bert says matter-of-factly.  He buys his flour from Central Milling which is the largest supplier of organic flours – much of it coming from Utah which is a huge producer of organic wheat.

“My flour hasn’t been poisoned in the fields with gyclosophates,” says Bert.” It hasn’t been bleached and it doesn’t have all those things added to it to make it last on the shelf.  When people say they have gluten intolerance, sometimes – not always- it is simply an intolerance to what we think is bread, but is in actuality the heavy processing that has gone into the wheat and the additives.”

Basic artisan bread, he explains uses just four ingredients; flour, yeast, water and sugar.  It is in the process of making bread where the craftsmanship of bread making really comes into play.

Steaming the bread as it goes in the oven creates the rich golden color in the crust.
Steaming the bread as it goes in the oven creates the rich golden color in the crust.

Peter Rhineart is a leading author and expert in artisan breads and a friend and mentor of the couple. “I’ve taken classes from Peter ,” explains Bert, “ and Mary and I both know him through her work with Ramekins. He is legendary in this field and his book, “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread” is sort of a bible for bread makers, having sold thousands of copies.

The method of baking which Bert uses for his own dinner rolls, pizza crust and focaccia breads was first developed by a French baker and later made all the more famous when Rhineart later included it in his book and sung it’s praises. It is known as the Asiene Method and calls for the dough to be cooled for 12 – 14 hours immediately after mixing it. This slows down the growth of bacteria and allows an enzyme activity to occur which brings more carbohydrates and sugar out of the dough – changing the flavor and making the bread taste almost buttery.

“My pizza crust and dinner rolls are sorta famous because of this,” says Bert with a smile.

Bert also follows the French method of working the dough, folding it over like a burrito and then turning it upside down to trap the gasses inside like a bubble. “You’re creating a gas bag which creates the air pockets in the bread,” he says and goes on to explain that in the typical kneading process you destroy that lightness which comes with the gas pocket and create a much denser bread.

Think of the ‘hippie’ breads of the ‘70s.

These days Bert’s schedule is built around the rhythm of bread making. Mondays he reserves for research on everything from techniques and ingredients to new breads he is thinking about adding to his weekly line up or the latest to come out of the bread revolution, like the idea of Community Supporter Bakery.  Fridays are his production day as he calls it when he orchestrates the timing of over 50 loaves of breads and dinner rolls as he pulls them from refrigeration to proofing trays to the oven and then to cooling racks.

This week he will be offering dinner rolls made with an organic white wheat flour with the finest sift,  a multi-grain loaf with sunflowers, focaccia bread drizzled with olive oil and laced with jalapeño and cheese, a hearty cinnamon-pecan whole wheat bread and his latest , a roasted garlic-chili bread where you get large soft pieces of roasted garlic with every bite.

He has become a favorite at the local Globe-Miami Farmers market where he routinely sells out.  With the Farmers’ Market closing the first of October, he says he didn’t want to just say “See ya next summer,” so the new CSB he envisions will be a way to continue providing bread to customers who clearly are lining up for more.

To sign up for the community service bakery and get your fresh artisan bread weekly, please contact Bert at bertforbread@gmail.com.  You can also visit him on Facebook at Brick House Bakers. 

 

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About Linda Gross

Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.

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