Out of Accounting, Into Bread-Baking

ROB KASPER'S MARYLAND

April 28, 1996|By ROB KASPER

Last year Bob Kaplan was a senior accountant with Resolution Trust Corp. He rode the MARC train each day from Baltimore to Washington. He spent his day selling assets left over from the collapse of the nation's savings and loan industry: a racehorse, a lumber yard, a ski resort. This year he spends his day baking bread at the Big Sky Bread Co., a bakery at 509 W. Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore's Roland Park neighborhood. It opened in February.

His wife, Pam, a former account executive for AT&T, works the cash register at the bakery, passing out slices of whole-wheat bread, cinnamon rolls and chewy cookies to lines of customers. vTC most days, the Kaplans and their staff will sell about 200 loaves of bread at prices ranging from $3 to $5 a loaf.

The floured-covered Kaplans and their bakery are examples of the rising interest in Maryland and throughout the nation in freshly baked bread. At one level the Kaplans' operation is a corporate version of a neighborhood bakery. It sells fresh baked goods and coffee over the counter. It has no customer seating. It is situated along a stretch of Cold Spring Lane where car and foot traffic are heavy.

The new bakery is also part of a larger, national attempt to sell not just bread, but the baking experience. The place is designed so that customers can watch the bakers roll dough, slice the cinnamon rolls, and pull hot bread from the oven. It is bakery as theater. So far the show seems to be playing well. The Kaplans' operation is the 18th franchise of the Cincinnati-based Big Sky Bread Co., which went national in 1991.

Around the nation, franchise bakeries run by the Great Harvest Bread Co. of Dillon, Mont., and the St. Louis Bread Co. have been popping up as fast as quick-rising rolls. While the bakeries vary in the types of bread they produce -- Big Sky, for instance, emphasizes breads made with whole-grain flours -- they share the premise that premium bread, like premium ice cream and gourmet coffee, has become an affordable luxury, something we will treat ourselves to.

On a recent rainy morning the Kaplans, or Bob and Pam, as they refer to themselves on the store's menu, walked me through their bread-making operations. Though the menu lists both the prices and nutritional content of the bread, I wasn't interested in the nutritional data. A slice of bread that has so much grain in it that it resembles a serving of birdseed probably packs more nutritional wallop than a slice of wimpy white bread.

I was interested primarily in taste and technique. As a full-time bread eater and a part-time bread baker, I was curious to see what the new bakers were doing.

The store readily provides free samples. Giving such samples does two things, Bob told me. It encourages customers to try new types of bread, and it provides an outlet for loaves that come out of the oven in less than perfect shape. I noted that Bob's standards were higher than mine. Every loaf I bake ends up on our table.

Most of Big Sky breads are made with whole-wheat flour, and taste dense and chewy. A few, such as the honey whole-wheat bread, were too sweet for me.

As I chomped on a slice of whole-wheat bread made with honey, sunflower, poppy and sesame seeds, I told Pam that the bread had a lot of substance, "a lot of there, there." She replied that the bread reminded her of the kind of "heavy bread" her relatives used to make on a farm in Laurel, Del. Her father, she said, used to call store-bought breads "light breads."

One highlight of my tour was eating some kernels of wheat. The bakery grinds its own whole-wheat flour from hard, red wheat grown for Big Sky by Montana farmers. While bakers who use white flour want their flour to age at least 30 days after milling, those who use whole-wheat flour prefer to mill the flour daily. (Whole-wheat flour spoils a lot faster than white flour.)

Another highlight was watching Susan D'Adamo, a baker at Big Sky, slice cinnamon rolls. She sliced off hunks of dough that were exactly three-fingers wide. Experience, Susan told me, had taught her this three-finger cut produced rolls that were exactly the size specified by Big Sky. Later, Pam told me that customers who watch bakers work often make the same comment I did as I watched Susan: "My grandmother used to do that."

When I watched Bob and his assistant, Paul Cane, pull loaves of bread from the oven, I learned how to free a loaf from its hot pan. You bang the pan on a board attached to the front of the oven. I want to get one of those "bang boards" on the front of my oven. It will prove that I'm serious about my baking.

I also want to get some decorative marks on the insides of my forearms. Bob and Paul have some on their arms. Some people may think of these marks as burns or scars left by angry bread pans. I like to think of them as a bread maker's tattoos.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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