As I walked through Deering Oaks Park, the Pride Festival was beginning its setup. It was a happy area!! The parade came later but I was a little preoccupied with what you will soon read. The farmers market itself was bustling and colorful as always. It’s one of my favorite Saturday spots. After I found my produce (and placed it in my canvas bag within their reused plastic bags) and smelled all the poppies, peonies and roses I could find, I sat on the hill overlooking the pond and watched a little boy perform “free magic tricks.” He was so stinking cute but I soon realized it was time for the STANDARD BAKING CO OPEN HOUSE!!
It’s a great day that you get to tour on of your favorite bakeries. This place was one of my frequent haunts when I first moved to Maine three years ago. I wanted to get up early almost every weekend and walk down. My favorite part about this neighborhood bakery, aside from the light and flakey pain au chocolates, rich and warm almond croissants and sugary-crunchy-heavenly morning buns, is that when you sit outside and the crumbs fall to the ground, little sparrows and pigeons hop up to you and surround you as if you were Cinderella getting ready for the ball.
I arrived just in time to follow a group of seven inside for the tour and we started in the back room. Here, there were two large Kemper mixers, each capable of mixing 250 pounds of dough at once. There was raisin-pecan bread mixing in one of them and a French bread being created as we watched in the second mixer. The Kemper mixers have a spiral bread mixer attachment in them and it took about 15-20 minutes to complete the recipe at hand. Matt, who started the place back in 1995 with his wife Alison (more on her later), was our tour guide. He said that baking was part science and part instinct. The most interesting thing about our time in this back room is that we got to “meet” the yeast that makes their bread taste so great. It’s an active culture which as been “alive” for 18-ish years. This is totally normal and gives their product such great flavor! What I never knew was that they use two different types of yeast: commercial baker’s yeast goes in the “sweet doughs” like baguettes and foccocia, while natural yeast is sourer and in “everyday doughs.” Who knew? Aside from every baker in the world…New to me!
We then moved to the shaping area. This consisted of two long wooden tables, numerous sheets, a scale and so much more. This was an exciting place because we got to volunteer to shape our own baguettes. Of course I was the first one to raise my hand! But apparently, it takes more practice and skill than I currently have! First, you take the perfectly proportioned square-shaped dough, which has been cut apart from the other flattened-out mound of dough on a large sheet tray. Then, you stretch it out a little side to side and then, you fold from the top to the middle one-third of the way in, three times. Then you do that three more times! AND THEN, you roll outwards with both hands in opposite directions until it’s just the right length. You have to make sure you are using the right pressure at every turn and believe me, when a really adorable Asian family and some tourists are all staring at you; it’s a lot of pressure! Let’s just say mine was one of those things that only a mother could be proud of. I think I will stick with teaching the kiddos about frogs and trees. Standard Baking Co’s baguettes are all handmade and made with a long fermenting yeast which really gives it flavor. I later saw a photo of handmade vs industrial made breads and bread with more holes are actually a sign of a better bread. After they are rolled out, the baguette is placed in the couche, a cloth that "proofs" the bread and helps retain shape and moisture.
Soon, it was time to move to the Pastry Area! This area smelled like I had died and gone to chocolate heaven, partly from the sheet of brownies on a rack, and partly from a tray of chocolate corks (cylindrical cakes), recently taken out of the oven. These corks were then taken out of their small metal sleeves and rolled in cocoa powder to make it even more appetizing. This room is apparently where my favorite things are constructed. Don’t get me wrong, straight up bread, especially dipped in olive oil and cracked pepper turn me on but it’s the pastries that really make me happy. I learned that Standard Baking Co creates up to 400 croissants every day and rocks every one of them. The brioche, scones, afternoon desserts and morning buns were also created in this room. It has a lovely view of the Cinderella-esque patio so the pastry chefs can overlook their masterpieces being devoured like a pack of wild animals: without restraint or mercy. Or much sharing because who would want to share one of the most delectable pastries they've every received?
In the pastry room, there was also the great “sheeter machine.” This thing is a revelation because I can tell you from personal experience; it takes a long time to roll croissant, pie and cookie dough to the correct thickness each and every time. Especially if you are making 400 units of one recipe per day!! This sheeter was from a bakery in Florida that went under and was shipped, piece by piece, to Maine. Don’t worry, they got a good deal. It has a conveyer belt that runs back and forth under a roller that moves up or down to create the perfect width. Fun fact: I worked for an artisanal cracker company in college. My job was to roll the dough to the perfect thickness. I lasted exactly one shift between the monotony and poor ventilation but got to bring home all the reject crackers I wanted. Good trade.
Our last official stop on the tour was the twelve ton masonary brick Fringand brand deck oven. This thing is a beast and cooks the bakery’s baguettes, croissants, etc to perfection using steam. There are tubes behind the brick walls of the oven that are one-third full of water. When the oven is turned on, it slowly turns the water to steam and all is cooked at a uniform temperature. The steam method softens the surface of the crust to allow the dough room to expand, instead of ballooning up. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it takes about 40 minutes to go from 425 degrees F down to 400 degrees F. That’s a long time but luckily, the Standard team has their timing down to a science.
The whole production is terribly interesting but of course, the best part is the end result. I spent much longer than normal at the tasting table at the end of our tour. After the rest of my group left, I lingered behind to ask Alison, head baker and co-starter of Standard, endless questions about everything I had seen on the tour. Half of it was a cover my urge to taste some things I had never considered ordering, as I am usually craving certain items I want to get before I even arrive.
Some new and surprisingly amazing finds include:
~Rhubarb crumble topped tart: this small tart has local rhubarb placed between a tender and crumbly (oh the butter!) almond flower crust with a mix of brown sugar, oats, almonds and cinnamon and salt above. There is very little sugar added to the whole recipe and salt is added to balance out the flavors. It was incredibly tasty and almost as good as their plum topped with almond frangipane innards tart. This one is truly a work of art and has been previously ingested within the previous post.
~Double chocolate, pecan and local rye cookie: This one blew me away with its moist and gooey insides, yet slightly crunch edges. The combination of creamy texture and toasted pecans is truly rich and worth the trip alone. It was so great that I had to buy another as I left.
~Chocolate sablé cookie: Think artisanal Oreo. But infinitely better. This is a classic French shortbread cookie with a good salt content. It was crumbly but a great texture and would go oh so well with a glass of cold milk. I suggested they sell milk at the bakery. It may be under consideration……
And because I realize there is more to life than chocolate, I also tasted the amazing:
~Fougasse: This is a French relative of foccocia. They are often formed into interesting shapes like a tree, but Standard uses the ladder shape. Two different types are prepared here, one has Asiago cheese and black pepper (best ever) and the other has many types of seeds upon it.
~German Rye round: this heavier but über tasty loaf was made with 40% local and organic rye flour and 60% high extraction local wheat flour. Standard has been working closely with farmers and millers for the past five years to make the connections needed to bring together their grain to make perfect products. They like to make breads that take their sweet time from creation to selling time. This way, the breads have more flavor, character and beauty. I learned that breads made too quickly (i.e. commercial products) don’t have much flavor unless that flavor, natural or man-made, is added to it. These patient breads have a natural sweetness, a sweet undertone if you will, from the grain, with no sugar added, because of its long fermenting time.
If you haven’t been to Standard yet, it’s a small-ish place, set back from the street, across from the ferry terminal and RiRa’s on Commercial Street. It originally opened in a much smaller location in 1995 on Wharf Street, but moved (and expanded) to its current location in 1999. They stand out because they choose to use numerous local ingredients like fruits for their tarts, honey. Rye and wheat for their breads, eggs (organic too!!!), Vermont butter and so much more and have a fantastic neighborhood feel. Alison feels that a neighborhood bakery benefits everyone and I agree.
I will leave you with one more taste idea. Standard sells a sugar covered soft molasses cookie, which was so unexpected and surprisingly great. I also make a version of this traditional New England recipe which I will write below. I hope you get a chance to visit Standard Baking Co soon! You won’t regret any choices, no matter how overboard you go on your ordering.
Molasses Spice Cookies (makes about 22 cookies)
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus ½ cup for dipping (add a little extra salt to this for extra pop)
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (adds so much character and flavor to the cookie)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks (or 12 tablespoon) softened unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
½ cup light or dark molasses (or 6 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place oven rack in middle position and preheat to 375 degrees F. Place ½ cup sugar in bowl for dipping and grease cookie sheets with butter.
Whisk flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
In a standing mixer (like KitchenAid), beat butter with brown and granulated sugars at medium-high speed until it’s light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce the sped to medium-low and add yolk and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. Scrape sides of bowl once and turn to medium-low again to add molasses. Set speed on low to add dry flour mixture but don’t over mix. Scrape down once more and be sure to get flour at the bottom of the bowl. Final mix!
The dough will be soft. Scoop heaping spoonfuls of dough and roll between palms to form balls to be rolled in set-aside sugar. Then place balls about 2 inches apart on greased sheet. Bake only one rack at a time to allow pretty cracks to form. Eleven minutes should be about right to allow edges to set slightly but centers to still be soft. Rotate baking sheet halfway through if necessary.
Cool for 5 minutes and then eat with milk. Or hot chocolate if it’s wintertime.
Thanks to Cooks Illustrated for this favorite recipe!