19 Sep Special of the day: In the Kitchen with Big Sky Bread and Pastry Artisan Baker Matt Carlson
It’s a rare treat for a girl like me to spend the morning in the kitchen with an artisan baker, so when Big Sky Bread and Pastry owner Matt Carlson generously agreed to let me, I jumped at the chance.
Getting there, however, took more than a hop, skip and a jump-what with the streets torn up and heavy equipment and orange tape surrounding the place. Construction on 9th street has forced the unfortunate closing of his Big Sky Bread and Pastry for the time being. Luckily, for his loyal customers, he’s selling his artisan bread and pastries at the Saturday Farmers’ Market through September 29. Hopefully the construction project will be completed by then, and he’ll be back in business at the shop.
Upon arrival, I wandered in the back door and peeked around the corner, to find Matt happily working away at his table. Cutting and weighing sections of pillowy-soft Sunny Flax dough, he then carefully patted them into rounds and placed them in proofing baskets to sit on shelves to bench rest before the final shaping, egg washing and coating in sunflower seeds.
I soon found out that not only was artisan baking a significant investment in tools of the trade, it was also a whole lot of work along the way. Make the dough. Ferment the dough. Divide the dough. Weigh the dough. Pre-shape the dough. Bench rest the dough. Proof the dough. Wait, where were we? Matt flew through the kitchen from dough to dough so deftly, with the flight of a seasoned pro, I sometimes got left in his cloud of dust- make that- flour.
“This is a process,” Carlson said. “I’m a craftsman with bread, and I do it a lot.” It’s all chemistry with bread, he said, balancing ingredients to get what you want.
With the sunny flax in the bench rest, Carlson was off to remove the croissant dough from the freezer and add a butter block to the center of the dough before folding the ends over the middle third and running it through the dough-sheeter to flatten the dough. Multiple folds and stretches through the sheeter create the thin layers of butter and dough a flaky French croissant is known for. Before I could jot “dough-sheeter” down, he was back at the work bench cutting and weighing and shaping cherry walnut loaves, a crowd-pleaser that typically sells out early each Saturday. Whew! These artisan bakers get more done before noon than most people do all day.
His specialties include sourdough breads, French-style pastries, tarts, cookies and pretty much anything that needs to be bakes, Carlson joked. He uses organic grains, all-natural ingredients and no preservatives in his baking, always seeking out the best possible ingredients he can get.
Carlson said he has always loved baking, and his passion shows. His fond memories of growing up baking cookies with his sister were often accompanied by a flour fight in the kitchen, he said.
He originally went to culinary school to become a chef and an artisan baker, but soon fell in love with bread and pastry at the California Culinary Academy and San Francisco Baking Institute and has never looked back.
Carlson has learned a lot along the way travelling around the country and working with other artisan bakers to refine his skills. Carlson said mentors are the best thing you can find as a baker. “I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I am now if it weren’t for them mentoring me through my journey of becoming a baker,” Carlson said.
His favorite thing about being a baker is that he gets to create something every day from scratch. “You start with flour, water and sometimes yeast, and with time you create an amazing staple of life!” Carlson said. “And bread is always changing, so you have to take different factors into account to ensure a good product.”
He believes you really have to care about the product if you are going to make it as an artisan baker. It requires you to “really pay attention and slowly care about it so you can make the best bread you can possibly make,” Carlson said.
Being an artisan baker is definitely a labor of love for Carlson who gives each loaf and pastry individual attention and has got the process down to a science. A peek into his work schedule as he gets his artisan breads and pastries ready for the Saturday Farmers’ Market shows you just how much time and tender loving care is involved:
Tuesday: Mise en Place- get all of the ingredients ready
2:30 a.m.: shape and start proofing all the breakfast pastries
3:00 start mixing breads and croissant dough
3:30 make brioche
4:00 make butter block for lamination
Fold bread dough every 15- 20 minutes for the first two hours
4:30 Pull the bread from the retarder to finish proofing and bake around 8
6:30 divide and bench rest the bread
7-7:15 shape the bread
8:00 bake bread
9:00 I start lamination of the croissant dough and begin making scones, cookies or anything else needed for the week.
Comparing baking to architecture, Carlson showed me the layers he was building in the bread to build tension and create structure and stability within the loaf. Shaping the loaf next, he patted it to show me the bread was relaxed and not stiff. “It’s happy bread,” he said.
Somewhere in there he had removed the whole wheat sourdough loaves from their linen-lined proofing baskets and quickly scored them with the lame (a razor-like tool with a curved blade, to create the slash that shows the bread where to open up when baking) before popping them in the pre-steamed oven causing them immediately to open up with the high heat and create this gorgeous flared groove called le grigne (green-yeh) that opens up to release steam with baking. This phenomenon is referred to as “getting ears” because the groove becomes a flap of crust that curls at the end. Different loaves require different scoring, and right about then I began to think that this topic of artisan baking wasn’t just a column, it was a book!
“To be a good artisan baker, you have to know it all,” Carlson said.
The loaves began to bake, and I couldn’t help but comment on the heavenly smell that wafted throughout the shop. “If I could bottle it…” he said. “Who would not want to smell like fresh-baked bread?” he asked.
Carlson hopes to grow Big Sky Bread and Pastry a little bigger someday, in a larger facility offering a wider assortment of pastries such as cakes, tarts, éclairs, cookies and quiches with espresso, and pizzas from a wood-fired oven eventually.
But for now, you can catch him at Saturday Farmers’ Markets, and in a few weeks back at Big Sky Bread and Pastry at 1300 9th Street South. (Check for updates on his Big Sky Bread and Pastry Facebook page.)
As for Matt’s advice to the home baker, he says, “Never give up, practice makes perfect, and always weigh your ingredients to ensure consistency.” So, as for picking up some specialized baking equipment, the only tool you’ll absolutely need for this recipe is a food scale. All ingredients are listed in grams.
With thanks to Matt for inviting me in for a sneak peek into the world of an artisan baker, I give you this week’s Special of the day: In the Kitchen with Big Sky Bakery Artisan Baker Matt Carlson and his recipe for Blueberry Lemon Scones. Enjoy!
*Note: you will need a food scale for this recipe. All ingredients are listed in grams.
Food photography by Sydne George
Blueberry Lemon Scones
Recipe by Matt Carlson
Yield 12-14 scones
16g baking powder
2g baking soda
230g dried fruit (feel free to add more fruit if you’d like and whatever kind is fine as well cranberries , raisins etc…)
zest of 1 whole lemon
5g pure vanilla extract
Soak fruit in warm water for 10 minutes, then drain well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Then whisk in the sugar and salt. Cut chilled butter into 1/4 inch cubes and toss into the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender or your hands to blend the flour mixture and butter together until it is blended thoroughly into pea-sized lumps of butter.
Add the lemon zest and fruit and toss to distribute.
Add the vanilla to the buttermilk. Now make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add all the buttermilk all at once. Now working fast, gently toss together until the dough just holds together. Add a few drops of buttermilk if more is needed. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and using your hands pat the dough into a rectangle about 18-20 inches long and 5 inches high, and press down to 1 1/2 inches thick.
Use your eye and cut equal sized triangles or squares.
Chill in the freezer at least 30 minutes before baking. Egg wash the scones and sprinkle with sugar large crystals if you can. Preheat oven to 400 for conventional or 375 for convection, if you have convection use it
bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and set in the center.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at https://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.