By Arielle Gordon-Rowe
Even in the late morning, there are still customers sitting in Crispian Bakery‘s dining area, sipping on espresso drinks and digging into freshly baked pastries. Sun rays flood through the tall glass windows, filling the year-old Alameda café with early morning light.
The bakery’s design is cute and understated, but the contents of the pastry case are what really catch the eye. Behind a shiny glass partition sit rows upon rows of exquisite treats: yellow macarons, spiffed-up Mallomars, rich chocolate brownies and flaky, melt-in-your-mouth croissants.
The abundance of tantalizingly yummy baked goods comes as no surprise. Crispian’s co-owners, Beth Woulfe and Christian Fidelis de Goes, are industry veterans who have poured tireless hours into perfecting recipes for their French-inspired products. And their hard work is all guided by one simple mission: to make customers happy through the art of baking.
But we weren’t there for the pastries — not yet at least. As of mid-September, Crispian became one of a handful of bakeries in the area to mill its own flour, and we wanted to go see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.
Woulfe and de Goes first met while working at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in New York City. After years working in various bakeries — Woulfe as a pastry chef and de Goes as a bread baker — the team began to collaborate on Crispian. They spent six years working out of a shared kitchen in Oakland and selling at the Alameda farmers market until late July 2015, when Woulfe and de Goes opened their brick-and-mortar storefront.
A few minutes after our arrival, Woulfe emerged through the kitchen’s swinging doors, clad in a flannel shirt, apron and baker’s cap. She greeted us warmly and led us back into a spacious kitchen. De Goes stood at the kitchen’s center island, peering through square spectacles at the dough in his hands, kneading rhythmically.
When we entered, de Goes extricated himself from the ball of dough and came to join us in the corner of the kitchen, where we all huddled around his prized possessions: two wooden flour mills, one large and the other less than half the size.
De Goes began giving us the lowdown on milling flour. While he talked, he dusted and fiddled with the mills, referring to the flour they produced as the “lifeblood of the bakery.” After a few minutes of explanation, it became apparent that these weren’t merely your average kitchen appliances.
The mills are made by the German company Komo. They are incredibly efficient machines, with stone grinders that can transform dry grains into a smooth powder in minutes. And they don’t come cheap. With the Komo Jumbo priced at nearly $2,700, the flour-milling operation was quite the investment for the young bakery. But after two months of use, Woulfe and de Goes swear by these machines. From ensuring taste quality and nutrition, to minimizing waste, de Goes believes the mills were worth every penny.
Each morning around 5 a.m., de Goes spends 10 to 15 minutes milling raw wheat and rye berries into wholegrain flours. These are used in Crispian’s two sourdough bread starters, a stiff whole wheat and a runnier rye, which de Goes uses in all of his breads. Some breads also get a little commercial yeast, but, de Goes said, “everything is based around sourdough.”
Because the starters are made from whole grains, all of the bakery’s breads contain at least a small portion of whole grain, even its croissants. The remaining white flour is sourced through Central Milling’s Petaluma outpost.
As Woulfe and de Goes explained, there are numerous advantages to milling your own flour on-site. First off, freshly milled flour is both tastier and more nutritious than conventional flour. This, they explain, is because flour is at its peak level of nutrition and taste when it is used right out of the mill.
Another perk of milling in-house is that it prevents waste. “We went with this size mill because it has enough capacity to mill what we need,” de Goes said, pointing to the Komo Jumbo. “But [it’s] not so big [that we end up storing flour]. We have to mill every day, so we make it fresh every day.”
While milling flour is only one part of the process of baking high-quality bread, it can be a game-changer. According to Woulfe, baking bread is all about “incrementalism” — maximizing quality at every step of the process. “It’s not like milling your own flour is automatically going to make your bread good,” Woulfe said. “It’s about what you can do to make this bread better.”
Crispian Bakery didn’t pioneer on-site milling, but it is among the first few bakeries in the area to adopt the practice.Other Bay Area bakeries that mill flour include Josey Baker’s The Mill, Tartine, Fournée and Manresa Bread. De Goes believes that the practice is becoming more widespread. Much like the movement that has forced coffee shops who want to be considered “legit” to grind their beans in-house, many bakeries are gravitating toward on-site milling.
On our way out, we packed bags full of loaves of bread and pastries for a midday snack. Crispian’s croissant packs rich, buttery sweetness between shatteringly crisp, flaky layers, and its sticky bun is a mountain of ooey-gooey caramelized cinnamon, sugar and nuts. A sesame-sprinkled baguette’s chewy crust tears open to reveal a light, airy interior and an olive-studded whole wheat boule showcased the subtle sweetness of the freshly milled grain.
Woulfe and de Goes didn’t lie: their treats really are joyous.
Crispian Bakery is at 1700 Park St. (at Buena Vista Avenue), Alameda. Open Tuesdays-Saturdays 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Mondays. Connect with the bakery on Facebook and Instagram.
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