Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bread from Gayle's

IT’S LIKE THIS: A number of years ago a couple of people we knew decided to go into the bakery business. She’d interned, I think, at Chez Panisse, where she helped out in the pastry department; maybe she filled in for Lindsey one of the summers we took off to see what was going on in France.

He’d been a musician and had decided it was time to settle down. A very gifted man: a painter, a sculptor, a guitarist. And an incredibly gifted baker, an intuitive baker — but one with a sense that there were things to learn.

They travelled. He was incapable of visiting a bakery in France, or Italy, or Belgium, or Scandinavia (I think), without pestering the baker in charge: How do you do this? What do you use? How does it go together? How long, how hot? And then what?

They opened their bakery, in a small town south of San Francisco, adjacent to a town we frequented every summer because of a music festival.

I told Lou: There’s a great bakery down here. Oh yes, he said, we’ve gone there for years. No, I said, not that one, this new one. He and Bill were dubious, but they dropped in. Oh yes, they said.

I truly believe that when he bakes bread himself, as he still does from time to time, Joe Ortiz is the finest baker of bread I have ever met. Of course the bakery has grown far beyond its early days, when a business consultant asked if their bakery was a business or a work of art: Business, they said; Good, he said, in that case we can do something.

Something they have certainly done. Gayle’s Bakery dominates its town, Capitola; or, at least, it dominates the crossroads which serves as one of the three or four entrances into town.

We stopped there on Friday for lunch. The Bakery has for many years also included a Rotisserie. We ordered chicken breast from the spit, and roasted potatoes and carrots on the side. We had two or three hours yet to drive, so contented ourselves with water. For dessert, an apricot-raspberry galette for me, a cookie for Lindsey.

But we took care to provision ourselves for the next day. I saw a loaf of raisin nut bread up on the shelf.

In the old days Joe baked what he called a pumpernickel loaf: dark flour, raisins, nuts, baked into a loaf weighing perhaps five pounds, with a slab of white bread-dough across the top, “to distinguish it from its neighbors,” he might have said — that’s an inside joke.

He stopped doing that years ago, and it’s been my sole ongoing complaint with Joe Ortiz and Gayle’s Bakery.

I had a buttered slice of toast from that loaf of raisin nut bread this morning, with my soft-boiled egg — a tradition here now on Sunday mornings.

We finished dinner a couple of hours ago, a delayed St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, corned beef and cabbage, potatoes and carrots. I just finished putting the dishes in the dishwasher. The raisin-nut bread called me from its perch on the breadboard.

No butter, just a thin slice of bread. Absolute perfection. You taste the flour, the yeast, a teeny bit of salt, the raisins, the nuts. Everything in perfect balance. I have long believed that a true loaf of bread has only four ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, water. This bread of Joe’s persuades me there are two different kinds of perfection.

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