From Soil to City

Like a lot of good things in life, it starts with a box of freshly baked goods. I sat down a few days ago with Erica founder and head baker at Sans Bakery, to sample some gluten free treats for our new CSA option. Sans Bakery was founded 5 years ago by this former tech fashion designer; she was diagnosed with a wheat allergy and quickly became tired and annoyed at the measly selection of feeble tasting, dense and expensive gluten free baked goods in the market place. While taking a break from the fashion industry, she traveled around the world and spent time working at a gluten free bakery in New Zealand. In 2010, she returned to New York with a new intention in life and started Sans bakery. Located in the South Bronx, they provide over 30 cafes around New York City with breads, donuts, cookies and treats.

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Halfway through trying one of her fluffy cinnamon sugar donut that was incredibly delicious, I realized that the life of a baker was foreign to me; there are so many subtleties that most of us aren’t aware of. There’s a tremendous amount of precision that is necessary, which is why I’m personally intimidated by baking. I’m more of a make anything from whatever local ingredients I’ve got in my fridge kind of cook. So what are some things that bakers need to pay special attention to that isn’t written into a recipe? Below is a vignette into the life of a gluten free baker.
(all photos taken from Sans Bakery)

LR: What are some common mishaps that happen in a bakery?
A whole banana bread will just sink in the middle because the oven isn’t hot enough when you put it in or because there’s too much moisture in the batter, which is fine because our staff gets to enjoy it but it’s always a little sad. In the summer time, the humidity and heat makes chocolate melt super fast so if you’re making cookies, you need to put the chocolate in the fridge/freezer and then put it in the batter while it’s cold so it doesn’t melt in the heat. Bread rises really fast in the summertime also cause of the humidity so you need to keep an eye on it and in gluten free baking.

LR: What’s the most ridiculous thing that’s happened to you at work this month?
There’s a 60 quart mixer we use and we loaded it all up but when we turned it didn’t work. It was too much batter to transfer into a smaller mixer so between myself and another baker, we had to take turns hand mixing everything.

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LR: One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Martin. He said “If I knew it would be this hard, I never would have done it”. I always feel grateful that I wasn’t aware of all the challenges of running a small business because I might have felt too intimidated to start my own thing, but I wake up happy and inspired every day because of the work I do. If there are times you feel really overwhelmed by being the sole owner of your own bakery, what keeps you going?

I think back to the times working in the fashion industry when my boss would be screaming at me for something I just didn’t feel attached to and the way that made me feel. Now people send me thank you notes for making gluten free goods that taste good and make them feel happy. I also take mini vacations!

LR: When you realized you were a celiac, what’s the one thing you felt really sad you couldn’t eat anymore?
Pizza and sandwiches – grab and go items. I can’t really eat salad every day when i’m eating out with friends so I mostly pack a lunch.

LR: What’s your favorite spot to eat in NYC that’s Gluten Free?
Risoterria in the west village

LR: What’s the next gluten free item you’re determined to conquer?
The croissant.

LR: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would it be?
Something artistic but something food related. Or maybe just laying on a beach somewhere working at a beach bar.

You can get Sans Bakery sandwich breads and other baked goods in the new Gluten-Free share in our CSA.