CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "With bread, all sorrows are less." -- Sancho Panza
This powerful quote from "Don Quixote" rings especially true right here in Charleston.
Step inside Charleston Bread on Capitol Street and aromatherapy ensues. The steamy windows indicate full production in this bustling bakery, and the scent is truly intoxicating.
When you arrive, you are greeted by a friendly face. Oftentimes, you might meet the queen bee herself, Libby Chatfield. Chatfield is a delightful business owner, a lawyer turned baker, and has successfully created a thriving hub in our community. A devoted lover of great bread, she turned her home baking hobby into a flourishing business about eight years ago.
I, personally, am tremendously thankful for Chatfield's career change. I used to bake bread out of necessity. I even taught a few classes on the subject. But now I leave the task to the experts -- Chatfield and her team of talented bakers. Countless others share my gratitude.
During the chaos of holiday preparations, a large crowd of bread-seekers formed in the bakery, awaiting the magical chime of the bread oven, signaling the baguettes were ready.
Waiting for a freshly baked crusty loaf is a worthy expenditure of one's time in my book. I witnessed others' anticipation. There were local dignitaries, doctors, grandmothers and bakery first-timers, each hoping to return home with a baguette or two.
"My daughter is waiting for me at the airport, and she is getting cranky," I heard a woman say. Then she added, "but the bread is worth it." One patron declared her baguette "the best Christmas present ever."
The late American author Henry Miller wrote, "You can travel 50,000 miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread." He would surely eat those words today if he happened upon Charleston Bread.
Step into the bakery and observe the time-sensitive operation. Ingredients are carefully weighed in advance and stacked in bins for the next day's mixing. What follows is an impressively charted series of steps:
Each dough is scraped from its huge container onto the flour-coated "bench" (a long hardwood table). It is then folded (similar to kneading) and returned to the container to rest. Many intricate steps follow, on an exact schedule. The rested dough is divided into precisely weighed portions. It is pre-shaped and left to rest on a covered speed rack (bakery lingo for a tall shelving unit on wheels). Then the final shaping occurs.
In the case of the baguette, a four-times-a-week feature at Charleston Bread, the stretching and shaping is a dramatic procedure these skilled bakers perform without breaking stride. Once each loaf is hand-shaped, the batch returns to the speed rack for its final rest, awaiting its turn in the massive steam injection oven.