“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” — M.F.K. Fisher
“I know we’ve done everything right along the way if I grab a loaf of bread and the crust smells like dark honey, and it has some sweet and almost bitter notes like a shot of espresso,” says Mac.
These heady scents can drive an ordinary person to madness, or at least to the side door of the Midwife & the Baker, where locals line up every day to buy their bread and pastries fresh from the ovens, Monday through Saturday starting at 6:30am.
Mac won’t sacrifice the germ; it’s the keeper of the grain’s luscious oils and nutrients. Starting with 100% organic wheat berries, the milling process begins every day at 3am, resulting in well over a ton of flour per week (~2,700 pounds.) A granite stone mill made in Vermont is their primary workhorse and requires regular and meticulous maintenance called the dressing or sharpening of the stones, an artisan craft unto itself. Depending on the type of bread, it may contain from 40% to 100% of the flours milled on site, many of which are ancient grains like Khorasan (kamut), spelt and einkorn. They also source organic flour from Central Milling, long-time millers for artisan craft bakers in the Bay Area.
Artisan bread makers, Sara Cooper and Jesse Honig.
Mac’s abiding respect for the integrity of his craft is apparent from the outset. He maintains that flours from freshly milled wheat berries have the best quality and taste. “Once the seed coat is cracked, the fatty interior germ is exposed to air and begins to oxidize.” There’s a purity of concept in Mac’s approach of milling flour for their bread on-site. These flours are fluffier and more alive due to the explosive release of the germ’s aromatics and nutrients, resulting in a broader taste range and richer mouthfeel. Simply stated, fresh-milled whole-grain flours make for tastier, more nutritious baked goods.
The notion of respecting the whole grain also informs Mac’s philosophical approach to his business. Bread is the most basic food staple dating back to ancient societies when towns had communal grist mills. The Midwife & the Baker takes pride in their products and the relationships formed with employees and the California farmers who grow their grain. The family-like work camaraderie is jovial with an all-hands-on dough approach. And there’s flour, flour everywhere, literally—on the tables, in the air, on their smiling faces. Proofing baskets are floured and passed quickly from workbench to tray like a finely rehearsed dance. Every step is meticulously managed and tested, from flour milling to bread baking, with a methodology that reveres a fluid process of the milled whole grains to freshly baked goods. This focus on quality has paid off, not only with customer loyalty, but also with professional recognition—they were awarded the 2018 People’s Choice Best Croissant San Francisco.
Where once there were community grist mills, we now have the Midwife & the Baker, offering the community delectable baked goods arising from an essential and unbroken process.
One of just a few Bay Area bakeries milling flour on site, the Midwife & the Baker bakes 3,500 coveted loaves weekly, which are sold in a variety of locations including farmers markets, cafés, restaurants from Mountain View to San Francisco and grocery stores such as Draeger’s Market in Los Altos. They recently opened their oven doors (the bakery side door, to be exact) on Independence Avenue in Mountain View to neighbors and their growing fan base to buy their fresh-baked delights hot off racks daily.
When you visit, you might even get a peek behind the scenes of flour-dusted bakers kneading, shaping and preparing the dough for the daily rise, and smell the perfumed air of a bakery at its best. And although you won’t likely witness the flour being ground by stone from the mill on the other side of the kitchen, its presence can be seen, smelled and tasted in every corner. And the dusted air swirls in delight.
This article was first published in Edible Silicon Valley