Photo Essay by Morgan Masson
On a regular Friday afternoon, we walked into Aberdeen’s The Bakehouse and Cafe, hoping to indulge in a piece of the bakery’s famous tiramisu or snag an individually-sized flourless chocolate cake. Little did we know we were in for an education in the art of baking, the beauty of quality and the power of time.
The Bakehouse’s pastry expert Martin Brunner took us through the various kitchens of the bakery and cafe and, as we stuck our noses in bread dough starter and tasted legitimate baking chocolate, explained his philosophy of baking and how his methods have changed over time. Brunner, who was born and spent his early years in Austria, moved to the U.S. when he was 12 years old and followed in the family tradition of baking and pastry. After attending pastry school, Brunner continued working at the family business but began shifting his philosophy and baking style to return to the roots of his family’s baking heritage, which meant actually slowing down the baking process rather than accommodating the modern style of speeding up. Brunner says, “I found myself going back to the methods my grandfather used. It takes longer, but we accommodate for that.” This means his bakers let dough rise and ferment longer, which takes more time but yields a more traditional result. “We just get busy with other stuff during that time. We might make pastries while we wait. But allowing for that time is important.”
In a world of fast-food (of all kinds), when bread and pastries are produced in bulk and as cheaply and quickly as possible, Brunner’s approach is novel. He tells us he no longer uses dough conditioners or mold inhibitors, both of which are common in commercial bread production but which add extra ingredients many argue aren’t necessarily healthy or safe. Brunner says, “You can keep store-bought bread in your bread box for two weeks with no mold. That’s a problem.”
The philosophy of slowing down and focus on quality extends to all of Brunner’s baking and artistry in the kitchen. From the traditional Italian buttercream frosting made in-house (with no shortening) to the chocolate used for cakes and pastries, Brunner believes in simple, true, honest ingredients, a passion for the art of baking and, above all, time. “Time – in everything. Good food takes time.”
That time, passion and attention to detail yields the kind of results that keep this Aberdeen bakery filled with customers who happily return for loaves of freshly-baked bread, granola, pastries and, during the lunch hour, burgers, sandwiches and salads. Customer favorites include the 5-grain bread, the seeded sourdough and, of course, the tiramisu. The #1 bestselling pastry is the chocolate-covered eclair, and Brunner’s personal favorite is the peanut butter mousse dome.
No matter what you try, be sure to have a seat, sip an espresso and take the time to savor each bite.
The Bakehouse and Cafe is located at 120 North Poplar Street in Aberdeen, NC 28315. Hours of operation are Tuesday – Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The entire team (which is truly a family affair including Brunner’s father Kurt, wife Mireia and mother-in-law Dolores) can be reached at (910) 944-9204.