Here at McGrath’s Bakehouse, we make true artisan breads. We say true because when you actually read the definition of “artisan”, you can rule out most other products that claim to be such. Here is how we do it:
First, to make a high-quality product, you need high-quality ingredients. This is why McGrath’s Bakehouse is committed to using only organic grains, most of which are milled within 30 miles of our location. Many of the other ingredients we use are organic as well such as fruits, seeds, etc. and we do our best to select them in the most environmentally sustainable manner we can afford. By using these high-quality ingredients, the quality of the bread is innately high as well.
Second, we have a distinctive product. Our bread is different from the look-alikes, significantly in some ways, subtle in others. Unless you bake it yourself, in this region of Pennsylvania you will have to search far and wide for authentic, nourishing, naturally-leavened bread. We hear it time and time again from interested customers that you can’t find bread like this anywhere else in the area.
Third, we are committed to baking on a small scale. In order to ensure that quality remains high and also to maintain a sustainable lifestyle, our production levels are relatively low. Working out of our home, the bakehouse work force is limited to three people, with an estimated maximum around 250 loaves in a bake day, and baking only 2-3 times a week.
Fourth, we use our hands, a lot. The initial process of mixing will employ a mechanical mixer so that this craft can be physically sustainable for us as bakers. After that, we fold, shape, and load our breads by hand, as well as bag and sell our bread, again all by hand. Everything is done with the utmost care and respect to the raw ingredients and also to our customers.
Finally, and most importantly, we use traditional methods which date back thousands of years. This includes both natural-leavening and the use of a wood-fired brick oven:
In a natural-leavening process, we do not add any commercial yeast or sugar to our dough. The only things you should need for good bread are flour, water, salt, and a mother culture (sourdough or levain are other names for it). The mother culture is a colony of naturally occurring wild yeasts and bacterias that digest starches and other components of the grain to create bubbles and cause the dough rise. The mother is then fed flour and water to perpetuate the life within, and matured to use in the next batch of dough. This is how people have been making bread for thousands of years! That is, until the isolated strain of baker’s yeast came into the picture. This ultimately made it possible for the macro-bakeries of today’s modern supermarkets to become incredibly profitable, at the expense of quality. Additionally, there are numerous health benefits to consuming fermented food products (the wheat in our breads actually gets fermented rather than just the sugar you would have to add in conjunction with baker’s yeast) that cannot be reaped from yeasted bread.
And then we bake it all in a wood-fired brick oven. The shape and design of the oven has been refined, but the concept, and the fuel source, is utterly traditional. Where we are located here in Pennsylvania, wood is plentiful. It is a renewable resource and the sources seem to be endless, whether it be a downed tree in a neighbor’s yard, or a fallen tree in the woods which would otherwise rot. When burned in the oven at such a high temperature, the fuel burns very cleanly. When you couple these two aspects together of an abundant, naturally harvested, renewable resource and a clean burn, the result is a very environmentally sustainable business.