When we were in Germany a few months ago, I was lucky enough to get invited to shoot photos of an historic bakery in Gengenbach that has been making traditional wood fired bauernbrot, which is farmer’s bread. It’s a simple loaf made with natural leaven, wheat, and rye flour. It isn’t pretty like a fancy French style loaf with huge air pockets in the crumb and a perfect crust, but it is packed full of flavor and is a staple bread for many Germans. They make over 1,000 loaves a day from this bakery to sell at markets and at the bakery. The most impressive part of the bakery is that all the bread is made by two men that split a 12 hour shift. One starts at midnight firing up the ovens, mixing dough, shaping, and then baking around 500 loaves, and then the next guy comes to pull the loaves out, fire up the ovens again, mix more dough, shape, and bake several more batches.
This place was incredible. This handmade style of wood fired baking has long been replaced with modern commercial bakeries that pump out homogenous loaves lacking any semblance of a soul. If bread could have a soul, this bread had it. Every aspect of this place gave me a glimpse of how life was here for generations. The giant millstone out front still stands after a great fire devastated the town in 1689, and I couldn’t even imagine how many loaves came from this place since it was first built as the monastery bakery in the 1400′s.
The baker had to load all 70 loaves as fast as he could so they would all bake evenly. Without looking, he would grab one off the rack and tossed it two feet onto the small peel and shoveled it into the oven so they almost touched. I couldn’t believe how quickly he pulled this off without messing up once.