Every fall, my mother’s second grade class takes a field trip to Acme Bread Company. She always calls me up the weekend before, wherever I happen to be, and invites me along for the fun. And every year until this one, I had some sort of conflict on the day they were going.
Furthermore, having been gluten free for a while now, it was hard to get excited about touring a bakery — I feared the whole thing would just be a big tease. Looking at all of that beautiful, artisan bread, with nary a GF option sounded like torture. But I’ve been trying out a few wheaty things lately, and not feeling bad — it appears that my gluten sensitivity may have been all in my head.
Or not. Who knows. In any case, I’ve never tested positive for allergies to any food group, and I’m a firm believer in moderation in all things. Rest assured, most of my recipes featured here will still be gluten-free, but I’ll be letting my hair down a bit when it comes to eating out with friends, celebrating special occasions, touring famous bakeries with a bunch of seven-year-olds . . . that sort of thing. Who knows, I might even try my hand at baking some wheaty things of my own again — those no-knead breads I made a while back were big hits around here!
The trip to Acme Bread Company was a total kick — I arrived just on time to meet my mom’s class, and was greeted by an adorable tableau of parents and students in light blue hair nets, listening attentively as Claudio, baker and expert tour guide, walked them through the do’s and don’ts of touring the facility. Donning a hairnet of my own, I followed the group inside to begin the tour.
The bakery employs a combination of old-world baking skills and impressive technology to turn out hundreds of beautiful, burnished loaves every day. While the equipment is powerful, no part of the process is fully automated — a baker must be present for much of the journey from dough to bread, and every loaf involves hands-on skill. Turning dough into a properly-shaped baguette or boule is no small feat, but you’d have no idea watching Claudio’s effortless, double-fisted technique. I watched in awe as he shaped two boules at the same time, one with each hand. I really don’t think the second graders grasped just how cool that was — as I learned during a trial shift at Arizmendi last spring, shaping one loaf at a time is challenging enough!
After demonstrating his mad dough skills, Claudio lead us into the room which houses both of Acme’s enormous ovens. The one used for baking their baguettes and rolls takes up the better part of a room, and it comes equipped with an impressive array of timers and gauges — the bakers are able to monitor not just temperature, but also the oven’s humidity during the baking process. Gargantuan bread peels and a cleaning brush hang from hooks above the oven — Claudio used these to show us how loaves are loaded into the oven, then removed to cool before being loaded into the iconic white delivery truck waiting just outside.
As we left the bakery, Claudio handed each of us our own mini-loaf of pain epi, a.k.a. pull-apart bread. Shatteringly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, it was a great example of simple food done well. Hats off to Acme for turning out a consistently delicious product, and for allowing visitors to have a look at what goes into their artisan breads!