Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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Bread, pastries and passion

INDEPENDENCE -- Kneading, stretching and rolling.

Katie Schaub places a cannonball on a baking sheet after rolling it in a paprika and cheese blend.

Photo by Pete Strong

Katie Schaub places a cannonball on a baking sheet after rolling it in a paprika and cheese blend.

July 26, 2011

INDEPENDENCE -- Kneading, stretching and rolling.

The repetitive motions during the shaping process of Katie Schaub's daily bread production can cause a brain "to go onto auto pilot."

Half-pound blobs of sourdough give way to long, demi baguette strands that Schaub neatly arranges on a baking pan. A quick spritz of water gives them enough tack to hold a dusting of sunflower, sesame and fennel seeds.

"But I'm not thinking about a whole lot as I'm doing it," she continued. "It's sort of relaxing, almost meditative."

Relaxing might be a relative term at Ovenbird Bakery, which Schaub owns and operates along with fellow chefs Scott Viegas and Bethany Schamp. Since opening in early July, the trio has been elbows deep in all things sweet, savory, light and crusty.

Viegas portions out dough for Brie and pear Danishes on this particular morning, then deftly folds them into pinwheels.

"It just makes them prettier," he said.

Schamp, who's been here since 3 a.m. making fresh scones, attends to customers who wander in just moments after the front doors open, eyeballing pastries and awaiting the first cinnamon rolls from the oven.

There's no rest for the weary. The lunch rush will be here soon enough; the bakery crafts its own soup and sandwiches.

Where does the energy come from?

"We have an espresso machine," Schaub jokes.

Ovenbird Bakery is the first attempt at a bricks-and-mortar enterprise for the three friends. It's also an outlet for their expressive medium of choice -- food.

"You get requests for things people want to see and that inspires you to go `hey, what if I put these two ingredients together?'" Viegas said.

"The nice part of it as an art form is you eat it, it's gone and you start over the next day," Schaub added.

Ovenbird Bakery sign

Photo by Pete Strong

The trio recently completed an exhausting four-month overhaul of the former Campos Boutique storefront on Main Street in Independence, painting, scraping mortar, re-sanding floors and other tasks Schamp describes as beyond their natural element.

Cooking and baking, namely.

Schaub has been a bakery instructor at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany for 12 years and learned the art of natural baking techniques from a long stint with Corvallis-based Alpine Sourdough.

Viegas and Schamp are both former students of Schaub's. Viegas was a baker at The Little Cannoli Bakery in downtown Salem; Schamp ran her own catering business prior to culinary school.

Demi baguettes rolled in a mix of fennel, poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds have been popular with customers.

Photo by Pete Strong

Demi baguettes rolled in a mix of fennel, poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds have been popular with customers.

Schamp used to pore over cookbooks "like they were novels." Viegas said he decided to turn his cooking and baking hobby into a career to escape cubicle life -- he worked for several years in a financial risk management company.

Oregonians have a penchant for all things local, especially when it comes to what they eat. Schaub said she's noticed the growing chasm between people curious and passive about their food.

"Some people want to know where things are grown, if there are any preservatives in our baking process, if the produce has an pesticide treatments," she said. "The other side is, they get hungry and they stuff something into their face ... there's no middle ground."

There's no middle ground for Schaub, Schamp and Viegas. All of their bread, cakes, pastries and cookies are made fresh from scratch and by hand -- which makes for long days.

The raspberry and marionberry scones that graced the glass case last week, for example, were made in a blitz puff-pastry style that sees Schamp engaged in a long routine of rolling and folding dough, mixing in butter all the while, opposed to stirring everything into a bowl and cutting it into shapes.

The three feed their 30-year-old sourdough starter with flour and water at about 4 a.m. and runs through the process of shaping, rising, deflating and shaping again for their sourdough bread -- one of their specialties.

"If we're on target, we'll be baking it by 9:30 a.m. and it will be out of the oven and behind the window by 11 a.m.," Schaub said.

Bethany Schamp, left, uses a whisk to drizzle icing onto a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls held by Katie Schaub.

Photo by Pete Strong

Bethany Schamp, left, uses a whisk to drizzle icing onto a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls held by Katie Schaub.

Being picky about ingredients is also crucial. Schaub, Schamp and Viegas take pains to source whatever they can from local farmers. Many treats in the bakery will be predicated on what's in season.

Viegas noted blue potatoes brought in by one grower were transformed into a multi-grain and potato bread.

It's those relationships with growers that allow for the fun part of the job -- experimenting. The hours after the lunch rush are typically when the three get to play mad scientist with different ingredients and flavors.

Recent Ovenbird specials have included white cake with white peach and ginger filling, focaccia bread with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese and baby red peppers, and pear and almond bear claws.

Scott Viegas stuffed this batch of Danishes with Brie cheese and pear slices, then folded each into a pinwheel shape.

Photo by Pete Strong

Scott Viegas stuffed this batch of Danishes with Brie cheese and pear slices, then folded each into a pinwheel shape.

"Somebody bringing food to you, it's like if you're a painter and somebody brings you red and yellow when you've only been painting in blue," Viegas said. "You get more colors for your palette."

Fresh Baked Goodness

What: Ovenbird Bakery.

Where: 215 S. Main St., downtown Independence.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Of note: The bakery serves a variety of artisan breads, pastries and cakes, as well as quiches and sandwiches. Beverages include Spella Cafe handcrafted coffee, lattes and tea. Ovenbird also offers a catering service.

For more information: 503-837-0109; www.ovenbirdbakery.com.

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