Dining • Culinary Shop
EVOO Cooking School

Bob in selfie with bakers, Nicolle & John at TABOR BAKERY
What an opportunity this adventure was becoming! I was about to stage at another fabulous place to learn more about WFO (wood fired oven) cooking. Tabor Bread is one serious standard conscientious yet down to earth neighborhood bakery, and more.
Tabor Bread is located on southeast Hawthorne in the Mount Tabor district of Portland, a sleepy little community coffee shop and bakery. This place is where people come looking for great baked goods, and they find them. This is the place of true artisan breads and pastry.  All breads are baked in their massive oven, center stage, in this a small circa 1950’s bungalow, with vaulted ceilings, and quaint décor. setting the stage for daily offerings including breakfast, breads and laminated products-croissants and puff pastry goods.
Once again, it was a simple process to get to work with the team.  Their head baker, John, and I exchanged a few emails and the time was set.  Report to work at 5:00am which would give the first bakers in at 4:00 am time to set their day.
Upon my arrival, John was already deep in formula calculations.  Each week, he and co-baker, Nicole, establish pars for the week based on previous sales and plot their needs into an excel program to set the formula for each baked good.  A formula is the quantities by weight of each ingredient, carefully assessed by its role in the recipe, and how it reacts with other ingredients for a positive outcome.  Add that to the fact they mill almost all their wheat with a large stone grinder in its own room, and you have a complete picture of the work ahead.
As John measures the warm water, each temperature is carefully documented; the water itself; the temp of the starter; the temp of the first stage of “auto-lees; the finished doughs at pre ferment; and finally the finished ferment stage.  An incredible matrix of temperatures relating to times, sets the guide for the next days bake, when John will come in to identify room temperature rest time and approximate rising time to baking times. At Tabor Bread, they schedule so hat the person who is the formulary mixer today is the baker tomorrow.  That way each baker owns their product from beginning to end.
As all this was going on, the pastry cook and pastry chef worked alongside the crew to complete their production.  Just before opening at 7:30 am, the owner, Tissa Stein, arrived extending good-morning greetings to me and everyone as she found her way to the breakfast station.   A pause, and then she came over to me. “Oh, a visitor, she said, referring to me.  “Professional?” she asks. “Well I think so.” I wince.  We both chuckle and she says she completely understands, both acknowledging that when the day appears to be overwhelming you feel like a neophyte in your own kitchen. Tissa is the breakfast cook, spending most of the morning creating, searing, baking, grilling and calling for service as an her customers’ orders whiz out to anticipating guests holding a hot cup of coffee reading the morning news.
Breads in the ready for their time in the WFO, a very busy oven at TABOR BAKERY.
The hands-on component of this “stage” was limited for me. Unlike cooking, baking requires such exactness that their expectation was understandably not to give me tasks that might have a domino effect if I messed up. There was allot of dialog with John before he allowed me to touch the dough. John engaged what I know as the four step training guide: tell, show, watch, evaluate. John or crew walked me through each shaping process. Then they would watch me do each, with comments, critique and sometimes show me again. Even when I got it right they stayed by my side, encouraging me and critiquing all the way. In all I had the fortunate opportunity to actually shape several different doughs, some of which I had the opportunity to taste, and others that I will return to try another day.
The bread menu this day included red wheat boule, seeded red boule, white batard, spelt, Einkorn rye, seeded rye, focaccia, baguette, caraway rye, and being Friday, challah, too. Whew! But more about the challah. The bakers were adamant that commercial yeast is never used at Tabor Bakery. I have only made challah with commercial yeast so of course, I needed to purchase a loaf on my way out. The whole fresh grains in this case gave a slightly sour background that is missing from my challah, and it means I will be breaking out my little wheat grinder back home and start practicing.
Now for some details about the wood fired oven. When I arrived, Nicole had already begun mopping the oven and documenting the temperatures inside. I learned that this day’s oven fire was started at 10:00 am yesterday, as it is lit every morning. So each day the days breads need to be baked by 10:00 am. They start earlier when they have a greater number to bake, so that the lighting of the new oven fire each day is on time.  The oven reaches temps in excess of 1000 degrees fahrenheit, but by 4:OO am, a bakers starting time, the temps sit around 600-800°F. Nicole also manages the steam by moving pans loaded with soaking wet towels around inside the oven throughout the baking process. She also uses a spray wand, like a garden tool to water high places, and this tool allows her to spray breads directly.  Her entire day is a choreographed dance of loading loaves, the very loaves she formulated yesterday, as she moves, adjusts steam and sorts until each bread emerges, a perfect specimen of what it should be. Nicole doesn’t agree that the loaves are done until she cuts or rips into them, sniffing and tasting each sample.  She and John keep tasting and critiquing and notating whether they could use more fermentation or heat,  until the last loaf leaves its fiery bake; not till then is she satisfied with her morning’s work. No wonder Tabor Bread has won awards and the customers return to enjoy the results of this intense labor of love.