Inspiration strikes anytime and sometimes in the most unlikely of places. By definition, it’s a wave of enthusiasm to express oneself in new and creative ways. It may come from an “aha” moment that sparks immediate action or a reflective discovery leading to a longer passage toward a “that-really-happened?” experience.
Bakers find such great fulfillment working with everything from ancient grains to donuts or, yes, even frozen dough, but what brings on this rush of inspiration in the first place?
Take Ciril Hitz, author, teacher and award-winning artisan baker and pastry chef, who discovered it while exploring the limits of introducing alternative grains into laminated doughs. He recently created a spelt pastry that played on the nutty undertone of the specialty grain in a dough filled with a hazelnut base and crumpled nuts used as a flavored topping.
Hitz scouts for inspiration on the internet, in everything he eats or through all that he sees when taking a leisurely walk.
“I look at the surface treatments that I find in nature, at the craft industry or at origami techniques, and I try to keep an open mind because that’s only going to start that initial journey,” explains Hitz, senior instructor, International Baking and Pastry Institute, Johnson & Wales University.
Rachel Wyman, owner of Montclair Bread Co. (MBC) who was named among the Top 25 Most Influential Bakers in the United States by Bake magazine, uncovers inspiration from local farm and seasonal ingredients and incorporates them into her signature brioche donuts and other baked foods.
Recently, she noted that leftover fruit and caramel led to developing bananas foster donuts that “went gangbusters” at her Montclair, NJ, shop.
To engage its customers, MBC finds creative ways to engage the local community through a “fueled by donuts” 5K run and celebrating all types of current events and holidays, including Harry Potter’s birthday with a special donut each year.
“At our bakery, we draw a lot of inspiration from pop culture,” Wyman explains.
Wyman and Hitz, Etai Baron, owner and chief executive officer of Izzio’s Artisan Bakery, Louisville, Colo., relies on minimal ingredients and extended fermentation. Even his father, who started a sandwich business in 1994, understood the value of time. An accountant who knew little about food, he would buy frozen dough sticks and let them retard overnight in a refrigerator before selling them.
“They were the most commercial of products that you could buy, but he figured out this simple trick to make bread a little bit better,” Baron recalled. “We believe true artisan bread should only be made with flour, water and salt. Second, it needs an ingredient that never makes it onto the label, and that’s time.”
Because inspiration comes in many forms, how do bakers harness the art of baking and make a living at it? On the flip side, how do successful commercial bakers incorporate a greater amount of passion into their products? Maybe an analogy might answer these questions.
“It’s like the tree that falls in the forest that nobody hears,” Baron says. “If you make a great loaf of bread and nobody eats it, did you really make a great loaf of bread? It’s important that artisan bakers are making bread that everybody can eat and wants to eat, and that people can afford to eat.”
Hitz points out that personal fulfillment doesn’t feed a family, but he encourages bakers to avoid compromising on what matters most to them.
“Don’t sell yourself out to something when your heart questions it,” he says. “As an artisan baker, the harsh reality is that it might satisfy the soul and heart but not always the pocket. I tell my students: You can be passionate. You can be excited, but in the end, you still have to pay the bills.”