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The art of bread and pastry
Harris Baking Co. combines the best of European and American traditions
Sam Harris at work - photo by Lee Futch

SO MANY TOYS! In Sam Harris’s kitchen there’s a spiral mixer with the capacity to mix 300 lbs. of dough. It enables bread dough to be mixed in half the time it would take in a conventional mixer and with less oxygenation — and therefore way more flavor and better color and texture.

After mixing, leavened doughs are retarded in a digitally-temperature controlled refrigerator that allows yeast to ferment (at 45º F) in a long, slow, flavor enhancing process. Three Polin electric hearth ovens have special reinforced cement decks forbreads to bake on —facilitating “oven spring,” which gives bread better volume.

Those same ovens have a steam injection system to fill the cooking chamber which helps give breads a crisp, crunchy crust. When the need arises to evenly cook as many as 45 nine-inch pies (Sam and Teresa are looking for customer suggestions, so I’m suggesting blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb and coconut cream) at a time, the rack oven has a vertical cooking chamber that is big enough to stand up inside! Co-owner Teresa even has a baker’s calculator that does a variety of recipe conversions.

So much food! Every morning the bake-off starts around 6 a.m. I eat enough sweets to give me a sugar rush that I enjoy until I crash. The terrific pear tart is artistically formed in the shape of a pear thanks to a mold built by Sam’s brother-in-law; the rum raisin roll has raisins marinated in and a glaze made from dark Meyer’s rum, and the Opera Cake is amazing.

Pecan pie is a topseller. It’s very good, but any talented home baker could make one as almost good by following the recipe on the Karo bottle. But how many of us would take the time or make the effort to do that? Especially with pecans at almost $11 a pound.

So...What’s for lunch? Harris Baking has a menu which highlights the breads that sandwiches are made with. Seasoned food photographer and gourmand Lee Futch and I have a Roast Beef “Samwich” which Sam and Teresa’s son 17-year-old son Sam (as of this writing he’s single, ladies!) created and named after himself, and the vegetarian Basic sandwich. Both are delicious, as is the made-in-house pickle.

Lee’s soup selection is eat-with-a-fork thick and too salty. New chef Josh Holden (Sam’s the baker) started after we had that lunch, so now the menu will slowly expand and the soup problem should disappear.

So many customers... Already the restaurant is packed full for lunch. Ben Tucker was the first customer at Harris Baking Company. It’s the “first dollar” mounted on the wall.

“I love this place, man, he puts his heart into it, he’s an artist,” Ben says of Sam. “Where else can I get a croissant I can eat without butter, jelly, or jam, that’s so delicious I can eat it just the way it is?” he asks rhetorically as we talk music and food.

James Hunt, who’s opening The Hunt Club Clothiers next door is a frequent customer. Sam and Teresa are talking fashion with him, in the form of custom designed chef jackets.

I have the pleasure of sitting and talking with Gerry Miller and her son John. Why do I mention this random conversation? Simple, because I enjoyed it and them... and because Harris Bakery is a place where you can sit down with complete strangers and make new friends.

So much information!

Sam’s croissants are made with an expensive European style Plugra brand butter: It’s got less water and more fat than standard American butters.

The reason the croissants are straight is a French tradition where straight indicates made with butter, curved indicates made with margarine. Financiers (small cakes often shaped like a bar of gold) got their name because historically they were a key to the financial success of European bakeries.

Katie Wysocki, who designs some of the showcase displays every morning, is studying to be a chef. Sam the owner is a graduate of the San Francisco Baking Institute.

To maximize flavor (depending on the bread dough) the start-to-finish process might take as long as four days! The croissants... they’re 35 percent butter by weight!

So...I’m sitting at home listening to Ben’s Comin’ Home Baby on a CD I bought at the restaurant. There’s a hit version out now by Michael Buble.

I’ve just completed my own blind taste test: I compared Sam’s pecan pie, blueberry scone, crunchy-yet chewy oatmeal raisin cookie and cinnamon raison roll to their grocery store counterparts. It’s not even close; I choose Sam’s products every time.

And then for dinner I choose to eat Harris Baking products for dinner over the pork chops, wild rice with sun dried tomatoes and collard greens I was going to have.

Oh, well, so many artistic baked goods, so many meals at which to enjoy them....

Harris Baking Co. is on the ground floor of the Drayton Tower on Liberty Street.