Up the back stairs in a gleaming tidy kitchen, surrounded by ovens and walk-in coolers, flour and recipe books, a bit of magic happens every day starting at about 6 a.m. That’s when Angela Tarigradean shows up to start the prep for the day. About an hour later Christina Quick arrives to start the preparations for the Northside’s daily bread… and scones, cookies, brownies and whatever other baked treat strikes this team’s fancy.
As anyone who has dabbled even a bit in baking here in the mountains knows it can be a frustrating experience. Time spent in the kitchen can result in a fallen bread, mushy muffins or disastrous cake. There’s a very scientific approach to baking, knowing the correct ratio of flour to liquid, baking powder versus baking soda. It’s enough to make your head spin – or baker’s heartbreak.
Quick, who moved here from Virginia, came with a trove of recipes and hands-on knowledge for making the perfect bread, admits baking the perfect baked good at altitude is tricky.
“It’s just about the way it looks. Being here I’ve watched people who go to school and they look for the gluten, I just watch it spin around, I touch it. I don’t know why I can tell you it’s ready,” Quick says in her quiet voice and southern accent. You get the distinct impression that even as she is scurrying around the kitchen readying for the day’s orders, she has a non-plussed attitude, relying on how the dough feels instead of using a chemistry equation. She credits her mentor in Virginia for this skill, along with her long history in kitchens on the East Coast.
However, baking bread at sea level is a very different experience than baking bread at 7,800 feet – or 10,200 feet where Quick lives in Leadville. For one thing, there is a lot more kneading and letting the dough rise at sea level, here the process is shorter but the proportionality of ingredients is much trickier.
“I had to rethink things,” Quick says with a bit of a laugh in her voice. She admits she borrowed a book (Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy) from the Leadville library to help her figure out the baking sweet spot. She kept the book so long she received hand-written notes from the Leadville librarian imploring her to return the book.
“I read it and read it. I practiced at home on certain things. I practiced on banana bread and muffins because they sink. My biggest problem is that I would change too many things,” Quick says.
Apparently she figured ‘things’ out through trial and error. One biscuit recipe had just baking soda in it – it looked lovely and puffy but didn’t taste right. The key is to use the right portions of leavening agents and liquids.
And from the looks of it, there are still plenty of us who love just what she figured out allowing us to nosh on carbohydrates, whether a stuffed English muffin or homemade dinner roll. Every day Quick makes between 12 ½ and 18 kilos of dough. It has to set for 12 hours in the walk-in cooler. Where you or I might leave the dough out to rise, Quick explains it would take over the kitchen and look like “Jabba the Hut”.
She pulls out a kitchen scale and carefully weighs all the ingredients for accuracy. The next steps are to flour the surface, knead the dough, roll it out, put it through the ‘sheeter’ to make it nice and evenly thin, and start punch them out into about four-inch circles, put them on a tray coated with cornmeal for that yummy English-muffin coating. She’ll let them sit for a bit, then run down the stairs to toast them on a grill, then run back up the stairs to bake them. Every day she makes 6 trays of muffins and 20 per tray. Then there’s the dinner bread – 7 trays worth.
Not to say the job gets stale – just last month, Quick along with her coworkers created a new on-the-go muffin for the Grab-and-Go Northside in West Vail. It uses the same dough but is stuffed with either ham and cheese or veggie cream cheese and vegetables. The idea is to have a hearty breakfa is a lot of humidity in the air the bread just won’t rise. During those humid southern summers? Forget it.
There’s something to be said about a baker’s life – there’s a pinch of science, a dash of luck and generous servings of patience and practice. Every day takes on a smooth, natural rhythm of creating home baked masterpieces for locals and travelers alike. From sweet to savory, maybe with a little spice thrown in for good measure, Quick helps her confections rise to the occasion. st option that can fit in a ski pocket, if need be.
Bread is a lot like a bad knee come to find out. Quick can tell if it’s going to rain, if there is a lot of humidity in the air the bread just won’t rise. During those humid southern summers? Forget it.
There’s something to be said about a baker’s life – there’s a pinch of science, a dash of luck and generous servings of patience and practice. Every day takes on a smooth, natural rhythm of creating home baked masterpieces for locals and travelers alike. From sweet to savory, maybe with a little spice thrown in for good measure, Quick helps her confections rise to the occasion.