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No tricks needed for these treats
Prairie Thunder Baking Co. leans on old-school methods for out of this world results

The Food Dude visits the Oklahoma City artisan bakery Prairie Thunder Baking Co.
BY DAVE CATHEY Food Editor dcathey@opubco.com Modified: October 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm •  Published: October 31, 2012
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The scent is strong with what we identify as yeast, but McBryde is quick to point out there is no such thing.

“Yeast doesn't have a scent, but it's a catalyst for the fermentation that creates the aroma.”

Things move at a crisp pace all morning. It is chaos captured and trapped in a burlap sack. Give an inch, and it will spill everywhere, and all the yeast that gave its life to birth these loaves of bread will have died in vain.

McBryde and his crew don't complain, and smiles are reserved for end of the shift. Adele or The Cure are the only voices you hear most mornings. When a well-below average baker from The Oklahoman is there, John has to offer more instruction.

He gives excellent advice on how to handle the dough, he shows and tells how to form a baguette. He explains how to form a peasant purse.

When the flour has settled, all the orders are complete, bread is displayed out front, pastries are in the case and breakfast is being served.

Hands of a baker

McBryde's hands are long and lithe. When he speaks, they cut through the air in figure-eights, swiveling on their wrists like a conductor. He handles dough with aplomb and a subconscious respect for the promise it holds.

But those hands are also responsible for the design and construction of Prairie Thunder's woodsy art deco interior.

“I've always loved working with my hands,” McBryde said.

But these willing hands had to be trained by a master to handle and carry out the rigors of baking. So, he called on one of the world's foremost master bakers, Jeffrey Hamelman of King Arthur Flour.

“Jeffrey is my mentor, and he's responsible for the way we laid out the kitchen.”

The walk-in freezer bears his name because he advised McBryde to place it in the center of the kitchen to save steps in the day.

“I wore a pedometer one day in the early day, and it measured about three miles just walking around in the kitchen.”

The oven

“We have an Italian pastry oven, a large deck oven that came from France,” McBryde said. “It took more than 18 months to get the large oven here.”

The oven weighs 18,000 pounds and can heat up to 420 degrees inside.

An installer from Salzburg, Austria, spent three weeks working 12-hour days just to install the bread oven. The oven, with steam tubes and a masonry base, took three weeks to build inside the bakery and another four weeks of daily heating to burn off all the moisture from the bricks and mortar.

The first pastry to enter the oven was a Braum's cinnamon roll. McBryde said by the time the oven was ready for a test, he didn't want to have to stress over the dough.

He's spent pretty much every waking moment since stressing over the dough.

The cafe

Out front, in the art deco interior McBryde and one of his sons fabricated and mounted, the cafe has about 15 tables where guests can choose from soups, sandwiches and salads for lunch and burritos, croissants and migas for breakfast.

For Halloween, you'll find plenty of seasonal pastry to satisfy ghouls and vampires.

They do vegetarian specials and offer discounts to those in scrubs one day a week.

Loaves of bread will run between $5 and $9, hamburger buns can be purchased but go quickly.

“We can do any of our bread, but we do need some advance notice.”

Keeping alive the methods and quality that artisan baking require make it well worth the extra commitment in time and money.

Prairie Thunder Baking Co. is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. To make orders, call 602-2922.