Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Rustler

In the Summer of 1975, a few months before I opened my first bakery, “Richard’s Bakery”, in Tualatin, Oregon, I was hurtin’ for work. It was taking longer than I had planned to get the bakery opened, with construction and legal issues, so I was ready to take just about any kind of piece work, a day here or there, just to keep a few bucks coming in. I worked several different jobs, not all of them as a baker. But for several weeks, right before my bakery was ready to go, I worked at an Albertson’s Bakery in S.E. Portland, at 39th and Holgate, which is currently a Trader Joe’s. I replaced vacationing staff, even including the manager of the bakery, whose name was Hubert Smiley.

I was still quite young, 27, and although I was capable of most of the requirements of that job, there were a few difficult moments, even in the short time I was there. For example, when I was called on to decorate a wedding cake, I admit standing back and looking at it and pitying the couple who had ordered their wedding cake at a grocery store bakery. Later, I became a much better cake decorator.

But one certain faux pas is especially worth mentioning, as I recall here.

One Sunday, working alone, I found an order on the spindle for a few hundred “poor boy” or “sub sandwich” style buns. Apparently this was a standing order for a Portland restaurant named “The Rustler”, who picked up these buns once a week, froze them and pulled them out as needed during the week, for steak sandwiches and other delights. I remember having to call Hubert Smiley at his home to ask a few questions, like, for example, where is the recipe?

The “formula” (the baker’s word for “recipe”), was a rather standard white dough, and also called for a small addition of “egg shade” which is a powder or liquid, and is used to color the dough to a rich yellow, as it might look with the addition of eggs. But when I got to that part, there was no egg shade to be found. I called Mr. Smiley back to ask him what to do, but there was no answer.

Ok, I sorta freaked. I should have just left the dough white, but instead, I found a regular yellow food color in the cake decorating department, and squeezed the bottle into the dough. A little looked pretty good, but too light. I squeezed again, and then again. Suddenly, as the dough spun in the mixer, I realized I had a bit of a problem on my hands, as in, yellow Easter egg colored bread dough. 100 pounds or so of, well, flourescent yellow dough. Shit.

What to do? Damn. If I start over, I will be here all day, given the necessary fermentation time, plus I will have wasted all these ingredients. Shit. Okay lessee. I could add something to tone down this yellow. Hmmmm, okay, I’ll use the “caramel color”, which is usually used to make the whole wheat or rye bread darker, and sometimes used in maple bar icing. I put a “glug” into the dough, and spun it again. Not enough. Another glug. And there, before my eyes, in the shiny 80 quart bowl, was.....

I don’t know how to explain it really. I guess it would be fair to say that the color went from Easter egg yellow, in a matter of seconds, to a color, well, a color unknown to nature. Sort of an eye popping yellowish burnt sienna, something, but, oh, not a color one might relish biting into.

The amount of work it takes for one baker to take a dough this big to the bench and make several hundred buns is daunting. But I had already made the doughnuts, iced the cakes, made the french bread, the wheat bread, the danish, several icings, brownies, on and on, and so, there in the Albertson’s Bakery on 39th and Holgate, on that sunny Summer day in 1975, I made the decison to continue. I went ahead and made the buns with that awful dough. For The Rustler.

When they were done baking, they didn’t look half bad. They were a nice golden brown, indistinguishable from the Rustler’s regular order. But when you looked inside, uh, there was that color, that tan bread, all ready for a nice piece of medium rare sirloin. NOT.

In the days that followed, I recall that the Rustler made a call to Hubert Smiley, to make their disatisfaction known. However, they did use up all the buns. And in the Fall of that year, just after I opened my store, The Rustler closed down. I have always hoped that the demise of that eatery, and my yellowish burnt sienna colored poor boys, was just a coincidence.

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