After completing school in Guelph and spending some time in the Greater Toronto Area, I returned to live in Kitchener. Nesselrode pie continued to be a sought-after dessert or as a treat with coffee on the way home from an evening out. Unfortunately, when the Charcoal’s baker (who made the pies) passed away, so did this amazing dessert recipe. Oh, the new bakers tried to replicate it, but the crust was not the same texture and the flavouring could not be perfected. What happened? How could Nesselrode pie now be extinct? How did the recipe and the techniques get lost from one person to the next?
Richard Miscovich sits on the board of the Bread Bakers Guild of America (BBGA) and is an assistant professor at the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. He identifies the mission of the BBGA as shaping the knowledge and skills of the artisan baking community through education. For the same reason that the Nesselrode pie lives vividly in my taste memory, the BBGA has created a standardized formulation for the recipes from all the bakers at its educational events. These formulas are archived in a large library within the association to ensure recipes (and ingredients) can be passed on to the next generation of bakers.
In addition to standardized formulas, Miscovich explains, “There are many education paths of the BBGA, including regional events. There are 12 regional classes being offered this year, including one in Calgary about German baking (with Volker Baumann), at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology), Aug. 16-17. On a national level, events include a specialized program called Camp Bread. The camp was held in 2005 and 2007. Another one is scheduled for 2011, where 300 students will attend hands-on labs, demonstrations and lecture classes for three intensive days. In the fall, at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), the guild, along with Europain, Lesaffre Yeast Corp and IBIE, will host the North American Louis Lesaffre Cup where Team USA and Team Canada will compete for a place at the 2012 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie.
Miscovich says BBGA was formed in 1993 and has about 50 active Canadian members. The palette of the North American is changing, he adds, as cultural diversity continues to have far-reaching effects. Now that BBGA has reached maturity, it can build on the fundamentals of high-quality baking techniques with more specific courses and education for future generations of bakers. Its website boasts an online chat function as well as the guild newsletter, among many other ways of educating and communicating to ensure that baking knowledge is passed on while keeping up with diversifying consumer choices.
In Canada, we don’t have an association for artisan bakers with the reach and scope of BBGA. However, in Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Agri-Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) offers services for many food sectors, including baking and more specifically artisan baking.
OMAFRA business development officer Athar Shah describes artisan baking as handmade, focusing on the purity of ingredients and following traditional methods.
“The fundamentals of artisan baking are the same, but each baker puts his/her own finishing touches on it,” Shah says. “It is still a niche market in Canada, but it is growing, as it is seen as part of the health and wellness sector.”
To help bakers capitalize on this connection, OMAFRA offers knowledge sources and connections. “For example, shelf life continues to be a challenge for artisan breads. OMAFRA assists in identifying knowledge sources, ways of passing on information and funding options to the artisan baker who is interested in gaining a better understanding of how to extend shelf life,” Shah explains.
As it turns out, from my research for this column (and from personal experience), Nesselrode pie is a long-forgotten dessert. Artisan baking celebrates the role of the individual over industrial values of scale.
Knowledge is transferred through many different means, and writing out the recipe in a standardized formula does seem more of an industrial practice. However, thinking about the dessert I’ve often craved and how it was lost from one baker to the next ... perhaps therein lies a sweet lesson to be learned.
On the web:
OMAFRA business development programs: www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/index.html