On a Friday in September, Eric Schedler, co-owner of Bloomington’s Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery, is pounding out the dough for his croissants over the sound of some gravel being spread outside. Construction noises are not what you typically hear at a bakery, but this is not your typical week. It’s the first week that Schedler is using his brand new bakery.
Muddy Fork Bakery has become known over the past four years for their hearth breads, including rustic sourdough, baguettes, and Jewish Rye. But this year, Schedler took up a new baking challenge: the elusive croissant.
For Schedler, the croissant’s journey from initial idea to market was full of some unexpected twists and turns.
Making croissants at Muddy Fork is multi-step process that begins early Friday afternoon and ends at around 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. The crucial first step is the initial lamination (which is just a fancy term for layering).
Here, Schedler takes two and half kilograms of specially-designed dough and rolls it out to a thin 11x17 inch rectangle. Then he takes a generous amount of butter—one pound— which has been flattened into a thin rectangle and chilled, and places it over two-thirds of the dough. The extra flap of dough is placed over the butter, and the entire unit is folded in half and sealed in plastic wrap.
After chilling for a few hours in the cooler, Schedler rolls out the dough to full size and repeats the folding process. This is repeated several times over the course of the day for each of the five batches.
Finally, each batch is rolled out to three-feet in length, cut into two dozen triangles, individually shaped, and baked early on Saturday morning to be sold at the Bloomington Farmers Market.
“Saturday is just an exhausting day,” Schedler said, “coming here at 3:00 [a.m.] and start baking, and then hustle it out of here and go to market, and then spend five hours at market making pizzas on sight.”
Schedler then laughed at the thought of his busy schedule. But it’s been successful: the next day, he sold all ten dozen croissants by 10:00 a.m.
The croissant’s journey to the market started in December of last year as a birthday request for his wife and baking partner Katie Zukof.
“I never made them before,” Schedler shared. “I hadn’t really eaten croissants much for whatever reason. They never seemed appealing to me. And then after I made them for the first time, I decided that I really liked them”
He spent weeks trying to perfect the recipe. This meant finding the recipe for the dough. “One of things that we worked on for a long time was just how much starter to add to the dough, so that it would be just a little sour. Just a subtle hint of sour. Which I think complements the butter really, really well.”
Schedler also experimented with different kinds of butter. He’s now using a special kind of butter, which comes from the grass fed cows at Hartzler Family Dairy in Ohio. He likes it because of the higher fat content, which makes it more malleable.
“The typical American butter has about 80 percent fat, and this is 82 or 83 [percent],” he said. “Just that difference makes it softer at cold temperatures.”
After tweaking the recipe for two and a half months, Schedler was finally pleased with the end result. In March, he was ready to bring them to market. But that’s when tragedy struck.
On March 21st, the first day of spring, the Muddy Forks bakery caught fire in the middle of the night.
“It was pretty devastating. There were definitely a lot of tears in the first week or two,“ he shares. “My first immediate reaction was actually relief because we had a two-week old baby at the time, and Katie was up in the night with the baby. [There was] this terrible scream, like I’ve never heard from her, and I first thought that something happened to the baby. I ran out and saw, ‘Oh, it’s just the bakery.’”
The cause of the fire still remains a mystery. “I don’t think we will ever know for sure because there was so little left,” Schedler said. “We suspect that it started with the interface between the flue and the bakery”
At first, the masonry of the brick oven seemed to survive the fire, even if the rest of the bakery was lost. But they soon decided that the damage to the brick oven was too much, and they had to rebuild from scratch.
Hope came in the form of community support. One of Katie’s cousins set up an online crowdsourced fundraising account to help Muddy Fork get back up and running. They raised $20,000 in 5 days. That with the insurance money, allowed them to rebuild.
This brings us to this Friday in September, the first week in Muddy Fork’s brand new bakery.
The new space is a blessing for Schedler and the bakery. “It’s pretty much everything you could ask for if you’re a baker,” he says.
The space is twice as big with an added a walk-in cooler. The cooler provides them with enough space to chill all the dough overnight. According to Schedler, “it’s possible to bake at 3 in the morning without having to stay up all night.”
They have a new, hand-crafted work table, and a new and bigger oven. The new oven now holds 64 loaves, an improvement over the 36 from the previous oven.
It also has improved features. “One of the big improvements,” Schedler says, “is having it on the long wall instead of the short wall, so while it’s being fired, the heat is not radiating into the entire space”
The new space means that he can make more bread, and more of those brand new croissants. Although, at this point, Schedler thinks that the ten dozen may be enough for right.