After faith and family, my greatest passions are baking and teaching people to bake. My mom should probably get the credit, or the blame, for my love of baked goods, which in turn led to my love of baking. When I was a kid, mom baked all the time. Rye breads, whole wheat breads, white breads, fantastic cakes, cookies, pies and more. The other kids at school had sandwiches made of "normal" all American white bread made with normal ingredients. I had whole grain bread with unusual German cold cuts and strong cheeses. Mom was, and still is, German. It takes more than mere Naturalization to drive the tastes one grew up with out of one's heart.
Sadly, none of the other kids would trade their wonderbread and Bologna sandwiches for my heavy dark breads with German cold cuts on it. My sandwiches were just too weird. Bread you had to chew. Bread with taste. Cold meats that weren't homogenous. The kids were picking on me, so I finally asked mom if she could make some "American" sandwiches. Mom thought I was crazy, but went ahead and bought a loaf of grocery store white bread and some mass-market Bologna. I couldn't finish the sandwich, and we never did finish the loaf of bread. After that, I just smiled when the kids teased me. Oddly enough, they were willing to eat the cookies Mom made.
Mass market grocery store white bread was, in the end, what we bought at the bakery outlet store in 50lb sacks and used to make turkey dressing once a year and to feed to the animals at the zoo. Since then, we've moved to using better bread for the dressing and the zoo has banned feeding the animals, except for special foods bought from vending machines in the zoo. Even as a child I suspected that something that had so little taste and so little soul couldn't be good for us - or the animals at the zoo.
For reasons that I never understood, the Army sent me to Germany for 2 1/2 years. I enjoyed the trip and developed a greater appreciation for food with taste. Especially breads and beer. After I got out of the army and started college, I learned a lot. I learned that mom had never taught me to cook. She had, however, taught me to appreciate good food. She had tended to chase me out of the kitchen whenever I lingered there too long. Still, a love of good food is the start of a love of cooking and baking.
I quickly learned I didn't like food from boxes, and that if I couldn't do better than hamburger helper I deserved to starve. My upstairs neighbor and friend, who was then a graduate student at Sam Houston State University, took mercy on me and gave me a copy of William Brown's book, "The Food Stamp Gourmet." It was a marvelous cookbook that opened up new culinary horizons for me. I explored it, and "The Joy of Cooking" for many years. I still have the book, and one of my son's girlfriends gave him a copy of the book. I think old, but unused, copies are available on Amazon.
I also learned that I couldn't afford to buy any beer that I wanted to drink or find bread I liked. Having always been handy, I decided it was time to also learn to brew and bake. My buddy came through again and introduced me to one of his fellow graduate students who was an avid brewer, and I learned to brew beers and wines, which I still enjoy doing.
I never did find a guru to show me how to bake. So I know very well how hard it can be to teach oneself how to bake. I kept baking for many years, off and on. I gave in to the dark side and had a bread machine for some time. I still have mixed feelings about them. They make fresh bread available to people who otherwise wouldn't have affordable fresh bread. However, they are so limited. The dough has to be within a fairly tight moisture range or the dough will be too wet or dry for the machine. And that means that, at times, you are making the bread the machine will let you make rather than the bread you want to make.
We moved to the mountains of Colorado so my wife could direct the library at Western State College. I was a free lance writer and could work anywhere. The bread machine made the move with us. The bread machine was never able to make good bread in the mountains. Maybe some can, but that one couldn't. When it caught fire as I was trying to use it to make preserves, as described in the owner's manual, that was the last straw. It was kicked to the curb and picked up by the trash collector that week. So, I was back to baking by hand. At 7,703 feet above sea level. I also got into sourdough in a major sort of way. I'm still very involved with sourdough, but I now admit you can make wonderful breads without sourdough. If you are looking for a source of sourdough information, you can do far worse than Sourdough Home.
Around this time, the computer magazine which hired me as an editor after we moved had their first layoff in 15 years. They tried hard to avoid it, but in the wake of the dot com bomb and 9/11, the magazine's size dwindled and they had to cut staff. I'd been there a year, so I was one of the first to go. I discovered that the other magazines for which I'd been writing before I became an editor had all suffered similar fates, and I couldn't get any writing gigs. I had to do something to make ends meet.
And so the Colorado High Attitude Bakery was born. We built the bakery from the ground up. It was a glorious year and a half, but in the end we realized we were doing everything well except making money. So, we reorganized as Mike's Bread. We were smaller and leaner. While our sales were smaller, we made money. Not a lot, but some.
One thing that I discovered during those years was that I was asked the same questions again and again. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. At the farmers markets, after trying a sample, people would ask, "Did you bake this bread?" Sometimes I claimed to have found it on the side of the road, but I usually admitted to having baked it. And then I'd hear how they had tried to bake, but it had never really worked for them. gain and again, I was asked how I'd baked that bread, that pie, that cake, that bagel. Sometimes people had trouble with the altitude in Colorado or the water in Texas. But the real issue was the one I faced when I started baking.
As I had learned in college, it's really, really hard to teach yourself to bake. And far too few mothers teach their children how to cook these days. According to one recent commercial, a family meal is when everyone gathers around a table that has fried chicken from a fast food joint on it. Still in the bucket. I have mixed feelings there. I STRONGLY believe in the value of family meals. Shared meals. Shared with family and friends. Sharing food is sharing time, sharing values and sharing love. So, even a bucket of the Colonels' finest is better than not sharing a meal. But it's even better if the family, or family members, cook the meal. Bring the kids into the kitchen, have 'em help. If they cook it, they're more likely to eat it. What? Me? On a soapbox? Surely you jest!
So, "Bake With Mike" was born. I teach classes in all kinds and phases of baking, mostly breads. My classes are mostly aimed at people who want to bake at home, though I've had a number of aspiring professional bakers take my classes. If you're thinking about becoming a professional artisan baker and want to get your feet wet before taking the plunge, my classes are a good place to start.
I love teaching baking. I love it when someone who has never baked before has their face light up because a beautiful tasty loaf of bread they made and baked has been pulled out of the oven. And, you know, the hours are better than being a baker too!
So, whether you want to learn to bake bread for the first time, have fun learning about holiday baking, or get more advanced classes on sourdough baking, bagel making or..... we hope you'll consider coming to one of our classes. Can't travel to Texas? It's really not that painful, but we do enjoy giving classes in other parts of the country. All we ask is that someone sponsor the classes, and that someone could be you. If you're interested, please use the contact us page to drop us a note.