Baking Bread is a Craft at Mamadou's Artisan Bakery
Mamadou Mbaye hand-shapes his free-form artisan loaves at his bakery on Swanton Street. A love of bread and his craft keeps him going through the long hours of baking.
The first thing most people do when they walk into Mamadou’s Artisan Bakery is breathe. The scent of fresh bread is pervasive and almost intoxicating.
“People come here and they start inhaling. Customers say, ‘I wish you could make a perfume like this,’” said owner and baker Mamadou Mbaye.
Mbaye, a native of Senegal, opened Mamadou’s on Swanton Street in 2008. Since then, he has cultivated a loyal customer base, as well as local restaurant and wholesale accounts.
On an afternoon last week, Mbaye pulled rolls from the oven. They had baked together into huge golden wheels, which will be broken apart and served as rolls at Parsons Table. Mbaye also bakes bread for Black Horse Tavern.
A steady stream of regular customers came into the shop, picking up standard orders and asking for favorite breads. A variety of breads are baked throughout the day, almost all made by Mbaye. Mbaye’s wife, Mame, is often at the bakery during the day, managing the business.
Mbaye comes in at midnight on weekends to start making bread. With a helper, he mixes dough using starters he feeds regularly. He and his helper shape the loaves and wait for them to be ready to go into the oven. The timing varies every day, depending on weather and temperature.
“Since we make every bread from scratch, it’s a very long process,” Mbaye said. “We open at 9 a.m., but we keep baking. That’s why people keep getting fresh bread.”
He works with professional-grade equipment, including three massive mixers and a huge four-deck oven with loader. Wholesale accounts are growing, including a new one with Whole Foods. Customers regularly come from Boston, Andover, and as far as New Hampshire to get his bread. He has customers who always stop by his shop on the way up to Vermont.
“It’s very humbling to see that happen, so that makes you want to work harder,” Mbaye said.
He sticks to the basics in his breads: just flour, water and sea salt.
“And some Mamadou magic,” his wife added, laughing.
But Mbaye is serious. “We just make bread the way it’s meant to be made. We don’t do anything special. We just follow the craft." After a pause, he added, "The hours are really tough. You really have to love making bread to be able to do this job.”
Mbaye pointed out the different loaves on his shelves: sourdough, Italian, paysan, ciabatta, French baguette. Every loaf is unique, he said.
A tray of paysan loaves showed varying wide splits and shiny dark points of crust sticking up like stiff meringue. Asked if he slashed the loaves or did anything to create these effects, Mbaye said no. Then, raising his hands and motioning upward gently, like a flower coming out of the ground, he said, “It just blooms.”