Bread Before Dawn

Originally published in Raleigh Magazine. Words in italics are my field notes for you, the T&S reader.

“Is that a timer?”

Joshua Bellamy cocks his head. It’s a Friday morning at Boulted Bread, and timers are going off every 10 minutes or so. The sky is still pitch black, but the bakery has been quietly bustling for hours. In contrast to the dark chill of the outdoors, the bakery’s kitchen is warm, filled with a rich, grainy aroma and a work playlist bumping with a driving beat. Flour permeates the place—it is ingrained in the fabric of aprons, in comfy baker’s shoes, doughy handshakes, even in Bellamy’s ball cap.

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“So much of bread is flour, over 50 percent is flour, so we wanted access to the freshest ingredient possible,” he explains, leaning against the small room where the in-house mill rests. The mill, built by co-founder Fulton Forde, is a centerpiece of both the kitchen and the customer’s area. It works in the background, emitting something between a hum and a grind, as th top millstone rotates steadily. Between the mill and the newly acquired sifter, 70 percent of the flour the bakery uses is milled in-house. Bellamy says the process of milling is essentially the same here as it has been since time immemorial; his team has the luxury of plugging its mill into the wall, but the basic process follows tradition.

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The mill is characteristic of the mix of old and new in Boulted Bread. The space is full of young bakers honing a craft reminiscent of the Old World. The decor in the bakery is minimal, not in the intimidating white-on-white-on-white way, but in a way that sorts priorities in the interest of service and craft, rather than unattainable aesthetic. The bakers sort out collaborations by vibe and promote on Instagram, but they also foster community, working hard at a job that requires much heavy lifting and patience.

When Forde, Bellamy and Sam Kirkpatrick plotted out the idea for Boulted Bread around five years ago, they dreamed of a simple, sturdy bakery. To “boult” is simply to sift, and, Bellamy says, Boulted represents their sifted-down vision: to “do a small variety of things very well.” They drew up a menu reflecting this, with around five types of bread. They found their location off of West South Street, and renovated it, DIY style, financing the last three months of work through weekend bake sales. In August of 2014, Boulted Bread (staffed only by Bellamy, Kirkpatrick and Forde) opened its doors. Demand required the bakery to expand quickly to include a capable crew, but the work remains the same.

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Because of all the lifting and hauling involved in running a bakery, it is necessary to know the best way to do the heavy lifting without throwing out one’s back. One of the bakers mentioned that she actually works out outside of work to equip her for the job.

Because of all the lifting and hauling involved in running a bakery, it is necessary to know the best way to do the heavy lifting without throwing out one’s back. One of the bakers mentioned that she actually works out outside of work to equip her for the job.

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Since it is Friday, the bakeries are making more pastries for the weekend crowd. Chief pastry-maker Brittany Ansel will have a rotation of croissants, apple turnovers and sweet cinnamon spirals flying in and out of the oven throughout the morning. Up in the front half of the kitchen, Emily Dittmar and Dawn Keyser work on the bread. In both sections of the kitchen, everything but the oven is on wheels, to allow for the constantly shifting needs of the workspace. The team works well together, toeing the line of an industrious matter-of-factness with dedication to each task, and enjoyment of each other’s company. Ansel theorizes that the collaborative environment makes for better, more enriched bread. Hearty, full-sized loaves and bagel-esque bialys appear from the oven, the hefty door squeaking every time it’s opened for a quick check on the bread.

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“When I first started baking bread, a lot of it was pretty mystical,”  Bellamy explains of his baker’s mindset. “There’s a lot going on that you don’t quite fully understand. Then, because you learn more and more, the science kind of takes over for a phase—maybe for a couple of years. And then, at a certain point, you kind of forget about the science and it becomes mysticism again, or intuition.” That hard-won intuition guides the team as it adjusts to the daily variables in flour, temperature and humidity to create a product that is consistent but not mechanically uniform.

Josh, co-owner. He is so casual as a person that it was odd to refer to him as Bellamy, but such are the restrictions of printed style.

Josh, co-owner. He is so casual as a person that it was odd to refer to him as Bellamy, but such are the restrictions of printed style.

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When you’re busy working in the bakery, sunrise sneaks up on you. One minute it’s dark, the next, streaks of pink fill the city sky and turn golden as a steady stream of quiet customers file in through the front door. Raleigh has much to offer this little bakery, both in terms of a solid, supportive set of fellow bakers and a community built of friends, collaborators and relatives.

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“It’s really awesome for me that my grandparents come here on Sunday,” says Bellamy. “They go to church, and they come here.” Forde’s parents also stop in about once a week, to say hello and to administer a round of hugs, even though he retired from the bakery earlier this year.

“This place just beckons to all of us,” Bellamy continues. “It was a nice opportunity to not only be supported by a loving community that we grew up in and we know, but also to, in some small way, nourish that community, too.” Bellamy acknowledges that it sounds sentimental but, surrounded by people who genuinely care about the trade, and the people who pass through the shop each day, it rings true.

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There’s something beautifully reminiscent about being handed a pastry over the counter, heat soaking through the brown paper bag. Knowing the people that made it, and the work and ingredients that went into it, gave me the sense of a Norman Rockwell painting. Which sounds confusing, I know. But that’s why it’s in the notes, not the actual article.

There’s something beautifully reminiscent about being handed a pastry over the counter, heat soaking through the brown paper bag. Knowing the people that made it, and the work and ingredients that went into it, gave me the sense of a Norman Rockwell painting. Which sounds confusing, I know. But that’s why it’s in the notes, not the actual article.