Marcus Larson/News-Register##Danny Wilser said he loves working in his new bakery’s kitchen, which glistens with stainless steel. The open space also makes it easy for him to chat with customers while he’s working.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Danny Wilser said he loves working in his new bakery’s kitchen, which glistens with stainless steel. The open space also makes it easy for him to chat with customers while he’s working.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##An array of Wilser’s baked goods fills the counter at the new Custom Baking Company southwest of McMinnville.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##An array of Wilser’s baked goods fills the counter at the new Custom Baking Company southwest of McMinnville.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Michael McKenney and Danny Wilser originally planned to retire after selling the Crescent Café. “But how many baked goods can you eat at home?” Wilser asked, explaining why they opened their bakery in December.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Michael McKenney and Danny Wilser originally planned to retire after selling the Crescent Café. “But how many baked goods can you eat at home?” Wilser asked, explaining why they opened their bakery in December.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: Flour, yeast and magic

 

Danny Wilser placed a slab of butter atop a rectangle of dough, beginning the lengthy process of folding and rolling that would eventually create numerous layers of crisp pastry.

He eased the edges of the dough over the butter, which was a little warmer than 60 degrees, just the temperature he prefers to work with. Then he pressed his rolling pin across the mass, rolling first lengthwise, then sideways to stretch the dough into a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches.

He folded one third of the dough over, laying it atop the middle section, then folded the other end over that. After dusting it with flour, he pressed and rolled again, flattening and stretching the dough into another rectangle.

Fold and roll. Sprinkle with flour, then fold and roll again. Sprinkle. Fold. Roll.

The finished dough would rest overnight in the refrigerator at the Custom Baking Company, the new bakery Wilser runs with his partner, Micheal McKenney. The next morning, he would shape it into melt-in-your mouth butterhorns and other pastries.

"If I make enough butterhorns, there may be one left over for me to take home," he said.

At the very least, he will have had the fun of indulging his passion: baking.

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Fold and roll.

Wilser was in the kitchen when he and McKenney ran the Crescent Cafe on Third Street. They sold the restaurant last year, expecting to retire. 

"You can cook and bake at home," Wilser said, "but you can only eat so much."

So, to feed his baking habit, they opened Custom Baking Company in December.

Located in an industrial park just southwest of McMinnville -- next to D Stake Mill and Washington Roofing -- the bakery is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. The menu includes a changing array of bread, pastries, cakes and pies; custom orders are accepted.

"This is nice -- it's something I can do; there's no age limit to baking," he said, adding, "I wouldn't be happy not baking."

Wilser calls the new venture a perfect cross between baking at home and baking for a living. Here, he can make what pleases him, as well as what pleases customers.

In his first job years ago, baking meant quantity: 30 identical chocolate cakes, for instance, or dozens of look-alike cookies.

But now, if he feels like baking a sourdough chocolate cake or a coconut cream pie, that's what he does. "Some days are good days for carrot cake," he said. Some might be just right for Red, White and Blue cake with white batter embedded with blueberries and iced with raspberry butter cream. Others for Coconut White Mountain Cake, made from a century-old recipe.

Whatever he makes, he enjoys what he's doing, and that leads to tasty results.

"Even if it's nutritionally the same," he said, "people can tell when you put a lot of yourself into it."

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Fold and roll. Dust with flour, fold and roll.

Custom Baking Company shares its location with a wine bar, ********. The bakery side features an open kitchen, where customers can watch Wilser and his assistant -- his mother Elsie -- at work.

He said he enjoys being out in the open, where he can hear customers gasp at the sight of a domed apple pie or a sticky bun dripping with brown sugar and pecans. He likes talking with them as he measures and stirs and shapes.  

"I've done enough of this so I don't have to think about every step," he said as he worked the danish dough. "Body memory kicks in."

Yet no matter how many times he's made danish or bread or pastry cream, he said, he's always intrigued.

"You start with dough and butter and end up with so many layers," he said. "Or you start with milk and sugar and stir and stir and stir and it's custard."

He's especially fascinated by the most basic bakery product, bread. It starts with humble ingredients, often just wheat flour, yeast and water. With time and kneading to develop the gluten, "it changes completely; it's alive."

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Fold and roll. Fold and roll.

Wilser watched his mother cook and bake when he was growing up, although, he admitted, "I was more interested in eating, then."

Their neighbor in Cupertino, California, owned a bakery. He offered a job to Wilser, who wasn't yet in high school.  

"It was fun, and he was very willing to teach," he recalled. "He figured that anything he could show me was something I could help him do."

Back then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the bakery turned out danishes, donuts, cookies, dutch crunch rolls and cakes, lots of cakes. His boss decorated wedding cakes, too, and together they made many petit fours and finger sandwiches for the boss's wife's catering company.

As a teen, Wilser said, he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. But he was happy to be working.

Liking the food business, he went on to become a restaurant cook. Then he worked for his old neighbor again, in a branch of the original bakery. He returned to restaurants, and eventually ran one in San Francisco, Ella's, for 16 years. 

There, he said, "I had the opportunity to concentrate on baking again. I did a lot of learning."

He built on the baking skills he'd mastered as a teen, educating himself in more advanced methods and developing his feel for various doughs and processes as he went along.

He grasped some techniques quickly, he said. Others challenged him to try again and again. 

"I've probably done things that are just blasphemy (to formally trained bakers), but I learned what works for me," he said.

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Fold and roll. Dust, fold and roll.

Bread became his focus. While most Bay Area bakeries were turning out hard-crusted, European-style loaves, Wilser developed the sandwich-style breads with soft crusts he now offers at Custom Baking Company.

"I usually start with two or three recipes, do some comparing, look at the proportions," he said, referring to how he creates his own recipes for yeast and quick breads and other baked items.

With quick breads, for instance, once you understand the proportions of acidic ingredients, flour and moisture, you can easily make substitutions, he said.

Of course, changes don't always lead to perfection.

"If you can screw something up, I've done it," he said, laughing. "I've been amazed how wrong they could go."

Mistakes are part of the learning process, though. "It seems like you can learn as much by learning what not to do," he said. "Sometimes you have to go back to the beginning and try again."

Over the years, he has perfected recipes for breads such as cornmeal molasses, potato buttermilk and oatmeal golden raisin.

Last summer, he perfected a sourdough recipe that features "a hint of corn" to round out the flavor of the tangy starter. "I don't remember how many things I tried, or why I tried them," he said, but eventually he arrived at just the right combination.

He's happy to make use of his sourdough starter. It's an old friend. 

"I've been dragging it around for years," he said, pointing out a cloth-covered crock in a corner of the kitchen. 

Wilser also uses the starter for his popular sourdough chocolate cake. He said he tried making a white cake with the starter, but the results didn't come up to his standards. He's still pondering why -- perhaps the cocoa in the chocolate cake recipe makes the difference?

"I like a challenge," he said. "To me, it's fascinating. Sometimes what works is not what you're expecting; sometimes what you're expecting doesn't work."

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Roll and fold. Sprinkle, roll and fold.

"Baking is a different rhythm than cooking. A little slower, more involved," Wilser said.

Like the laminated danish dough, most baked goods require multiple steps. Doughs need to rest or rise. Cakes need to cool before frosting; pie crusts may need to be blind baked, to set the bottom, before they are filled.

"Pies are wonderful," he said. "Pie dough is such a great vehicle for fruit or custard. But pies are under-appreciated."

That's not a problem with the ones he makes, though. 

Last week's coconut cream pie, featuring with organic coconut milk, had people lined up. One customer bought two pieces, one for lunch and one for dinner.

"I'm not trying to be bossy," Wilser told her as he sliced the pie, "but one piece is a little bigger than the other. I'd save that one for dinner, if I were you."

Another time, admirers flocked to see his apple pie, which looked like half a basketball, it's golden crust stretched taut over apples heaped twice as high as the pie dish. The apples came from Finnicum Farms, he said.

Wilser relishes the bounty available within a few miles of the bakery. He's looking forward to this spring and summer's crop of rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, apples. 

He started using Yamhill County fruit many years ago, when he still had the Bay Area restaurant. "I'd go to the produce terminal and wait for the Hurst berries -- I didn't even know where Sheridan was," he recalled.

He was familiar with the Portland area, though, since his brother has lived there since the 1970s. So when he and McKenney decided to look for more space than they had in Sonoma County, California, they visited Northwest Oregon.

"It's so beautiful here, so green, with half as many people in the whole state as there are in the Bay Area," Wilser said. "We love it here. It's a wonderful place, and people are great."

In 2006, they bought a 130-acre farm, where they raise Angus beef.

Wilser feeds the cattle in the wee hours of the morning, then drives to the bakery to begin the day's work.

On the day after he rolled and folded the laminated dough, he pulled it from the refrigerator and began shaping it. Bear claws. Cheese danishes. Pastries filled with the Oregon strawberries he's been saving in the freezer.

And butterhorns, enough for every customer, plus one for him to take home.

Fold and roll. Sprinkle, fold and roll.

Bake. Eat. Repeat.

 

 

 

 

Comments

macgreg

Sounds Great,can you make puff pastry

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