It’s been eight years since Simon Blackwell’s crispy baguettes and slow-fermented sourdough hit the Toronto scene, sending bread aficionados into paroxysms of pleasure.
And quite rightly so. Blackwell is obsessed with quality. His naturally leavened and hand-shaped breads are carried in the best shops, including Harvest Wagon, McEwan’s, Pusateri’s and Sanagan’s Meat Locker. His Blackbird Baking Co. loaves and baguettes leave their crumb prints on the tables at such eminent restaurants as Alo, Bymark, Constantine, Montecito and Planta.
This summer marks Blackwell’s fifth year operating out of a tiny storefront on Baldwin Street in Kensington Market. Before that, he ran a one-baker show for a year at the Soma store on King West. In the fall, he’ll launch a new bakery and retail shop on the city’s east side, effectively doubling his output, and more importantly, he says, improving his product. The Baldwin location will be fully dedicated to pastry production, while the new space in the former Capitol Records building at Queen and Broadview (635 Queen St. E.) will focus wholly on breads.
Blackwell is excited about his two new German-made six-deck Heuft ovens. “It’s state-of-the-art, old-world technology,” he says. The ovens use a system of circulating oil, heated by gas, to maintain a constant temperature, which allows him to bake more bread more efficiently and cost-effectively.
Manhattan’s Balthazar and Bread Alone in upstate New York use Heuft ovens, but Blackbird Baking co. will be the first bakery in Canada with these models. Two new ice- Cool proof boxes will provide the flexibility to extend proofing (or resting) time and process more breads at a consistent level of quality.
“We’ve had to turn away new retail and restaurant customers,” Blackwell says, “so hopefully we can go back to them once we’ve built up our capacity.” But he’s keen to ensure his breads meet his exacting standards before amping up production. Consistent with his sourdough regimen, Blackwell will move slowly. “It’s all about keeping the quality sky high.”
— DICK SNYDER