Friday, May 25, 2012

Meet the Baker: Diane Andiel

I am titling the post "Meet the Baker" because that's the name of the series and Diane Andiel is definitely a baker and an accomplished one at that. But I could just as well title the post "Meet the Farmer", "Meet the Cheesemaker", "Meet the Goat Raiser" or "Meet the Community Development Programmer" (her full-time job) because Diane is all that and does all that with a passion and dedication that would leave most of us panting from exhaustion.
I met Diane last year at a BBGA's baking class in Seattle and was instantly fascinated by what she told me: she lives on a farm outside Victoria on Vancouver Island, makes yogurt and cheese from the milk of her one cow and several goats and bakes bread year-round on Friday nights to sell at the nearby farmstand on Saturdays. She also grows many of the vegetables they eat at the farm (by "they" I mean her partner Ed who holds a full-time job as well and the occasional "wwoofer" who helps with the chores in exchange for room and board). She raises hens and sells their eggs. She also raises chickens for eating. What she cannot raise or grow, she likes to trade or swap for with another farmer or artisan so that she always knows where their food comes from. One eats very well at Diane's table (she is an excellent cook) as we found out when she kindly invited us to come and visit.
In the spring and summer (her busiest seasons), Diane bakes twenty-five loaves a week. Not a lot by professional standards but no mean feat when you work 9 to 5 outside the home five days a week and your only oven is the one in your kitchen stove. She makes a batch of sourdough white (the Norwich sourdough seen in the above picture) and a batch of 40% sour rye every week. In the summer she adds a multigrain. 
She keeps two starters, a wheat and a rye. The wheat lives on the counter in the kitchen and gets fed every day, morning and night. The rye spends part of the week in the refrigerator and gets taken out for refreshment the day before the baking. For the Norwich and the multigrain, she builds the starter on Thursday night...

...scales the other ingredients and does the mixing on Friday morning (including a 20-minute autolyse), shapes on Friday night and bakes early on Saturday morning. For the rye, the starter gets a build on Friday night and the mixing takes place on Saturday morning early. Follow a 90-minute bulk fermentation, the shaping and a 60-minute proofing. 

Diane with Mark and Sharon Sinclair at the Back Home Bakery 
(photo courtesy of Mark Sinclair, originally posted here)
Diane says her baking made huge strides forward in 2009 after her one-week internship at Mark Sinclair's Back Home Bakery in Kalispell, Montana. Not only did she come back with a treasure trove of recipes but she learned how to manage a production schedule (staggering fermentation and proofing according to oven availability) and also discovered that there was more than one way to bake a loaf of bread. For instance she now does all her baking using the convection function of her oven. Sure, she has been taught like most of us that you should bake in a classic oven, if possible on a pre-heated baking stone, but if she did, she could only bake two loaves at a time and her Saturday morning production would be halved: she can't afford to do that. More than anything else, she is a pragmatist: if it works on convection, then that's the way to go. And work it does! Her breads get a terrific oven spring and bakes to a beautiful crisp crust. Now that's a technique she learned from Mark and one I will certainly experiment with at home because if I can make it work for me, I could actually bake more.
Diane's bread bookshelf is pretty short: besides Mark's recipes (she uses his sour rye formula every week) and a couple of classics, The Fresh Loaf (where she got the formula for the Norwich sourdough) is her favorite font of new ideas. Martin Burnett, her baking instructor at Vancouver Island University, is also a source of inspiration. One of his recommendations is permanently engraved in her brain: "If you must err, err on the side of wetness, not dryness". Definitely a good motto to live by for a baker!
Watching Diane at work, I was amazed to see -again because the opposite has been hammered in my brain by various books and instructors- that she never checks the temperature of anything (except her oven). She says: "What's the point? It is what it is. I have no control over it". She relies on her experience to judge when a dough is ready to be shaped or baked.  As a baker, she considers herself lucky to be working in an old farmhouse (it was built in 1898) where the kitchen is always warm but where the other rooms are nice and cool, sometimes even cold. In the winter it is pretty easy: Fermentation and proofing both take place at a cool temperature in the dining room (which seldom gets used) and go on for twelve hours each. There is no need to get up in the middle of the night to bake. In summers, things get a bit hairier and she does get up very early!
Diane has been baking seriously for six years and selling her bread for five. She comes from a long tradition of baking women. Her maternal grandmother -who was German- always baked bread, mostly rye, and never let bread go to waste. Whatever wasn't eaten got ground up and incorporated in the next batch of dough (I really love that idea). Her paternal grandmother hailed from Czechoslovakia and was also into baking, but mostly cakes and sweet pastries. I have seen Diane whip up a spongecake for guests she was expecting in the afternoon and, believe me, a fairy with a magic wand couldn't have done it more effortlessly (at least that the way it looked like!). She says she uses less fat and sugar than her grandma did. Her cake certainly felt as light as the tip of an angel's wing. And even though she does not make cakes for sale, she does bake and sell sweet breads and pastries (stollen, hot cross buns, poppy seed brioches, etc.) for specific holidays.

Photos courtesy of Diane Andiel
But her baking genes do not tell the whole story. In a facebook exchange, Mark Sinclair (from the Back Home Bakery ) described Diane as a "jack of all trades" and the description definitely fits. Diane is one of the most multifaceted person I know: she seems to be leading many full lives simultaneously.
As a community activity planner, she plays an essential role in helping develop affordable and accessible programs for all citizens of the district: she meets with community associations to determine the kind of support they need and the best way to provide it; she puts them in touch with the right people; she spearheads projects such as garden-plots for seniors who love to garden but find it too physically demanding to do it on their own or community kitchens for at-risk people who have stopped cooking for themselves. When these activities involve the growing and/or the cooking and the sharing of food, so much the better. Diane is convinced that food is part of who we are and that eating together is a good way of building not only families but also communities. Inspiring others to cook is one of her great joys. Her oldest son bakes his own bread with a starter he made himself from scratch and that makes her happy although she says she would like it even better if he asked her for advice from time to time!
As a goat raiser, she attends meetings and shows (she was the president of Vancouver Island Goat Association for years) and even traveled once as far at Nashville for a goat conference where she got to meet like-minded people from all over Canada.
As a farmer, she grows her own vegetables and greens (with her partner Ed, she even assembled her own greenhouse, a task which she definitely doesn't recommend as a relationship booster!), raises chickens and hens as well as a Jersey cow and several goats. She is not in the least sentimental about her animals: they are not raised as pets and while she acknowledges the strength of her connection to them, she doesn't romanticize it or shed tears when they are sold for meat. But they have the best possible existence on the farm: she patiently bottle-feeds the baby goats when the mothers prove incompetent (which apparently happens more often that you'd think) and puts sweaters on them when the nights are cold; her cow has the run of the meadow and so do the goats; Zeva, the Sarplaninac livestock guardian dog, gets walked every day, rain or shine,  even though she roams the grounds freely day and night, and everybody eats very well (including the chickens who get not only grain but all the table scraps and, ever hopeful, flock to the fence the minute anybody appears in the kitchen doorway).

As a baker, she is constantly seeking to hone her skills. I asked Diane what she did for fun and relaxation and she said: "I take baking classes!" Of course she is an advocate for lifelong learning in everything she does and when you are into cheese-making and animal husbandry, every day brings its own discoveries. As she sees it, part of her job as a farmer is precisely to convey what she learns to the public and to convince it that buying food from a farm is a better choice. But bread, ah, bread is in a class of its own: "Eating a slice of freshly baked bread is an experience like no other" and you can't express it with words.  So she bakes and with her baking, she certainly does her best to make the experience possible for those who are lucky enough to live in her neighborhood.


  1. Nice one, MC. Brought back memories of my childhood on a farm in NJ, where we grew chickens, collies, and rotated tomatoes, corn, and potatoes. However, I didn't learn much of the skills needed to live a farm life, and I actually remember hating eggs and chickens too. So, I guess I'm playing catchup now.

    I love the BC part of the world, don't you?

  2. Thanks, Doc. Yes, I love BC and I love the way nature is made part of the city, both in Vancouver and in Victoria: we walked for miles along the shore on both sides of the harbor in Victoria and it was just lovely.
    My grandparents raised chickens and rabbits and had a huge veggie and berry garden and fruit trees against a sunny old wall but I didn't learn any of their skills either. I regret it deeply now. Contrary to you, I guess, I loved feeding the chickens and going to get the eggs every day. I also loved eating both! ;-)

  3. Gratulálok a bloghoz! Gyönyörű kenyér és kedves állatok!
    Üdvözlettel: Terike

  4. Köszönöm (thank you), Terike!

  5. Hello MC,
    I am completely in awe of your friend Diane, and all she accomplishes.
    It is evident Diane takes very good care of everything - the animals, the gardens, her starters - all look like they thrive as a result of her efforts (her sourdough bread looks amazing)!
    And she has an active part in helping her community thrive, too, with her full-time job - Diane is a real inspiration.
    The farm setting looks idyllic; love your photos, especially the ones of the baby goat, and that exquisite red poppy.
    :^) breadsong

    1. Hi breadsong, yes, I agree, Diane is pretty amazing and a real inspiration. I am so happy I got to know her. Thank you for your kind comment!

  6. great bread, it really deserved a post and your attention. as usual, love your writing and the pictures are beautiful. would like one of those loaves right now, they truly look amazing. I wonder what her secret is... ley look so well risen and crispy... the pictures of the animals are touching.

  7. Hi Barbara, I too wonder what Diane's secret is. I watched her closely and never found out! :-) No, seriously, I think her secret is in her level of commitment and that's truly what I admire the most. She is able to do all this and to do it well. There are no shortcuts and it pays off in terms of quality. Her breads are not only beautiful but very tasty...

    1. hi :)
      so here I find your answer finally.
      I can agree on that. commitment is often the answer...

  8. What a great tribute to Diane who works harder than almost anyone I've ever met - but I'm sure she astounds all who meet her. Lovely pics too. Thanks MC!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, Rhona! Sorry it took me a while to respond but I was without an Internet connection for a few days. Gasp!

  9. I'm one of those lucky people who live close enough to Diane to have enjoyed her bread, cheese, chickens and friendship. Diane is one of the most industrious women I've ever met and her bread is as delicious as it looks. Thank you for honoring her with such a beautiful tribute!

    1. Hello Denise! I am so glad you liked the article. I am sorry it took me a while to reply but I have been traveling and without access to the Internet for the past few days. You are indeed lucky to live close to Diane! I wish I did too...



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