...with Christopher MacLeod Words & Photos by Diana Crane (Spruce)
“How can a nation be great if their bread tastes like Kleenex?”
Julia Child dedicated her life to making a really hearty beef bourguignon, a perfectly juicy poulet rôti. She also asked some of the toughest questions—how does Wonderbread affect America’s national identity?
Christopher MacLeod, of Laune Bread, seems to be reforming this reputation all by himself. He’s kind of carrying the future of bread on his back—or, rather, behind him, in a bin attached to his bike. After a few years spent learning from some of the best bakers in the business, like Steve Horton of Rustica, MacLeod launched a small, subscription based bakery in October. Every Thursday morning, after a few days of mixing, growing, rolling, MacLeod loads up his bike, and delivers bread to about 60 houses in South Minneapolis. I sat down with him the other day at Sun Street Breads, where he leases kitchen space and brings his powerful little dream to life. Here’s what I learned about his history, his vision, and the perfect loaf.
I read that you went to Lewis and Clark College, and studied Communications and German Studies. Here you are in Minneapolis baking bread for a living—how’d that happen? So when I was in college I studied abroad in Munich for a year… That’s where I fell in love with bread. I met and became friends with a German woman whose family owned a bakery. Her dad just seemed like he was the happiest person in the world. When I came back to the U.S. and picked up classes again, I sort of realized that I was missing something. I wanted to work with my hands. After college, I got a job at Fressen, a German bakery in Portland… I moved to Minneapolis a year and a half ago because my dad’s here now, and because I thought it’d be a good place to test out my idea for a subscription based bakery.
Subscription based bakery. I’ve also heard you call it a “microbakery.” What’s that mean? People can subscribe to receive my bread either bi-weekly or weekly. If they’re in my delivery zone, I’ll drop it off by bike on Thursday morning, if not, they can come pick it up at my house. My whole goal is to reduce waste—I’m really trying to be zero impact. By having a subscription model, I bake as much bread as I need to bake, so ideally I’m not throwing anything away. I’m also trying to use all locally sourced flours and grains. Starting this thing small has been a way to limit myself… I’m really forcing myself to think about how I want to grow and expand.
What’s it been like sourcing everything locally? This is the heartland—you must have plenty of farmers to choose from. You’d be surprised. Starting this thing, one of my biggest challenges was finding flour. The grain system here is pretty far behind other regions. We might have good wheat, but the way that it’s milled isn’t how bakers wan to use it. More often than not, it’s too coarse, which makes it difficult to turn a really nice, airy loaf. All that being said, I’m pretty happy with the flour I have right now. My whole wheat comes from Askegaard Organic Farm in Moorhead, and my white flour comes from Lonesome Stone Milling in Wisconsin. That’s really the majority of my ingredients right there.
White and wheat. What’s your bread like? What’s the perfect loaf? All my breads are naturally leavened, and at least 50% whole grain, if not more. I’m going for kind of a wood fired style, so I’m trying to achieve a softer crust, and a pretty dark bake. My breads also tend to have a lot of water in them, so they last longer and they have a softer interior. I’ve started out by offering two subscription plans—the first is called “bread bread”… it’s a half whole wheat and half white. The other is called the “bäckers whim.” Every week it’s a different bread—like next week it’s cranberry corn, or today I’m doing toasted sunflower and malt extract. The toasted sunflower is a bread that the German baker I met makes. I didn’t get his recipe, but I just thought it was incredible so I tried to recreate it. A lot of the stuff I make is inspired by bakers I’ve met in my travels.
What’s your take on bread culture in the U.S. versus abroad? I feel like in Europe people don’t have this big problem with eating bread, like many people do here. To be fair, there are reasons why rustic bread sort of stopped being a thing in the U.S.—that was because of the quality of the bread, because of the ingredients bakers were putting in, like sawdust to make it cheaper. Neighborhood bakeries became these kind of untrustworthy spaces, and Wonderbread became this very clean, cheap, easy alternative.
I stopped eating white bread when I was in Germany. I just don’t think there’s much flavor to it and it doesn’t offer the same nutritional benefits that whole wheat flour, or rye or spelt have. My bread is easier to digest because it has whole grains in it, and because the bacteria in sourdough actually helps break down the gluten for you. It also has resistant starch and a lower glycemic index, so less sugar, you know.
You know a lot about bread. You kind of live bread. How does the way you think about it and work with it trickle into your everyday life? Making bread kind of forces me to slow down. I often feel like I’m moving 1,000 miles a minute. Bread is a really nice process where I’m forced to be patient. I have to consider whether the dough is ready to ferment, or ready to shape or ready to go in the oven. I have to slow down, so baking has become kind of zen for me. Hopefully this makes sense, but baking has also gotten me back into running. Even though I was standing 10-12 hours a day mixing, shaping, baking, my legs needed some bend and physical exertion. Running is a form of stress relief, and oftentimes it helps me take my mind off my workday. Bakers, with their schedule, typically go from work to sleep, which is often hard for me, as my mind doesn’t shut off easily. So by running, I am able to go through the movements of my day and by the time I’m done, my mind is quiet.
When I ask Christopher about his hobbies, he mentions baking, running, biking; he trails off a bit after that, searching. I make a little joke about the solitude, the alone time. These activities—some of my favorites as well—all feel extraordinarily quiet. He quickly mentions that he has also started writing quite a bit. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on bread— I’m working on a small series about where my flour comes from. I’m really interested in teaching people about bread, so I’ll write little notes and tuck them in with my deliveries each week… the greatest appeal of doing this was really building relationships with both my customers and my purveyors.” While his everyday goals may include getting to know how his starter grows, or understanding how his dough reacts to different temperatures, I recognize in Christopher a need for connection that stretches beyond the kitchen.