The aromas of freshly baked pastries and breads are irresistible to me. I can picture myself wafting along behind the promising aroma, my nose leading me directly to the source and its reward. While studying bread and pastry at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, my peers and I raided the pastry box daily before morning classes began—despite the fact that we would be sampling food all day long while we learned the art of classic French cooking. I remember eating breads fresh out of the oven that were too hot to handle, but we still gobbled it down. According to John O’Connor, owner of SLO Baked, whom I met only recently, you can’t really appreciate bread when it’s that hot: “Bread tastes best once it’s cooled down; besides that, it’s impossible to slice while it’s hot.”
- PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
- FOLLOW YOUR NOSE : Even if you didn’t realize it, you’ve probably consumed the delicious fare produced by SLO Baked.
O’Connor and his wife Vanessa own and operate SLO Baked Bakery on Tank Farm Road. Although I didn’t know these two entrepreneurs, I’ve been eating their decadent pastries for years. In fact, I’ll bet you have, too. They bake their goods seven nights a week to deliver fresh pastries every morning to popular coffee shops like Black Horse, Peet’s, West End Espresso and Tea, and Outspoken—A Beverage Bistro, among many others. You’ll also find SLO Baked breads at New Frontiers and Spencer’s in Morro Bay. Unfortunately, they don’t have a retail shop at the bakery where you can buy their freshly baked products direct, but you can order their extraordinary pastries and cakes by visiting their website (more details later).
I first learned of the O’Connors when my editor forwarded an e-mail he received from John, who wrote in to promote their professional bakery. As surely as if I’d smelled the alluring aromas of pastries, I was immediately drawn in by his story about their bakery that supplies so many SLO County businesses with first-rate treats that are perfect with a morning coffee or latte before work.
“Everybody is eating our pastries, but they don’t know that it’s from SLO Baked,” O’Connor explained when I called him. “I’ve figured out that someone in SLO County is eating one of our pastries every three minutes.”
Each night the O’Connors and their two employees produce about 1,000 pastries. That’s not including special orders or breads. I enjoyed watching Kassi Ostrander, a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, preparing various pastries. She started by passing the dough through a giant rolling machine, which provided her a sheet about the size of a twin bed sheet. O’Connor noted that the trick is getting it over to the preparation table, but Ostrander had no problem moving it. She deftly cut out pieces of various sizes she needed, placing them on the table to make cinnamon rolls, chocolate-filled Danish, and various fruit-filled treats.
SLO Baked was originally founded by Ken and Sherry Bliss, who, Vanessa recalled, ran it for about 25 years. The O’Connors bought them out in 2006, and they’ve been running it seven nights a week ever since.
“We tried taking Sundays off, but it was far less tedious to bake seven nights rather than do a double shift on Saturdays,” she admitted.
Vanessa is a graduate of the Clark College culinary school in Washington State. I admired these hardworking bakers for their integrity and commitment. I don’t know about you, but these are the kind of people I want preparing the pre-made foods I buy.
O’Connor informed me that his specialty is making the croissants: “I had to change the recipe, so I played with it to find the right flour and a secret ingredient that puts ours a cut above the rest.”
And he does make honest French croissants; the handmade dough consists of flour and real butter, a little milk, sugar, and salt, which results in delightfully flaky croissants with 54 layers of butter.
“I do put a secret ingredient in them,” he said with a mischievous smile, “but I can’t tell you what’s in it.”
He explained that most bakers use Danish dough, which includes eggs, to make croissants. But eggs aren’t part of the classic recipe for French croissants, and that’s why the Danish version creates a doughy rather than flaky croissant. SLO Baked’s Danish dough is also made with care; O’Connor said it has 18 layers to make a delicious, tender-crumbed treat.
Although consumers can’t buy a single croissant or loaf of marble rye bread directly from SLO Baked, you can order pastry trays, desserts, and beautifully decorated cakes for any occasion. Dan O’ Connor, John’s brother, has won numerous first-place awards at the California State Fair for his creative, decorated cakes. He also works at Carlock’s Bakery in Los Osos. You can find out all you want to know about the artistic O’Connor’s at slobaked.com. But I must warn you: Photos of their treats might make you drop whatever you’re doing to run to your nearest coffee shop to buy some.
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