Suzanne Gessler's day begins in the middle of the night.
When the sun is barely announcing itself on a peach horizon, she's bustling around the kitchen at the back of the Pennyloaf Bakery in her flour-dusted Crocs.
In a few hours, her Corydon Avenue shop will be visited by office workers picking up a half-dozen morning buns for their 9 a.m. meetings and passersby tempted by the rustic loaves of sourdough bread neatly lined up in the front window.
At this hour, though, it's just Gessler and baker Brittney Albanese, and Nat King Cole on the stereo. "We're the neighbourhood watch," she jokes.
Gessler, 39, wears a lot of aprons at Pennyloaf: owner, head baker and dishwasher.
This is her second career. She worked as a social worker and city planner. Burned out, she decided to start over. Her vision: a spot that turned out small-batch classics baked by human beings using local and organic ingredients whenever possible.
"I wanted it to be small and neighbourly," she says. That's the community planner in her; she knows the ingredients of a walkable neighbourhood. Pennyloaf became a reality three years ago.
Gessler's passion for sourdough bread dovetails with her passion for old-school baking which is done in a brick wood-fire oven, the crown jewel of her kitchen. Kneading, lifting, folding, cutting, shaping — it's all done by hand.
Gessler prefers the tradition and ritual of working that way. Besides, "what you gain in efficiency, you lose in flavour," she says of modern interventions.
Sourdough begins with a starter, a combination of flour, water, yeast and bacteria. Starters are living cultures and, as such, need to be fed.
Gessler jots down observations on temperature, smell, weight and hydration. Starters can last a long time with some TLC. Gessler's starter is six years old; with age comes flavour.
"Starters get passed down from family to family, restaurant to restaurant, bakery to bakery — like, it's old," she says.
"People have studied it. It's the same symbiotic yeast and bacteria relationship here as it is in California, as it is in India, as it is anywhere in the world.
"They think that's one of the reasons bread and humans kind of go together."
— Jen Zoratti
Photography by Mikaela MacKenzie