Max Leonard’s days — and nights — revolve almost completely around bread-making.
From personally milling the Michigan-grown heritage wheat, rye or spelt grains, firing off numbers from his flour-dusted calculator to determine just how long he’ll need to let the dough leaven based on the temperature in his home kitchen and finding the optimal methods of producing the steam needed to achieve the perfect level of crunch to the crust — to watch Leonard at work is to witness a mad chemist toiling away with formulas in a laboratory.
“In terms of planning and estimating and timing and getting things done before I have to do this and when do I sleep and all that, understanding how this functions is like very, very, very crucial,” says Leonard.
Set to open in September in the Sawtooth building at 4884 Grand River Ave., the project is the brainchild of Jessica Hicks and Dai Hughes, owners of Corktown’s popular cafe Astro Coffee. The duo dreamed up the cafe and wholesale production space out of a need to expand upon Astro’s go-to selection of egg sandwiches and pastries. On top of offering a dining area and grab-and-go coffee counter, the bakery will feature Leonard’s signature line of whole grain, country wheat, country olive, sweet potato-sage and other varieties of hearty rye and spelt loaves.
Leonard likens the process of bread baking to that of the fermentation involved in beer or wine-making, the latter of which he also a background in. He starts with stone grinding whole grains that he sources from Hampshire Farms or Ferris Organic Farm a few days prior to mixing. Milling at home, he explains helps to maintain the natural flavor of the grains, while preserving the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are often absent from your typical loaf of store-bought Wonder Bread.
What makes Leonard’s baked goods unique is that he forgoes the use of instant or active-dry yeast, an innovation that gained popularity for its convenience in mass production within the last century, but that results in a less interesting loaf of bread. Instead, he uses a sourdough starter, otherwise known as a mother dough, and allows it to sit for several days. The naturally occurring fermentation process that results creates a more complex and interesting flavor and texture. Once the dough is built out and shaped (reserving a bit of that starter for the next batch), he places it in a conventional electric oven, which he has outfitted with a pizza stone to help retain heat.
Perhaps the most striking feature of his at-home operation at this point is that Leonard delivers to people’s homes on demand. While that aspect hasn’t caught on much, it’s a nonetheless unique and comforting bonus for customers who might thrill in having an aromatic, fresh-out-the-oven loaf show up at their front door steps just in time for their morning coffee.
Prior to getting picked up by the Ochre team, Leonard began honing his skills selling fresh loaves at a stand at the Corktown Farmers Market. Last year, he began developing the bread program at Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails. In May, he set out on his own completely and has been selling his baked goods at both the Dequindre Cut Freight Yard on Saturdays and the farmers market in downtown’s Capital Park each Tuesday.
He says he’s using this time perfect his craft on a smaller scale, while gearing up to hire a team at the forthcoming commercial space.
“It’s a lot of work, just keeping the place clean is really tough because I destroy it two times a week, like totally destroy it,” he says laughing.
Once he moves into the larger space, he’ll be able to take the improvisational skills he learned in his home kitchen and to continue his bread-making journey on a larger scale.
• Max Bread [Official Website]
• Maxwell Leonard [Instagram]