Blue Plate Special: 7 South Bakery and Cafe
7 South Bakery and Cafe owners Kay and Mike Dougherty with their Red Pepper Crab Bread befoe baking
At this time of year, as the air takes on a chill and the days get noticeably shorter, 7 South Bakery and Café in Bernardston beckons enticingly. The small bakery is cozy and warm. And it sends forth aromas that appeal particularly in autumn.
The one-room establishment smells like freshly brewed coffee and warm, yeasty bread. The shelves are lined with treats from store-made crackers to cookies that say “Boo!” to walnut-praline pumpkin squares.
Owners Mike and Kay Dougherty have both been chefs all their lives. “We have been around the country,” Mike Dougherty told me when I visited a couple of weeks ago. Dougherty’s father was a baker, and the younger Dougherty was apprenticed to a chef at the age of 16. He met his spouse while working at a restaurant in Boston. Before moving to Bernardston they ran a restaurant in Larchmont, N.Y.
I asked how they ended up in Franklin County. “We wanted to get away from New York. And we wanted to do something other than a restaurant,” he said. Although the couple’s hours might seem onerous — they generally work at the bakery from four in the morning until one or two in the afternoon — the two have their evenings to themselves.
“I’d been to Shelburne Falls,” Dougherty explained. “I liked the area. We came up and looked very hard at everything around.” The bakery’s building had been a vegan restaurant, and it struck the Doughertys as just right for their new enterprise.
They opened the bakery in the summer of 2000 and found Bernardston welcoming.
Their clientele is mostly local, although tourists do sometimes visit the cafe since it is on Routes 5 and 10 (7 South Street is, not surprisingly, the address), not far from Interstate 91.
“People find us on the way to other places,” Dougherty said.
He couldn’t identify any one best seller among his wares. “We do the full range. Our breads are popular. People like all kinds of seasonal pies. I decorate wedding cakes. We even make crackers.”
He did point to one item that is his personal favorite. The Dutch crescent loaf is a sourdough bread with a crunchy rice-flour-based topping. Mike Dougherty’s father made a similar loaf in the family bakery.
Kay Dougherty is responsible for creating seasonal variations in the café’s menu. She was happily planning her ghost, bat, and pumpkin cookies when I visited — and preparing to say goodbye to cookies shaped like autumn leaves. The pair will celebrate Thanksgiving as well as Halloween in the weeks to come. One of their special-order breads is a whole-wheat loaf the shape (and size!) of a roast turkey.
The Doughertys are proud of their products and their business. “There aren’t many (bakers) around,” remarked Mike Dougherty. “Nobody wants to get out of bed.” He added that he enjoys being able to produce a variety of baked goods in a variety of volumes.
Scores of hamburger buns were in the oven as we talked, destined for the Brick Wall Burger in Greenfield. At the same time the Doughertys were baking a lone red-pepper loaf.
The Doughertys get a chance to teach on the job, a task they find rewarding. They hire a number of high-school students from Northfield and Bernardston each year, carefully training them to bake as well as work at the café’s counter.
“It’s a nice place to work,” Mike Dougherty informed me.
It would indeed be a nice place to work. The Doughertys and their small staff are calm and highly organized. The atmosphere in the bakery is friendly. A few tables are available inside and outside for people who want to sip and munch on the spot. And the baked goods are both tasty and varied.
One of the most imaginative offerings at 7 South, available only by special order, follows the recipe below. Mike Dougherty carefully cuts out pieces of dough to create the crab shape of his loaf. I may eschew the shape and just make a loaf of red-pepper bread when I try his recipe at home. Or I may throw caution to the wind and try creating a crab.
It probably won’t look QUITE as lovely as the one from 7 South, however.
7 SOUTH RED PEPPER CRAB BREAD
2 cups pureed roasted red peppers (home roasted or purchased in a jar)
3/4 ounce fresh yeast or 1 packet instant (rapid-rise) dry yeast
7½ cups (2 pounds) flour, plus a little more flour if needed
2¼ teaspoons (1/2 ounce) salt
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) powdered milk
2¼ teaspoons (3/4 ounce) shortening
egg wash (1 egg, 1 tablespoon water, and 1 pinch salt whisked together)
Place the pepper puree in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast, flour, salt, powdered milk, and shortening.
Using a mixer with a dough hook, mix the dough until it comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 8 to 10 minutes. (If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, first blend the ingredients with a spoon and then turn them onto a lightly floured board and knead them.) If the mixture is too loose, add a little more flour.
Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with a damp towel. Let it rise until it doubles in bulk. Mike Dougherty estimates that this will take about 40 minutes. If your house is cold like mine, instead of toasty like the bakery, it may take longer.
Or, you can put a pan of hot water in your oven and let the dough rise in there.
Briefly knead the dough again; then cut off pieces to shape your crab. Dougherty is very precise about his measurements and weighs the pieces of dough. The centerpiece of the crab weighs 24 ounces. The long legs at the bottom weigh 4 ounces. And so forth.
He suggests that home cooks may simply eyeball the pieces of crab. Assemble the crab on a baking sheet covered with parchment. With a razor or a serrated knife cut little slits in the body and legs of the crab to indicate joints.
The crab eyeballs should be shaped separately and then semi-buried in the loaf. Attach the eyeballs to the main body of the crab with toothpicks to keep the eyes from falling out. If you have dough left over, shape it into a small separate loaf, and bake it on the side.
Allow the crab loaf to rise again on its sheet for 1/2 hour. After the first 15 minutes of this rising preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Brush the top of the crab gently with egg wash. (You may not need all of the egg wash.) The egg wash gives the loaf an attractive gloss. Bake the loaf until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you knock on it.
Makes 1 crab.
Writer and singer Tinky Weisblat lives in Hawley. For more stories and recipes visit her blogs, In “Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens” (www.ourgrandmotherskitchens.com) and “What’s a Girl to Do?” (www.tinkyweisblat.wordpress.com).