Photos: A Morning at Clear Flour Bread
It’s 7:50 a.m. and Brookline is relatively quiet—except for the line beginning to form outside of Clear Flour Bread. The bread bakery opens at 8 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends, but even on weekdays, people are drawn to the shop by both routine and the smell of freshly baked buns. Lines always form before the doors open.
Inside the bakery, there’s a different sort of quiet—it’s purposeful and busy, and the mood is especially intense. Clear Flour’s employees are working faster than usual to prepare for Clear Flour’s annual German Week. The bakers and pastry chefs are preparing special additions to their regular menu: soft pretzels, bienenstich (which the bakers call a “bee sting,” a sweet cake with honey, almonds, and whipped cream), apfelstreusel, kaiser rolls, and whatever else the bakery’s owners, Abe and Christy Faber, decide to make that day. Although they often have German offerings, this week (through Wednesday) German pastries and breads will be the focal point of Clear Flour’s menu.
Ever wonder what an early morning at Clear Flour Bread is like? Check out our behind-the-scenes look at the bakery as the team preps for German Week:
Christy Faber rented the cheap Brookline space 30 years ago because she was working as a caterer and needed some kind of headquarters. Her husband jokes that the laundromat next door was a common drug dealing spot when she bought the storefront. Because Christy hated the taste of the bread that she bought for catering events, she began making her own. Soon, she transitioned from catering to baking and borrowed $3,000 from her parents to start her own business. The name “Clear Flour” came to her as she sat on a bag of flour one morning. The name refers to flour that is at its most basic stage of development, which reflects Christy’s desire for simplicity at the bakery.
Christy and Abe are both artists— she is a dancer and he is a sculptor—and they met years ago through mutual friends. As their business grew, they slowly began to purchase more sophisticated equipment. Now they have a huge bakery that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Clear Flour has 35 employees, so general manager Carrie Diana calls it a “big small business.” Christy and Abe only stop working to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, and even then they often celebrate those holidays in the bakery because pre-ferments (which are required for their breads) need to be fed daily and prepped 48 hours before the bread is ready to eat.
Christy and Abe’s 19-year-old twin daughters were born on the same day that the couple purchased the bakery’s huge stone oven. Their daughters now attend Bowdoin College in Maine, but they too work at the bakery during the summer months. Although it can be exhausting, the couple admits that the bakery wouldn’t be what it is now if it wasn’t their life. Christy handles most of the baking while Abe operates the business side of things.
Carrie Diana, the general manager of the bakery, worked in hospitality management for years before finding Clear Flour, which she calls an amazing but difficult job. Although she is not a trained baker and usually manages the retail components of the business, she also finds herself helping to hand shape baguettes with the bakers when the bakery is closed. “This is hard, hard work. Yes, it’s fun, but we’re on our feet all day,” Diana says. “This isn’t a blue-collar job, though, and the love of baking is contagious.”
Clear Flour specializes in authentic breads and simplistic pastries, but Abe and Christy don’t adhere strictly to French, German, or Italian traditions. Instead, they bake a bit of everything, and they also take their customers’ suggestions into consideration. Because of Brookline’s large Jewish community, their challah bread has always been immensely popular. “Community is a huge part of this,” Abe says. “We’re a part of the fabric of their lives. We’re the first place that someone sends their kid alone. We watch families grow up.”
Vladimir Goncharuk, an immigrant from Ukraine, is one of the bakery’s oldest and most dedicated employees. He’s been working there for 12 years and is the senior bread baker. Before coming to Boston to fulfill his dreams, Vlad worked in the Soviet army as a baker. His favorite thing to bake is chocolate croissants because of their level of complexity. “It feels like you really made something when you bake,” he says. “You didn’t just participate. This is a trade and a science.”
Years ago, Abe Faber saw a postcard image of a man making soft pretzels in 1681. Some time later his employees purchased a print of the image, which hangs on the wall of the bakery. And this year, to celebrate German Week and the bakery’s 30th anniversary, Diana’s husband built a pretzel tree exactly like the pretzel tree in the image. “We’re selling bread the same way that they did in 1681,” says Abe. “That’s exactly what we want.”
Clear Flour’s style is based on old-school bread traditions: breads baked with yeast, flour, sugar, and water. There are no “secret” recipes here.