by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Knead Baking Company
469 E. Ojai Ave.
There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh-baked bread, and that comforting scent wafts out of Ojai’s Knead Baking Company before you even walk through the front door. Naturally, your eyes are likely to fall first on those baskets heaped with golden-brown boules, plump brioche and crusty baguettes. When you do finally look up from the bread, though, you’ll espy the tidy pastry cases tempting you with their more delicate offerings. So pretty in their simplicity, Knead’s croissants, pastries and cookies beckon with their own charm; less showy than those gorgeous loaves, but no less alluring. Whether it’s a sleeve of shortbread squares, a muffin bursting with blueberries, a fruit-topped tarts or homemade ice cream sandwiches, those sweet treats are hard to resist.
The very first pastry I sampled was the butter cake, a lovely golden thing with a pretty berry baked on top. Knead prides itself on texture, and this pastry had that in spades, offering a smooth but dense crumb with ample richness from the butter and cream. The same can be said for the cornbread cake, which was more grainy, owing to the cornmeal, but equally toothsome. These aren’t pastries to pop in your mouth effortlessly, but richer concoctions to chew on and savor.
Knead calls its version of a coffee cake a “breakfast cake,” and that’s an apt description: Although it has the familiar brown sugar topping, there’s a weight and earthiness to it. This is something that will actually stick to your ribs in the morning — not a too-sweet pastry that will have your blood sugar crashing within an hour. I had a particular fondness for the tarts, which feature crème fraiche in the batter for added body and a medley of bright fruit on top that maintains its freshness and form.
Judging by the generally heavy textures and low sugar content, it seems that Knead’s quick breads are more akin to their risen counterparts than at most bakeries. You won’t find airy sponges and sweet frostings here. Instead, the cakes, muffins and cones are more substantial in nature, and seem a little more wholesome, the grains less refined and their toppings less enriched. Knead clearly doesn’t shy away from butter or dairy, but it allows the natural sweetness of honey, whole wheat, corn and fruit shine through unadulterated.
Those pure flavors and textures are heavenly, particularly when you’re craving a nosh with your coffee or tea. You may not need a pastry, but at Knead Baking Company, you’re likely to find something that you want.