Baking has always been a passion for Sharon Entz, so when it came to operating her own artisan bakery there really wasn't a question of if it would happen, but rather when.
"It's been my dream since I was a little girl," Entz said. "It was kind of like this silly little dream, and then I went to K-State. I went there and I was like, 'I'm gonna learn milling. I grew up a farmer and I'm gonna learn milling.'"
Entz earned a degree in flour milling from K-State and went on to work in commercial mills across the country — including working 10 years at Ardent Mills in Newton.
While working commercial mills, that dream persisted, though — and experiences trying the variety of artisan breads available while studying abroad in Madrid did little to curb it, something that continued to shape her vision when she officially opened Crust and Crumb Company in Newton five years ago.
"The passion of learning to do something totally different than what we do, or (something) really complicated, really interests me in artisan breads," Entz said.
Access to that type of bread is limited in Kansas, Entz pointed out, so she was looking to bring something more exciting to her customers. In addition to taking inspiration from the artisan breads she learned about while studying abroad, she took a cue from Kansas history as well in turning to turkey red winter wheat as the basis for most of her flour.
Using an heirloom grain like the turkey red winter wheat is something that Entz said can coax more flavor out of her products, which is key to the process given that the majority of her breads consist of three ingredients: flour, water and salt.
Fermentation of the dough, in turn, is also critical in giving the bread a good taste — given the simple recipes.
"Artisan baking is all about using a long, slow fermentation process to bring out flavor. If you don't do that long, if you're making a loaf of bread in three hours, you have to put the butter and the sugar in there to make it taste good," Entz said. "My products are really healthy from that perspective, using whole grains and long fermentation."
Overall, Entz said fermentation takes about 48 hours from start to finish — making for some long weeks preparing products for sale at farmer's markets and local restaurants. While winter is her slow season, Entz said during the summer she will traditionally prepare 800 loaves of bread and 1,500 pastries to send out each Saturday by 5:30 a.m.
Busy as it may be, especially making final preparations in the early hours of Saturday morning, it is a dream Entz is happy to be living out.
"I would've never guessed that I would've worked this hard. Working a 90-hour work week, I would've never guessed that I would be doing that," Entz said. "I'm a hard worker and I love working, the intensity of it, and it's exactly what I want in my life, but if I would've tried this job as a younger person I would not have had the stamina to work a 12-hour shift, go to bed eight hours and come back and do it all over again."
Particularly, working with sourdough products and dough fermentation, Entz noted it is a complicated process. Sometimes getting the recipe right (based on seasonal conditions) can be like figuring out a puzzle, but it is a process that brings here a lot of enjoyment.
Not only is Entz involved in every aspect of baking the bread, but Entz and her workers mill their own flour at Crust and Crumb and she also grows the turkey red winter wheat on her family farm — noting she would like to experiment with some different grains (like buckwheat, rye, etc.) in the future.
Experimentation is something Entz noted she enjoys in the kitchen as well, especially in the winter. Many of her pastries are changing based on what fruits are in season, while she also partners with Dyck Arboretum on its Prairie Window concert series, conceptualizing a new menu (of two savory and two sweet items) for each event.
In a way, Entz has had to experiment with every aspect of the business. She set out with the goal of selling directly to grocery stores, which did not pan out, leading her to adapt her business model. Additionally, she had to grow to become comfortable with the marketing aspect of her business.
Hard as she may work, Entz wouldn't have it any other way. After all the effort put into each of her loaves, she noted it is a beautiful thing seeing them come out of the oven. Turning around and having a customer-base clamoring for that product has also been an honor, Entz said, as the bakery is often full during its only business hours from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays. — while people will also often stop in during the week hoping to grab some of the products produced by Crust and Crumb.
"The whole theory in the artisan baking community is that you're a community-supported baker," Entz said. "I can't do this without the people who come in and buy my bread and pastries, and I really appreciate it."
For more information on Crust and Crumb, visit crustandcrumbcompany.com.