His smile gives way to his deceptive exterior and his soft calm speech reveals his kind nature…Kristian is a gentle giant with a big heart. I don’t know whether it is the warmth from the ovens, the smile on his countenance, or his eagerness to share his love of baking, but we immediately feel at home as he begins to bake.
Kristian begins to tell us his story as he mixes the ingredients for the bread. During the 9th grade, Kristian’s class entered into a work week at school, in which youngsters spent a week experiencing the work lives of various professions throughout the local community. Kristian was sent to a bakery in Bjorkelangen to experience the life of a baker and from that point on he was hooked. After highschool, Kristian attended 2 years of Bakery College. Instead of beginning with a routine apprenticeship after college, Kristian decided to take a “fun year” at boarding school. One Sunday in between base playing and some beer drinking, he came across an article in a magazine about a Åpent Bakeri, an artisan, handmade, local bakery in Oslo. The single piece of equipment that the bakery used was a mixer; they were entirely centered around making and baking handmade breads. Kristian put the magazine down and immediately called his professor asking for a contact at the new-buzz bakery. After an interview and some coordination with the government, Kristian became the first apprentice at Åpent. Åpent has now transformed into a renowned brand in Oslo, comprised of 9 individual establishments, selling everything from coffee, to pizza, and most especially bread. After finishing his apprenticeship at Åpent, he was hired on as a full-time baker for another year.
KRISTIAN THE BAKER
& BESTEMOR BREAD
In Norway, the bread culture is huge, we have eaten more bread during the past two weeks in Norway than we have in the last year combined! For breakfast and lunch the meal is centered around bread, and for dinner you will also have a slice. To not bake bread, is to not be Norwegian. So, The Recipe Hunters scouted the streets of Oslo, Norway, for a Norwegian bread maker who could show us a traditional Norwegian Recipe! We struck gold at Grünerlokka Bakery where we met Kristian Magnus Sie Skogstad who spent the day teaching us the traditional Bestemor Bread recipe!
After two years of getting his hands white with some organic flour, he packed his bags and bought a one-way ticket to Australia. Kristian traveled throughout Australia for 11 months stopping along the way at local bakeries to provide his services in trade for a little cash. Eventually burnt out by the extracted yeast of Vegemite, and his dwindling savings, Kristian returned to Norway.
The enterprise has since expanded into four different locations across Oslo, where Kristian has created every baked good recipe on the menu!
We place the loaves into the oven just as Joakim enters the bakery to join us. Joakim explains that one key differentiator of Grünerløkka Bakeri is that they receive their flour from the local miller who only sources grain from Norwegian farms. Joakim states that, “although not as price competitive as the industry miller, you cannot put a price on a great relationship and a quality product” and we all nod in agreement.
On our serendipitous trip to Oslo we discovered Grünerløkka Bakeri and their famous bread called Bestemor (grandma in Norwegian). The bread is baked from the recipe of the bakery owner’s grandma, who came into the bakery to teach Kristian, the baker, her family recipe. Could our luck get any better!?
We arrive at Grünerløkka Bakeri at four in the afternoon to discover the man behind the baking. With his light hair, massive broad shoulders and towering height, Kristian resembles a true Scandinavian Viking. He looks as though he should be playing defensive lineman on a muddy NFL football field…not kneading bread in a bakery sporting an apron caked in flour.
As Kristian kneads the dough, he tells us about his life after Åpent. He left Åpent to work with organic flour at an organic artisan bakery called Kolonihagen (English translation: colony garden). Kristian explains that he was initially frustrated with the organic flour because it is harder to work with. As a true baker, he took this as a challenge to learn all of the ins-and-outs on working with organic Norwegian flour. To a mason, it is his stone; to a painter, it is his acrylics; and to a baker, it is his flour.
“A recipe can be completely altered depending on the type of flour that is used. This is especially important to bakeries, whose bread is being sold and whose customers expect and rely on consistency.”
Working at the all-organic bakery was like “learning how to bake in a completely different way, the flour at this bakery needed more care and attention in order to get the desired product.” More precisely, the wheat flour Kristian used at this bakery had a lower gluten level, since the whole grain was used, instead of just the endosperm. This causes the bread to be very dense and flat if a standard recipe was used. Kristian had to figure out ways to work the dough so that it would gain volume despite it’s lack of gluten. “You have to take time to know your flour, to learn how to work with it,” says Kristian.
If you are interested in reading an exceptional article on the methods and effects of processed flour, read more here.
Shortly after his homecoming, Kristian entered into a dark age for an artisan baker. In other words, he started working as the head baker in a “factory-like” bakery. Kristian took this position because he was broke and wanted to understand and learn the industry side of baking. The factory took on an artisan baker because their sales were declining and they needed a better product. The bakery needed Kristian to bring some rejuvenation to the company and some taste to the bread. Kristian took this as a challenge and began to revamp the factory style bakery. After one year, Kristian turned the struggling factory into a cash-flow positive business and walked away with experience on how to run a large scale bakery operation (which would later prove invaluable). As he shows us his sourdough culture, he outright states, “The difference between factory bread and craft baking is that at a craft bakery we allow our bread to rise and form naturally. If we screw up, we will work around the clock creating a new batch.”
The aroma fills the room and the Bestemor Bread is ready. As Kristian carefully places each loaf on the shelf for the customers the next morning, his sister and mother enter the bakery. They are overjoyed at the site of him being photographed. Unfortunately, they suffer from gluten sensitivity so they cannot enjoy Kristian’s craftwork. Kristian thinks the gluten sensitivity is due to the industrialization of products. We are intrigued to learn more. He shows us a package of gluten concentrate that many factories add as a quick solution to make their yeast activate faster and to make their bread sticky enough to work with. He gives us advice as home bakers: “The most common mistakes are not using enough water or not giving the yeast enough time to grow. The solution is to not add more yeast or gluten. Dough is like a person, the more stress it gets, the harder it is to work with, so let it rest and recover so you don’t beat it into a lump.”
As we leave Kristian presents us with a bag full of various loaves and a heart shaped loaf of Bestemor Bread. We decide to stop at a nearby bench to sit and to enjoy our Bestemor Bread, Baked with Love. A charming older woman with beautiful flowing white hair comes over to our bench wearing a broad smile and asks about us about the the beautiful loaf of bread we have and where she might be able to get a heart like that? We tell her about Kristian and the bakery, and about Made with Love. We break off a piece of the heart and give it to her. We sit there together on a sunlit park bench munching on the warm loaf of hearty sunflower seeds and rich flour and I think to myself, this is Made with Love and we are sharing it with a kind stranger.
The bestemor dough becomes ready to once again knead and form into loaves. Kristian works the extremely grainy dough with ease as he continues his story with a giant grin. During his time at the factory, Kristian attended a wedding and befriended a chef of a successful restaurant, who also happened to be his Ex-Girlfriend’s brother’s wife. Small world. The chef connected him with, the restaurant owner, Joakim, who just purchased a cafe in the Bjølsen neighborhood and was planning on turning it into a bakery. Kristian got a call from Joakim, who Kristian immediately impressed. Kristian and Joakim agreed to help start up the fledgling Bjølsen Bakeri. That was 2011.