Words Sasha Graham Images Bill Brady
Walking into Beach Lake Bakery’s baking barn is like entering an artist’s studio. A pale palette calms the eye. Heavy linen fabrics used to hold formed dough during the final rise line the back wall. A bone-white scale waits to measure loaves. Gleaming stainless steel machines are like sleeping giants, ready to wake and rumble at the flick of a switch. Proofing baskets, used to shape rising boules, stand in casual stacks. Beneath vaulted ceilings, the master baker and his wife work at a wooden table, shaping and kneading European-style breads.
A perfect slice of bread can feel as full of potential as a fresh canvas does to a painter. It doesn’t matter if you crave the simplicity of bread and salted butter—the Mark Rothko of meals—or a panini stuffed with meats, cheeses and colorful relish. It is the excitement of unlimited possibility that stirs the soul.
Beach Lake Bakery’s owners, Lisa and Brian Woods, say freshness is their secret. Their baking days begin at 1am. Loaves hit the shelves piping hot from the oven. Brian, a master baker from Manchester, England, has been working in and around the baking business since he was sixteen. He studied baking, science and technology in college, then worked as a savory production manager and test baker. In New York, he sold equipment to the forerunners of the city’s bread revolution, including Tom Cat Bakery, Amy’s Bread and Sullivan Street Bakery. Ask him for baking advice and he’ll suggest, in a lilting accent, that any home baker should invest in a bread machine. Brain also hosts private baking lessons for those curious about making their own challah, pizza, baguettes, or focaccia.
An ideal bread dough thrives with the same inner life as a successful marriage. It should be pliable, able to relax while expanding. It should stretch when pulled yet retain structure while rising no matter the conditions. Watching Lisa and Brian mold bread side by side is to see an intimate dance. Lisa admits that after being together for 36 years, “We can guess what the other is thinking.”
Lisa, a born and bred New Yorker, met Brian met while living abroad in Israel. The young couple came to the Catskills for an urban escape but took up residence in Beach Lake after having two children. The couple’s business was born of necessity when they realized there was no decent bread to be found in the area. Sensing they weren’t alone in their desire, they offered to bake a batch of loaves for Clearwater Seafood in Honesdale, PA. It sold out immediately and a business was born.
Beach Lake Bakery has taken many forms over the years beginning with a storefront in Narrowsburg called the Catskill Cookie Company. Lisa, musing over the evolution of Narrowsburg, says they opened that shop twenty years too soon. Brian designed and built their baking barn in 2003. They sold the business for a four-year period but ultimately reclaimed it. Devoted customers make special Saturday trips, some driving miles, to get their fix. Weekend loyalists confess to tucking away Beach Lake’s bread for trips back to the city. In addition to the bakery’s Saturday hours, the “bread lines” at the Callicoon Farmer’s Market cause something of a stir as people line up patiently for perfect rustic loaves with chewy crusts and soft, airy interiors.
Beach Lake Bakery produces over six hundred loaves on a summer weekend, including challah, rustic country, sourdough, and baguettes. In their diminutive storefront, they sell flaky croissants and tender scones that pair perfectly with butter, clotted cream or jam. The bakery’s pain au chocolat is a happy companion to morning coffee. They also specialize in American classics like cherry, pecan and apple pie.
Lisa and Brian say relationships are everything. They still maintain an original home delivery route for their oldest customers and retail outlets. The shop and baking barn are built right on the couple’s property, so pulling into driveway feels like you’re going to a friend’s house. Lisa never tires of hearing people express their love for Beach Lake products. “It’s a validation of why we do what we do,” she says with a smile.
Don’t despair if you miss out on the bakery’s hours (they are currently closed for the season) or their farmer’s market table. Beach Lake’s bread can be found either for sale or on the menu at Henning’s Local, The Heron, The Alpine Wurst and Meat House, and Milanville General Store. Sundays at Callicoon Farmer’s Market 11am – 2pm. Private baking lessons can be arranged for groups of six people at a time.