Daily Journal

Monday through Friday, Ashley McIntosh puts on her serious office hat and spends her days as file manager for attorneys Webb, Sanders & Williams in Tupelo. Friday afternoon at 5, she puts on her baker's hat and spends the next 14 hours in her small kitchen, baking specialty European breads.

Come Saturday mornings at 7, she puts on her pale yellow floppy hat and has a ball with customers who are interested in the goodies she sells at the Tupelo Farmers' Market.

"I love to sell at the Farmers' Market," said McIntosh, 23. "There's just something nostalgic about it. It brings the community together and I'm all about supporting local farmers and putting money back into the community."

The Tupelo native calls her small Saturday business The Panarium, which means "bread basket" or "bread box" in Latin. If she ever owned her own bakery, The Panarium is what she'd like to call it. And owning her own bakery is exactly what McIntosh believes her future holds.

"I'd like to do an internship somewhere; I'd really like to study in Europe and then someday open my own bakery," she said. "I still have a lot to learn. I want to be able to offer the best bread possible. The best way to learn is by experience and experimenting."

From cookies to breads

McIntosh, daughter of Harold and Linda Gambrell of Tupelo, grew up cooking with her grandmother, Cora "Ma" Gambrell, who lived across the street. "She was always cooking - shelling peas, shucking corn. I remember actually starting to cook and actually cooking meals when I was 11 or 12. I would do homestyle country cooking like she did - peas and cornbread. Then I started baking cookies in high school and everybody always wanted me to bake cookies for them."

From cookies, McIntosh graduated to cheesecakes, selling them to friends at Christmas. "I always dabbled in bread," she said, "but my big thing was cheesecakes and cookies."

Then McIntosh and her husband, Jonathan, went to visit his father, who is a chef in Ohio. They began talking about food and about baking bread and McIntosh mentioned she had tried her hand at focaccia (pronounced foh-KAH-chyah), an Italian flatbread that's brushed with olive oil and usually sprinkled with herbs before being baked.

"He said he wanted me to look at this book he had and it was Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery' in Los Angeles. This is what I have learned by. This is like the baker's bible for me," she said.

The breads McIntosh creates, like the breads featured at La Brea Bakery, are called artisan breads, or breads that have been baked for centuries in Europe, like sourdough boules (rhymes with tools), focacce, ciabattas and French baguettes.

To get ready for the Farmers' Market, McIntosh works through the evening Friday and well into Saturday morning baking 60 focaccia breads, a half dozen sourdough boules, eight or so French baguettes and four ciabattas, or Italian slipper breads. She knows she could make her breads ahead of time and freeze them, but she prefers everything to be fresh.

"I sell out every Saturday," she said proudly, but that popularity comes with a price. "About 3 o'clock this morning, I just wanted to lie down in the middle of the kitchen floor and go to sleep," she said after pulling her most recent all-nighter to get ready for the market.

Bread as ministry

In her apartment on Jefferson Street, McIntosh lines her oven with baking stones, similar to pizza stones, and cranks the heat up to 500 degrees to mimic the brick ovens needed to bake white and wheat sourdough breads. And she apparently has been able to achieve just the right touch.

"I've had sourdough breads in San Francisco and it's as good as any I've ever had there," said Jim High, assistant director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association. "I used some to make cheese toast and it was out of this world."

McIntosh sells her sourdough boules for $6, focacce for $5, baguettes for $1.50 and ciabattas for $5. Recently she has added an assortment of cheesecakes, cookies and pastries to her repertoire.

"I like being able to be creative with (baking)," she said. "I like to work with my hands - it's a manual labor type thing. I like the way it brings people together. Food means community. And someday," she said, "I'd like to be able to use baking bread as some sort of ministry - helping people who need food as well as something that can provide money for us to live."

Proscuitto and Fresh Mozzarella Focaccia Sandwich

1/2 of a 9 inch loaf of focaccia, sliced horizontally to make a sandwich

4 slices of proscuitto

4 slices fresh mozzarella

A handful of fresh spinach

Salt and fresh cracked pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

On bottom portions of the focaccia, place 2 slices each of proscuitto, then 2 slices of mozzarella, and as much spinach as you like. Sprinkle a little salt and some fresh cracked pepper and drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serves 2

Focaccia Sandwich with Turkey, Havarti and Dill Mayonnaise

1/4 cup light mayonnaise

1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dill

1/2 of a 9 inch loaf of focaccia, sliced horizontally to make a sandwich

8 ounces thinly sliced deli turkey

2 to 4 slices Havarti cheese

Salt and fresh cracked pepper

Combine mayo, Dijon and dill. On top and bottom of each half of the focaccia, spread the dill mayonnaise. Place turkey and the cheese on each bottom half and top with salt and pepper. Serves 2.

French Toast with Fresh Peach Syrup

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

1/4 cup sugar

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

1 tablespoon Peach Schnapps Liqueur

4 slices of 2- to 3-day old Country While boule

1 tablespoon butter

Peach Syrup

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup of sugar

1 cup chopped fresh peaches

2 tablespoons Peach Schnapps Liqueur

In a shallow dish, whisk together eggs, milk sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1 tablespoon liqueur. Soak the 4 slices of bread in mixture for 2 to 4 minutes or until they have been saturated. Melt butter in a large skillet or on a griddle over medium heat and cook the bread on each side for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden brown.

For the syrup, combine water, sugar and peaches in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to boil and reduce heat to medium and allow to cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture is the consistency of syrup, add the liqueur. Arrange the toast on 2 plates and top with the peach syrup. Serves 2.

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