The Baker in New Bedford: Croissants, Sourdough Baguettes, and a Philosophy of Baking

Apr 20, 2017

This is one of those stories about a hometown kid who grows up, moves away to go live the world, and then, after a few years of adventures and figuring it all out, the young man returns home to his roots. "Home" in this story is New Bedford, and the kid’s name is Brandon Roderick.

He’s 27 years old now and figured out his purpose in life is baking, his passion is bread. He recently opened up his own bakery called The Baker.

We talked as he was cleaning up after a busy Thursday afternoon.

Brandon was out of bread at closing time so I took this picture instead. It's a pan of hazelnut chocolate baklava soaking for 24 hours in orange blossom honey.
Credit Ali Berlow

“I grew up with my great grandmother, who was, I think, a pretty good cook,” Roderick said. “I can still remember her doing holiday baking, and I got to help. I actually have her rolling pin in the shop, so I keep using that as a memory to her.”

She was from New Bedford and of Cape Verdean descent. Her name was Nora.

“But we called her Nana,” Roderick said. “We definitely had the Portuguese influence, especially growing up in New Bedford. But we mainly ate what I would call American food. And then during special times, when she felt making the traditional Cape Verdean dishes, she would.”

Brandon’s bakery is downtown next to the police station and across from the library.

He told me his dough takes about 48 hours from start to finish. In terms of bread baking, that’s 48 hours of fermentation, and fermentation means a more complex, deep, and flavorful bread.

“So bread is more about science in my opinion,” Roderick said. “There’s a lot of chemical reactions and biological reactions happening inside that loaf of bread that nobody really thinks about. When you deal with something living like yeast, you have to take careful care and attention to make sure things come out correct.”

And his sourdough starter? He created his own. It only took one year. He started with local grapes and it sounds like an intriguing process.

“Westport Rivers grapes,” Roderick said. “I actually got a bunch of their grapes that had not been washed yet, and we took those grapes and buried them in flour for about two days, so all the yeast from the grape skins went to the flour. Then we propagated that yeast and bacteria strain, for about a year now. So the sourdough starter is prime, and I really want to start producing sourdough. As soon as one of our ovens gets fixed, we hope to do that. But actually, in our baguette right now, we use the sourdough starter—so it has this really nice, deep flavor that you wouldn’t get just from using commercial yeast.”

Butter croissant.
Credit Lyrick Gelmete, courtesy of The Baker

I asked Brandon why didn’t he move to New York or Brooklyn, or even California to live in a "foodie" or more "celebrity chef" kind of city.

“A lot of people ask me why New Bedford, but if you look at the line out the door on Saturday, or how busy we are on a Tuesday morning, I think that’s exactly why New Bedford,” Roderick said. “I saw how downtown was blossoming, especially in the food scene—that artisan craft feel—and I just thought that this would be a really good spot for my first place.  And I’m not doing anything Portuguese, really. I always say, let the Portuguese bakeries do what they do best; I’ll still get my sweet breads and my malasadas from them.”

When Brandon isn’t baking, he’s an adjunct professor at the Massasoit Community College teaching the art and science of bread and pastry.

“I tell this to my students at Massasoit: Americans are used to having the same thing, the same way, all the time,” Roderick said. “It’s like that with wine, it’s like that with food, it’s like that with a lot of things. Europeans are much more okay with things being a little bit different because the conditions are different. So if one year there’s a lot of rainfall, and the wine is better, they understand that. Americans don’t get that. Or at least we’re changing, one American at a time in New Bedford.”