Our Daily Bread (and tea)

The engineering department at Genius.com takes culinary endeavors quite seriously. Whether it be branded cupcakes for sprint reviews or opulent lunches at Sinbad’s Grill and Restaurant, no food is consumed without significant deliberation. For the purpose of this post, we will be focusing on two cornerstones of a Genius diet: bread and tea.

Our bread spread

Our bread spread.
Notice the vitamin gummy bear bottle (gotta get your calcium!)

Bread

Fresh bread is a relatively recent addition to our dietary regiment. The steady supply of fresh bread is thanks to our in-house artisan baker, Ryan Ausanka-Crues, who has a secondary job as our development manager. Ryan began baking bread his senior year of college as a way to match the wonderful loaves then created at Full of Life Bakery in Claremont, California. Ryan’s baking intensified throughout his senior year but, while constantly improving, never produced loaves that could hold a candle to Full of Life. While Full of Life still exists, an ownership change in 2006 ended the bakery’s production of delicious breads before Ryan ever equaled them. Following graduation, the rigors of working for a startup pushed Ryan’s interest in artisan bread baking into dormancy.

This year, however, the fire was reignited and Ryan began baking again. What began with baguettes has evolved into a constantly developing selection of bread. A sampling of what is regularly delivered warm out of the oven includes:

  • French baguettes made from white starter
  • Sourdough rounds made from sourdough white starter
  • Whole-wheat and white levain bâtards
  • Croissants
  • Sourdough waffles

From the above list you will notice a lack of breads risen using commercial yeast. This is because Ryan prefers the complex flavors derived from wild yeast growing in a starter or levain. This preference can be traced back to Nancy Silverton’s book The Breads of the La Brea Bakery, which Ryan acknowledges as being his baking bible.

emAdvanced Bread and Pastry/em by Michael Saus

Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas

Nancy Silverton is not the only notable baking expert to influence the Genius.com bakery. Baking supplies were purchased from the San Francisco Baking Institute(SFBI)/TMB Baking in South San Francisco and flour is purchased in bulk from Giusto’s Specialty Foods, also in South San Francisco. SFBI also introduced Ryan to a new bread bible (the new testament), Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach by Michel Suas. It’s difficult to capture the majesty that is Advanced Bread and Pastry any better than Nancy Silverton,

“Clean out your bookshelves. For any baker, at any level – from a home cook to the head chef of a four-star bakery – Michel Suas has written an incredible guide to baking that will be the only book you will need. Advanced Bread and Pastry is a revelation.”

The addition of the bulk flour orders and legitimate baking tools streamlined the baking process and expanded bread production. Additionally, thanks to the generous help of Lisa Goularte at Giusto’s, Ryan was given the opportunity to sample different flours. As such, we recently had the pleasure of performing a blind taste of baguettes made with different flours. The baguettes were made out of three different Giusto’s flours (Artisan, Giusto’s Best, La Parisienne) and, while all the loaves were delicious, our scientific analysis preferred those made with the Artisan flour.

Levain batard

Levain batard

Baguettes, nubs, blue cheese, and honey

Baguettes, nubs, blue cheese, and honey

Preparing nubs (the Bouchon way!)

Preparing nubs (the Bouchon way!)

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Tea

While fresh bread is a relatively new addition to Genius diets, gourmet teas are not. Our infatuation with teas can be traced back to Ryan and Nader Farahani’s work in 2006 on Genius Interactive. During the development of this product, Nader and Ryan shared a small office and began consuming increasing amounts of Persian tea brewed using a hand-me-down electric kettle. What began as Nader and Ryan significantly expanded as we switched offices and the team grew.

Grace Tea Company: Official Genius.com Engineering Tea Supplier

The engineering tea station

As consumption increased, we began to sample different teas. Some teas were brought back from trips home to China and India and some teas were purchased just around the corner at Peet’s Coffee & Tea. All of this rigorous sampling culminated in our late 2007 selection of Grace Tea Company as the official tea supplier of the Genius.com engineering department. With a 40-year proven track record of procuring and selling only the highest quality black, scented, and green/semi-fermented teas, Grace Tea is a natural partner for our burgeoning tea addiction. Our association with Grace Tea began with a trial of the Ceylon and has since grown to include Earl Grey, Owner’s Blend, Gunpowder Pearl, Formosa Oolong, China Yunnan, Winey Keemun, Assam, and Connoisseur Blend (for brevity’s sake, we’ll ignore the herbal tisanes we have ordered).

Recently, in the spirit of sprint tracking, we also began keeping track of the number of pots of tea brewed each day. Based on these statistics, we have averaged roughly five pots of tea the past three months.

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  • http://www.genius.com Conrad Corpus

    The Levain batard is INCREDIBLE!

    Also, love the picture of the engineering tea station; the distinguished tins of tea and well insulated kettle, all basking in a soft glow. Reminds of high-tea upon a hill station in India while…wait…oh dear…what’s that pirate flag in the distance? It’s a mutiny!

  • http://www.box.net/help Amber

    You guys have an orange tea cozy? Wow!

  • http://www.box.net/help Amber

    Ryan,

    You should try rice flour, that’s the secret behind the crunchy crust of Vietnamese baguettes.

  • http://www.genius.com Ryan Ausanka-Crues

    Thanks for the tip Amber. For my baguettes, I usually use a combination of malted white flour, semolina flour, vital wheat gluten flour, garbanzo bean flour, and wheat kernels coarsely cracked in a coffee grinder. I’ll try out the rice flour idea.

    In regards to the orange tea cozy, my mom sewed it for us. She supposedly also made a matching green cozy and branded mats to ensure maximal heat retention. However, I have not, as of yet, seen them.

  • http://www.genius.com Ryan Ausanka-Crues

    Conrad, as you know, we are expressly forbidden from speaking of the jolly roger expedition. Mutiny quelled :-(