AUBURN – Artisan bread baker Dara Reimers is a patient woman.

For five years, she’s been trying to open her own bakery in Lewiston-Auburn.

For 14 years, she’s been nurturing the same batch of starter dough – levain, in the lingo of bakers – that forms the basis of her artisan breads.

And for almost 20 years, the occasional accountant has known that her passion lies in baking bread, not crunching numbers.

“I enjoy this lifestyle so much,” said the Montana native, her jeans bearing the faintest smudges of flour. “I really could do this all day long.”

And so she will. The Bread Shack, Reimer’s long-desired bakery, opens Aug. 12 in the space formerly occupied by Heather’s Bakery on Center Street.

Rising at 4 a.m., Reimers will bake the assortment of breads and other goodies that she plans to sell by the time the shop opens its doors at 6:30. Baguettes alongside ciabatta, nestled against whole wheat and miller’s grain, the breads are made without additives or commercial yeasts – the definition of artisan breads.

Each loaf is made slowly, allowing natural fermentation to infuse the dough with flavor and texture. It typically takes 48 hours to produce one loaf.

“It starts with flour, water and salt and then you nurse it along and feed it and the end result is so dramatic, that’s what got me into baking,” she said. “There’s nothing as good as a perfectly done baguette.”

Besides the breads, Reimers will also offer pastries such as scones, croissants and sticky buns, as well as a coffee bar for espresso, cappuccino, lattes, teas and Maine-roasted coffee. She invested in an upscale espresso maker – La Marzocco – to entice customers with exceptional coffees at reasonable prices, she said. Baguettes, too, will be priced for the masses: under $2 a loaf.

A lunch menu of sandwiches, foccacia and quiche is also planned, with some sweet finishes like petit fours and tarts for dessert.

But breads are clearly the centerpiece. Reimers has a rotation of daily bread specials: Tuesday, raisin; Wednesday, pan de mie; Thursday, Tuscan; and Friday, basil and pine nuts.

She shows a visitor three bowls on a back counter, each with the levain that will become a different bread. In one bowl is a whole wheat levain that Reimers pinches and plucks. The dough falls back on itself – “this one needs to be fed again,” she said, noting it doesn’t have the right consistency. In a smaller bowl is a rye levain, with its earthy smell and darker coloring.

But in the center bowl is the real star. The classic levain, a concoction that she has been nurturing for 14 years after her mentor got her started. She pulls a handful from the bowl, the foundation of one loaf.

“It did have a couple of near-death experiences,” she said of the levain. “There was a period when I could not get to it … I was away for three weeks. When I returned, it was very acidic, and a strange color. But it came back.”

The reason for her absence: Reimers was training for the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, the Olympics of baking last April. She was one of three bakers representing the United States at the Paris competition, invited by dint of winning the Bread Bakers Guild of America’s national title in artistic design.

Her team captured fourth place, prefaced by an exhausting training schedule that Reimers is still recovering from.

“I was absolutely spent,” she said of the twice-a-week practices that began last summer and then the competition itself. “I don’t know if I could ever do anything again that required that level of intensity.”

Opening her own bakery might come close, but Reimers has wanted to do this for so long that what she feels most now is excitement.

“This is my home,” she said gazing at the ovens, the counter, the booths and the stained-glass lampshades made by her mother. “This is where I’ll be 12 to 16 hours a day. I’m so happy to be home … to have my own bakery … to be settled.”


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