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The loaf is the colour of rust, and the crust is this side of well-done. Hermann sniffs, but gamely pulls it apart, ignoring the oil that came with it. The baking co-op in his college’s little town has always been redolent with lovely smells, but even though he is pursuing study as a pastry chef, Hermann never thought to come here until Mako practically kidnapped him, driving him here in her boyfriend’s battered blue Jeep.

It’s quiet at ten in the morning. The only other person is a scruffy looking student drinking a black coffee and cradling his head in his hand while he stares out the window, book seemingly forgotten.

“You will love it,” Mako promises as she cracks the top of her creme brulee with a little silver spoon. “They have a night baker here, and he has all his own cultures and grinds his own flour. it’s what’s so different from the other bakeries around.”

Hermann tastes the bread, and gets a face full of field aroma before the flavour, burnished like its colour, takes over. He can’t place the flavour, but it’s deep and sour and the crumb is cakey like good German bread. It’s not sandwich bread- it’s meant to be eaten just like this. Mako grins.

“I told you,” she says.

“This is remarkable,” Hermann says, staring at the bread. “I didn’t realize you could get bread like this in the United States.”

“You should meet the baker,” Mako says. “He has a unique system.”

“I would love to meet him, do you think he’d be open to a night where I could stage?” Hermann asks eagerly.

“Ask him,” Mako says, and gestures to the fellow by the window. Hermann looks again, notices the white flour all over the man’s hands. It might be early for college students, but ten in the morning is late by night baking standards. Loathe to approach someone who’s just off the clock, but terribly excited at the prospect of meeting him, Hermann stands and walks over.

“Good morning,” he says awkwardly. “Did you make this bread?”

The man lifts his head from his palm, and puts on a pair of glasses before examining the loaf.

“Naw,” he says. “I’m just the baker. The dough is made by cities of microbes and stuff.”

“It’s the best bread I’ve ever tasted,” Hermann says, blinking at this curious response. “I’m studying to be a pastry chef at the cooking school. I was hoping, if you don’t mind, could I watch your process?”

“I don’t have a process, dude, I just stick it in the oven,” the baker says, and Hermann blinks again.

“The flavour…”

“That’s the starter. You’re welcome to watch my starters. I think they’re fascinating, but maybe a pastry chef would get bored.”

The touch of disdain in the man’s voice is thoroughly uncalled for, and to Hermann’s ears a challenge.

“I might surprise you,” he says. The baker nods, and holds out a floury hand.

“Newt,” he says.

“I beg your pardon?”

“My name is Newt. So let’s go meet the yeast fam.”