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ON THE COVER C’est si bon! Halau Mele chanter Marques Hanalei Marzan with Paris’ most famous landmark—la Tour Eiffel—in the background. Photo by Kevin German
Vol.17, no.6
December 2014 / January 2015

 

Bread Winners 
Written By: Janice Crowl
Photos By: Jack Wolford

Eric Cox and Paul Lackner had visited Hawai‘i many times before they finally made a permanent leap from the snows of Anchorage to the fire and rain of east Hawai‘i Island nine years ago. In the tropics they thought they’d become fruit farmers. They roughed it in rural Puna in an off-the-grid, twelve-by-sixteen-foot cabin and lived from their savings. It was paradise lacking, for Eric, one essential staple: the bread he liked. So he began baking it at home using recipes he’d collected over forty years.

Eric tried a different recipe every month. When friends came over for breakfast, they swooned and urged Eric and Paul to sell bread at the Volcano farmers market. Since their debut there in 2006, the pair haven’t missed a single market day; they also expanded over the years to farmers markets in Hilo, Na‘alehu and Pahoa, selling artisan breads as Papa‘a Palaoa Bakery, a name that means “slice of bread” in Hawaiian.

In March the venture culminated in the opening of a retail bakery in downtown Hilo. In its bright Tuscan-yellow open kitchen, you can now see Eric and Paul, along with master baker Rachel Van Etten, leaning over a floured wooden table, kneading loaves and rolling out fennel-seed chapatis and graham crackers. Sweet cinnamon and cardamom waft on the warm air rising from the oven. “People smell the bread baking and say they just had to come in. I have this fantasy of being the local village baker,” laughs Eric. He’s a jovial sort, clad in a flour-dusted apron and round spectacles.

The bakery uses local ingredients whenever possible; Eric learned to adjust to what was available while he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal. “The open markets had vegetables I’d never seen before, so I learned to substitute,” he explains. In Hawai‘i, substitutions include local honey instead of sugar; macadamia nuts instead of walnuts; and a nuttier alternative to buttermilk: soymilk from an organic tofu factory in Kea‘au. Among the sweets is a gluten-free banana bread with poi and mac nuts. “Our customers,” says Eric, “are great inspiration.”

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