In a modest-sized back house in the Lost Barrio, the heavenly scent of freshly baked citrus cake, strawberry scones, and berry pie wafts through the air. The house is home to Harper Hall and Small Batch Bakery, Hall’s certified home bakery. From her humble kitchen (with one standard-sized oven), Hall has spent the last eight months baking sweet and savory treats for the Tucson community.
Hall’s background in baking is more scientific than most; her master’s degree is in food microbiology. “I’ve always loved food and cooking and I had a background in chemistry … I was interested in how those things affect the flavor of [food],” she said of her interest in the program. After receiving her graduate degree, Hall moved to Tucson with her husband, Seth. Abandoning her original idea to open a vineyard, Hall began working as a microbiologist in the food safety lab at the Green Valley Pecan Company. But she wasn’t fulfilled by the work there. “The whole reason I went to grad school was to get out of the lab,” Hall said. After more than two years, she realized it was time to put her efforts into something she felt passionate about: making food. Hall began the process of registering her kitchen as a home bakery with the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Home Baked and Confectionary Goods program.
The registration process required that Hall take an in-person food safety course, vow to sell only low-risk goods (i.e. low pH, low-moisture foods), and keep the department up-to-date with a list of the products she sells. “I used to be a food safety auditor; I couldn’t forget that stuff if I tried,” Hall said of maintaining safety regulations in her home bakery.
Small Batch Bakery’s first customer was Exo Roast, who had been looking for a bread supplier for their new breakfast sandwiches. Hall began supplying them with 12 dozen naturally leavened English muffins each week. Soon, she began providing Seven Cups with three varieties of shortbread cookies, eventually gaining individual customers by word of mouth. Because the Home Baked and Confectionary Goods program prohibits high-risk goods such as iced cakes, cream pie, and custard, Hall sticks with seasonal goods such as citrus-almond-olive oil cakes (winter), strawberry rhubarb pies (spring), zucchini tea cakes (summer), and apple-pear galettes (fall). In addition to baking with seasonal produce, Hall uses local ingredients such as hard red wheat and khorasan wheat (known as kamut) from BKW Farms; local citrus from the farmers’ markets; and produce from SouthWinds Farm. Each of her baked goods reflects the seasons in some way.
The menu on Hall’s website will continue to rotate as the seasons change. As she experiments with recipes, the menu will offer new goods to customers, who can submit orders through a form on the site. Harper also plans to have a booth at one of the local farmers’ markets, where she’ll offer a variety of bread, mini pies, individual tea cakes, and scones. No matter what you choose, you’ll be sure to taste the care and passion that goes into each and every small batch. ✜
Shelby Thompson is the online editor of Edible Baja Arizona.