At 11 p.m. or so, after the last order has been placed at Toby’s Public House, a pizzeria and tavern in Brooklyn’s South Slope, the pizzaioli call it a night. Three hours later, when the temperature of the wood-burning brick oven has dropped from 850 degrees to precisely 630, Matthew J. Tilden gets to work. Tilden, a former cook at Smith Street’s Chestnut and on Cape Cod, is the man behind the fledgling one-man operation Scratchbread, an artisanal baking company headquartered, for the time being, off-hours at Toby’s, where Tilden got his start three months ago baking the house focaccia in exchange for oven access. (The Craigslist ad read “I’ve got an amazing brick oven.You bake bread? Call me.”) His ultrarustic, old-world-inspired product line has expanded gradually to include luscious, buttery shortbread, dense and crunchy scones, and a fragrant, thick-crusted sourdough that took, thanks to the vagaries of an unfamiliar oven, months to master. “Everyone judges you on your sourdough,” says Tilden, who claims his lasts up to a week and has a flavor that improves with age. “Figuring out the different way this oven radiates heat and disperses heat through bread was one of the biggest challenges of my career.”
Something that came easier was collaborating with restaurant chefs on custom products, like the mustard-glazed speck focaccia he’s baking for midtown’s new Pod Café, and the cacao-nib-chive hand rolls that Get Fresh Table and Market chef Juventino Avila is using for French toast. Tilden has begun infiltrating the retail market as well, with Bklyn Larder stocking his sourdough and Toby’s selling his thick, puffy house focaccia, in addition to a hearty wheat bread and a moist-crumbed country loaf crusted with Parmesan, fennel, and black pepper. By positioning bricks and tiny sheet trays at different spots in the oven, Tilden is able to bake an amazing variety of loaves and pastries in the four-hour window he has each night before he starts making deliveries at 6 a.m. But soon, he’ll have a chance to get out of the heat. His next Scratch project: frozen custard.