Paola Silvia Colombo, 29, started baking at Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana because she couldn’t find the original flavors of Italy in San Francisco. It took her one-year to perfect the recipe that would make it feel like home.
She likes to eat bread with prosciutto and the flavors of the bread she found altered the taste of her snack. Colombo is a self-taught baker, having never taken classes or having had anyone show her the right way to do things. Being an immigrant, time was not an issue.
“Not having many friends, I was often alone,” Colombo said. “I started practicing with the oven [at] home every day till I was satisfied with the results.”Once satisfied, Colombo went to Farina, where she was working as a hostess, and made the founder Luca Minna try her bread. The bread they were serving “was OK, but not crunchy enough,” Colombo said. Her timing could not have been any more perfect. The person in charge of the bread was leaving and Colombo was given the position. She has been in charge of bread, breadsticks and deserts at the restaurant since July 2014.
Colombo mostly works in solitude. She enters the restaurant on 3560 18th Street every morning around 10 a.m. After changing, she organizes the contents needed for the bread: water, flour, yeast, malt, olive oil, salt and sugar. The core of her ingredients goes into a mixer for approximately 15 minutes. Once the dough is ready, it is kneaded and olive oil is added before being set to rest for an hour.
Time for breadsticks!
They come plain or with rosemary. “Wrapping the dough with film and putting it into the fridge allows me to use it for a week,” Colombo said, as she removed the wrap off already-prepared dough. Before using the pasta machine to cut the dough into breadsticks, Colombo cuts rosemary leaves before massaging them into the mix. Hairs of bread come out of the Italian machine, continuously used by Farina’s chefs to make their signature homemade pasta. Colombo places the delicate strips on three oven-bound trays.
Time to go back to bread
She is now tasked with making small balls of dough from the larger piece, then letting them rest for another hour. “It takes patience,” Colombo said. “I like to take my time to make bread and this reflects also in my everyday life. Contrary [to] chefs, it is hard to find a stressed baker. We are in no rush and this is something I appreciate about the craft.”
Time for desert!
Crostatine is a typical Italian pastry that Farina is currently serving. The baked shortcrust pastry is filled with custard and topped with raspberries. “I worked in an Italian bakery for some time when I went back to Italy the beginning of the year,” Colombo said. “I was looking for inspiration.” Mini cake pans are placed on Farina’s chef counter and filled with the already-prepared shortcrust pastry. She patiently shapes every single form, before putting them into the oven. After about 20 minutes baking, the base for the crostatine is ready.
Time to finally bake the bread
The dough balls have rested long enough and Colombo sprinkles more flour on top before making “X” cuts on the surface. She places the dough into preheated pans and covers them with lids. "This way, the bread will cook inside for the next 20 minutes. Then I will take the lids off and let the bread into the pans cook another 24 minutes and let the crust form," Colombo said.
Time to eat!
“I am satisfied with what I have been able to do myself,” Colombo said. “But there is still more to be done.”