What do tuna, liver, garlic, chervil and flaxseed mean to a baker? Only one thing: dog biscuits.
When it comes to baking, don't ask Klecko to choose between people or dogs. With four furry friends at home, it's no contest for this professional baker. As he likes to say, "Bake for people, they're thankful for a day. Bake for your dogs, they're thankful for life."
Feeding dogs is on his mind these days, as it should be for someone who has just written "K-9 Nation Biscuit Book" (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $16.95).
Dan "Klecko" McGleno has been baking professionally for almost 30 years, and he has been tinkering with dog-biscuit recipes for almost that long. In his work life he's CEO of Saint Agnes Baking Co. in St. Paul, which produces bread for restaurants, caterers and companies throughout the Twin Cities. He's also founder of the St. Paul Bread Club, a group of baking fans who gather periodically to share insight and loaves of bread.
After hours, though, he's an animal lover, with two Jack Russells, a sheltie and a Chihuahua at home. And when he's not out walking the dogs, he's likely to be whipping up something for them to eat. For a professional baker, making dog biscuits isn't all that different from making bread (well, except for the occasional ingredient; more on that later).
Klecko's biscuit baking is as much about quality as it is about time in the kitchen. His effort is prompted by what he says is a lack of good food available for dogs. For his animals, these biscuits are not treats, but supplements to their diet.
"In developing a diet for a species, you want to make sure it's cost-effective and healthy. I use biscuits to get different supplements into my animals," he said in an interview.
In one biscuit, he adds dog-grass powder, which he calls the miracle drug for his animals; in another he adds activated charcoal for a breath-mint variation.
The other biscuit ingredients vary widely, according to the needs of the animals, from amaranth and soy flour to brown rice syrup, tofu and bone meal, or agave nectar and orange flower water.
"To be honest, you want to make them interesting for the dog," Klecko said, noting that he offers different types of biscuits to his animals during the course of a day. "Their tastes are somewhat complex."
His biscuits have a practical look (never shaped like fire hydrants or dog bones). Dogs don't care what the treats look like, he notes in exasperation. "People usually make dog biscuits for themselves and their own vanity." (A pizza cutter makes fast work of cutting dough into dog-size pieces.)
He finds that there is something personal about baking a biscuit for your shaggy-haired best friend, just as you might cook for a loved one who is upright at the table. "You create a bond so much greater than when you are just living with an animal," he said. "It's like cooking for people. The relationship is intensified."
Twice a week he breaks out the mixing bowls and bakes for his dogs. He often adds protein to the mix-- chicken, beef or seafood. "Their favorite is anything with fish in it. My dogs are big fans of caviar," he said. On a less extravagant note, he often includes tuna, sardines and shrimp in the biscuits, or the occasional squid ink, which make very black biscuits (chefs use squid ink, why not bakers for dogs?).
So has he tried any of his biscuits?
"I've never eaten one in my entire life, but a lot of people have, " he said.
Klecko, always the evangelist for dogs, was pleased about recent news of the First Dog. A copy of his book is on the way to the First Kids, who are about the right age to start baking for their new best friend.
Got questions on dog biscuit making? Klecko will answer them at email@example.com.
Build a better biscuit
Here are Klecko's keys to a perfect biscuit:
• Start with a "bait" ingredient -- something that smells good to a dog. (Klecko says he never met a dog that didn't love garlic.)
• Tailor the biscuit to the dog's needs. A small dog needs a small treat, a big dog ... you got it, a big treat. Age of the dog makes a difference, too. Dogs older than 6 years of age should have biscuits no thicker than 1/3-inch (it's too hard to chew -- keep dog "years" in mind here). Younger dogs can manage a 1/2-inch treat.
• Keep the biscuits firm (they need to be chewable for the dog). You can judge when they are done by touching them (don't simply look at the color). They will need to be dried thoroughly before they are stored in an airtight container; freezing works well. (Dogs especially like a cold treat in hot weather.)
• Use a variety of biscuits as part of the daily dog menu.