Dessert Professional magazine proudly presents the Top 10 Bread Bakers in America for 2013.
Once again, Dessert Professional celebrates the world of artisan bread by naming our list of the Top Ten Bread Bakers in America. This group of distinguished bakers has mastered the art and technique of creating the perfect loaf—that elusive combination of flavor, texture and appearance. Though their backgrounds and approaches to baking may differ, one characteristic was common to all the bakers on our list: their willingness to share recipes and information and to teach others about their craft, with the communal goal of improving the quality of bread in America. Following is a short profile of each of our Top Ten Bread Bakers in America.
- Josey Baker
- James Barrett
- Sim Cass
- David Norman
- Herve Poussot
- Jason Raducha
- Raul Ramirez
- Uri Scheft
- Solveig Tofte
- Greg Wade
Josey Baker Bread and The Mill
Owner: Josey Baker
736 Divisadero St., San Francisco, CA 94117
Business profile: A small bakery specializing in sourdough breads and fresh stone-ground whole grain breads, and rustic pastries.
How it all began: I started baking at home just over three years ago, and I haven’t been able to stop since. Ever since that first loaf I’ve been totally smitten with baking bread and sharing it with people, and now I get to do it everyday with a rad group of folks who are just as crazy about it as I am.
What you’re trying to do differently: We’re trying to make the best bread!!! We’ll leave that up to y’all to decide, but do things a little differently than most bakeries. We’re a very small team of bakers, and we keep our bread batches relatively small – a little over 200 loaves a day. We also never rush the bread – each loaf takes a long time, about 36 hours from start to finish. We use a lot of water in our bread dough, which makes it difficult to handle, but also makes for the most moist and delicious bread we can make. But that’s not it – we also have a stone mill right in the bakery that we’re using to mill all of our whole grains. It’s been very exciting and challenging figuring out how to work this into the way we do things, but now that we have, there’s no going back.
Bread varieties: Right now we make about 10 different breads. We’ve got Dark Mountain Rye, a 100% whole rye sourdough with sesame, sunflower, flax seeds and cornmeal. We just started making Bird Bread, a 100% whole wheat bread filled and covered with sunflower seeds and millet. Then there’s Wonderbread, our country bread sandwich loaf. Seeded Country, our country bread with sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds. Our newest bread, Workingman’s Bread, which is a blend of whole rye and whole wheat with a bunch of sprouted rye berries. And for the more decadent readers, there’s our Black Pepper Parmesan. And yes, for the gluten-free amongst you we just started making our Adventure Bread, which will sustain you on the mightiest of adventures. But we’re flexible and whimsical… I have no idea what we’ll be making six months from now.
Favorite type of bread to make: I love making all of our breads, but I think our whole wheat bread is probably my favorite to work with. The dough’s so silky and alive, we’ve taken to calling the shaping phase of making this bread “playing with the pillows.”
Favorite bread to eat: I eat our Dark Mountain Rye everyday.
Bread philosophy: Bread’s been a staple food for thousands of years, and I very much feel that age-old connection. But these days most bread is made in factories by machines, and to be frank, that bread sucks. So we’re just trying to be rad by looking back to the way bread used to be made, but with all of the advantages of modern technology to make it the best we can – steam-injected deck ovens, strong yet gentle mixers, temperature controlled rooms where the dough can rest and develop all of that scrumptious character. Furthermore, we’re trying to make bread that is again a staple food – bread that can be eaten everyday, that you want to eat everyday, because it tastes incredible and makes you feel incredible. A tall order, but we’re up to the challenge.
Signature products: At The Mill, our bakery/café that I run with Four Barrel Coffee, we’ve been floored by how popular our toast has been. Since the day we opened we’ve had trouble keeping up with the demand. We’re not inventing anything new, just pairing the best bread that we can make with the best toppings we can find. It’s a rotating cast, here’s what’s currently on the menu: Country bread with butter, maple syrup and powdered sugar; Dark Mountain Rye with hazelnut almond butter; Whole Wheat with butter and house-made apricot preserves; Cinnamon Raisin toast with butter and cinnamon sugar.
Best compliment ever: Every once in a while a customer tells me that they ate an entire loaf on their walk home from the bakery. They didn’t really want to – they just couldn’t help themselves. That makes me feel very nice.
Best part of the bread business: Practically every part of it is amazing – I’m in love with making bread, I love the people I work with, and then I get to share the bread with very appreciative people! What the hell, it couldn’t get much better now could it?
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Jumping off a big rock into a lazy river in the mountains. If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? A loaf of our Dark Mountain Rye. I’m just so dense and moist and nutty. That’s very weird, but it’s the first thing I thought of.
What’s next: More of the same, I don’t have plans to make any big changes any time soon. My focus is on keeping my team of bakers and customers happy, and to keep pushing to make our bread better.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? We’re going to see more and more small bread bakeries. People are tired of factory-made bread that doesn’t taste good and makes you feel like crap. And it’s great because we’re not in competition with each other – there’s plenty of room for a small bread bakery in every neighborhood.
Breads by Josey Baker.
James Barrett Metropolitan Bakery
Owners: James Barrett and Wendy Smith Born
262 S. 19th Street Philadelphia, PA 19103
Business profile: We are an artisan bakery that bakes bread using old-world techniques, most notably all-natural starters, a “long-slow-cool” rise and hand shaping and signing. We sell our breads, pastries, pizzas, sandwiches, granola, popcorn and other specialties in five retail shops and a wholesale business that serves more than 100 local restaurants and gourmet shops. We also sell our breads and dry goods online. In 2013, we opened our first sit-down cafe called Metropolitan Cafe, which allows our customers to sit and enjoy sandwiches, soups, salads and coffee drinks.
As for our process, it all begins with an all-natural starter. Wild yeasts in the air are allowed to feed on a mixture of flour, water and catalysts such as mashed bananas, raisins or Concord grapes. For two weeks, the mixture is fed a steady diet of breakfast, lunch and dinner, allowing it to ferment and multiply. Eventually, it becomes the bubbly, pleasantly sour-smelling natural starter called the “chef.” Over two days, the dough will be mixed, hand-shaped and signed, before being left to rise in rye-dusted willow baskets in cool, dark rooms. Only after this “long-slow-cool” rise are the loaves ready to be baked in steaminjected, stone-deck Bongard ovens. Once they are cooled and packed, they are delivered immediately to Metropolitan shops and Philly’s best restaurants.
How it all began:I first started baking with my grandmother when I was a boy. I didn’t bake professionally until 1987, when I was hired as pastry chef at the White Dog Cafe. In 1993, we opened Metropolitan Bakery.
What you’re trying to do differently:In 1993 in Philadelphia, there were very few, if any, bakeries that offered breads like the kinds my business partner and I had tasted in France and Italy. I wanted to bring those European style breads – a naturally leavened and 100% sourdough process that achieves an open crumb; complex, layered flavors; and a chewy, crust – to Philadelphia. I use locally milled flours from Lancaster County such as the spelt flour from Small Valley Mills and stone ground whole wheat from Snavely Mills in Lititz, Pennsylvania. When available I use heritage wheat such as Red Turkey.
Bread varieties: We make about 50 different types during the year, 15 to 20 varieties each day.
Favorite bread to make:My favorite type to make and eat is our organic miche. It takes 62 hours to complete from start to finish; this long process builds flavor and texture. It uses organic rye flour, high extraction flour, organic stone ground whole wheat flour and organic bread flour to create a 4.5 pound loaf that is delicious and complex and the nearest thing to Parisian bread this side of the Atlantic. It also looks beautiful.
Bread philosophy:Keep it simple. My goal is to coax as much flavor from the grains as possible.
Signature products: Besides the miche, there is our pain au levain and our sourdough baguettes. We also have a wonderful handmade granola, named best in the U.S. by Epicurious.com.
Best compliment ever: Directly, it would be people who get back from Paris or Rome and say our bread is better! Indirectly, it’s the fact that some customers visit us day after day and we’ve become part of their daily lives. We’ve watched a whole generation grow up on Metro bread.
Best part of the business: I truly love what I do. If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Believe it or not, I’d be an accountant. That’s what I was studying before I made the decision to go to culinary school.
What’s next: For us, it’s expanding the hours and menu at our new Metropolitan Cafe in Philadelphia and continuing to take our handmade granola and popcorn national so people all over the United States can try it. Look for us in your local specialty store, and if you can’t find us, we’re also online at www. metropolitanbakery.com.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? Bread baking will continue to go the way of brewers, meaning there will be more handcrafted, micro suppliers popping up. Also bakers will start to use more locally grown grains. There are great grains coming out of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Lastly, ancient and more obscure grains like quinoa, millet, and buckwheat will continue to grow in popularity. The use of heritage wheat varieties will continue to rise as farmers are able to successfully grow them. On site grinding will also become increasingly popular.
Breads by James Barrett.
Founding Baker of Balthazar Bakery, NYC
Current job: Dean, Professional Bread Baking Program at Institute of Culinary Education, NYC
50 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010
Job description: Bread baking is one of the oldest skills of civilization. I am tasked with producing and teaching bread-making techniques. I feel I am at the leading edge of a bread baking style that has a long past and that will continue into the far distant future.
How it all began: I started in London as a 16-year-old in 1973 with a five-year apprenticeship under the direction of Robert Mey, a French bread and pastry chef.
What you’re trying to do differently: Bread baking is a process of continuous refinement of traditional baking techniques, while maintaining an authentic product.
Favorite type of bread to make: Pain de Seigle French rye sourdough
Favorite bread to eat: Balthazar’s Pain de Seigle French rye sourdough
Bread philosophy: You are only as good as today’s batch.
Signature bread: Balthazar’s Pain de Seigle French rye sourdough
Best compliment ever: Our rye sourdough was compared to [the one made by] Lionel Poilâne (June 10, 1945 – October 31, 2002), a French boulanger (artisan baker) and entrepreneur whose commitment to crafting quality bread earned him worldwide renown.
Best part of the bread business? The best part of bread baking is the basic feeling of providing sustenance to people.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Building houses or working on an organic farm.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? There will be a greater use of blends of organic vegetable fibers incorporated into dough that make an excellent base for bread.
Breads by Sim Cass.
Photo by Vanessa Escobedo Barba
Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden
Owner: ELM Restaurant Group
709 E. Sixth St., Austin, TX 78701
Questions answered by David Norman, Head Doughpuncher, Partner
Business profile: Easy Tiger is a unique hybrid that happened by chance. We were looking for a space to put in a bakery to supply the restaurant group, especially a project then in development (which is now Arro, a French restaurant where bread is a core component). As luck would have it, we came upon a central downtown location that could accommodate a bake shop at street level and also had the perfect downstairs space and back patio for a beer garden – another concept that was in the group’s back pocket. Once we started talking about it, beer and bread seemed like such a synergistic fit.
The beer garden menu features a different sandwich for each of the main breads we bake, plus Bavarian-style pretzels (for which we can hardly keep up the demand). For the beer garden, we make several types of sausage, all of which can be featured on our signature pretzel bun. In addition to the beer garden and the group’s other two restaurants, we supply about 40 wholesale accounts and now, after just a year and a half, have reached our capacity at the current location. We are working on expansion plans for a second bake shop.
How it all began: When I returned from my junior year abroad in Munich, I started baking bread and brewing beer in my college apartment, because those were two things I missed (there’s that synergy again). After finishing my studies in German literature, I found a job in a small local bakery. Within a few years, a hobby that became a job became a true career path for me. To date myself, my lead baker just turned 25. As we were rolling baguettes together on her birthday, I figured out that I have been making them since before she was born.
What you’re trying to do differently: I am very traditional in my approach to bread. I like bringing out the flavors of the grains through good, thorough fermentation. I don’t make many breads with a lot of “add-ins.” And I always search for balance in my breads.
Bread varieties: We make about 11 different doughs right now (some are shaped in multiple ways), plus croissants and Danish pastries.
Favorite bread: I love the process of making our pain au levain with our natural starter, fed three times a day, the dough kneaded only on the first speed of the mixer, then folded twice to strengthen. The 2-kilo miches are the most fun breads to shape from that dough. They transport me to a mythical basement in Paris as I plop them into the large baskets we use to proof them, and I feel like a true boulanger as I shape them. I also love to twist pretzel after pretzel, even at the end of a 10-hour shift as the sun comes up outside, the pastries have just come out the oven and the smell is almost unbearable. As the last pretzel is rolled, twisted with a flip of the wrists and settled on a proofing board, it is a hard choice between a Danish and a café latte, or an end-of-shift beer.
Favorite bread to eat: That’s like making me choose between my children, but I am partial to rye breads (the German thing). Still, a freshly baked baguette with butter and cheese is ephemeral, and I couldn’t leave out the perfect balance of pain au levain on its own or with just about any food.
Bread philosophy: The many wonderful and diverse breads around the world have developed along with the cuisines of the places from which they come. Understanding how bread is eaten together with the other foods of a particular cuisine helps in understanding that bread. One good example is the low-salt or salt-free breads of Tuscany. I have heard many guesses as to why they developed this way, but when you think of the many boldly seasoned dishes of that region, this bread starts to make sense as a foil to those rich sauces and assertive flavors. Though I hope that all my breads are delicious on their own, I like to think about how a bread will go with other food, creating a sum greater than the individual parts.
Signature products: Pain au levain, pretzels, German rye bread Best compliment: I was recently sampling our bread at our local Whole Foods Market, and a woman with a heavy German accent was skeptical about my rye bread. “You can’t get good rye bread here,” she stated with conviction. I convinced her to try mine. As she tasted it, her eyes lit up, and she smiled. I could tell she had a small taste of home.
Best part of the business: Probably bringing people that taste of home. I’ve seen that same smile from Frenchmen, from Germans, from Swedes. I hope we are developing that same taste memory for new generations of Americans as we make better and better bread for their daily table.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? When I first moved to Texas, it was to manage a guest ranch together with my wife. I got a small taste of farming and ranching (while baking bread in a wood-burning oven we built when we arrived), and I could gladly see myself farming.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be A crusty sourdough. Rather slow to rise, but complex and rewarding for those with patience.
What’s next: An expansion to meet the growing demand for our bread in Austin. Also more retail opportunities to get our breads on the table.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I am excited about the continuing future of artisan bread baking in America. We continue to change peoples’ palates so that they routinely seek out better bread. We have seen the same transformation with many other artisan food items (such as coffee, beer and meat products). Bread was at the forefront of this movement, and despite not always remaining in the trend-watchers’ spotlight, the transformation has been real and solid and continues to expand. Another area in which I see great potential for bread bakers is collaborating more with the creative chefs in their areas. The days of the breadbasket being plunked down on the table at the beginning of the meal are gone. It may seem strange for a bread baker to celebrate that demise, but for me, it opens up the real potential for integrating bread into the menu, helping to create an exciting pairing with a dish and having the bread served when it belongs, rather than as a mere filler while looking over the menu.
Breads by David Norman.
Herve Poussot and team in front of Almondine Bakery, marked with beautiful brass baguette door handles at its entry.
85 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Business profile: Almondine is a classic, artisanal neighborhood French bakery.
How it all began: I started bread-making 30 years ago when I worked with my uncle in the Lorraine region of France.
What you’re trying to do differently: My objective is to respect the tradition of bread-making – offering the best quality bread using the best, all-natural ingredients.
Bread varieties: We offer a base of eight breads baked daily plus some specials.
Breads by Herve Poussot.
Favorite bread to make: French baguette
Bread philosophy: A great tasting product can leave a mark on the memory of the taster – think of Proust’s madeleine. I try to offer my customers the best bread experience possible with breads that are as tasty as they are visually appealing.
Signature products: French baguettes and viennoiseries. Best part of the bread business: Baking for the satisfaction of my customers and baking a daily staple that has satisfied people for over 30,000 years.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? I can’t imagine not making bread! If I weren’t making bread, I’d enjoy sleeping past 3 am.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? I am like a baguette – crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
What’s next: Continually stay focused on bread quality and open the door for new bakers who want to learn about the art and tradition of baking bread.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? Recently, we’ve seen the creation of more small artisanal bakeries, which means a return to the quality of traditional baking.
Owner: Jason Raducha
Cottage Baker, Phoenix, Arizona
Business profile: We are a microbakery using traditional, old world techniques. Small, honest, and personal. Every bread is made with organic, GMO free flours, nuts, seeds and dried fruits. How it all began: With my Nana. I would either go hang out with her or she would come visit and we would spend hours in the kitchen, cooking and baking. Our favorite pasttime when we were not cooking was watching old, classic cooking shows on PBS and the original Food Network before it became “reality TV”. I have always spent time in the kitchen, when I was as kid, my parents got me an Easy Bake Oven; I was probably the only boy on the block to get one. When I was I in fourth or fifth grade, my aunt bought me a West Bend Bread Maker. I was always tinkering with it to make pizza dough or bread doughs. That really encouraged and inspired me to dive into the science of baking, time, temperature and playing with yeast.
What you’re trying to do differently: I am not really trying to do anything different. Our tagline is ‘Risen From Tradition’. We are just trying to do things the right way, the way that baking was done centuries ago. We also bake very dark bread, providing a clearly defined crumb and crust.
Favorite type of bread to make: Anything naturally levained. We do not bake anything with commercial yeast.
Favorite bread to eat: Something with a huge open crumb, airy, with a nice crisp crust. I enjoy loaves that have a blend of flours. A touch of wheat, maybe some rye? I am a huge fan of country breads. I am also a pizza freak too. I think when people put thought and effort into their crust, it is a huge respectability point. Lastly, but certainly not the least favorite way to eat bread, is toast. There is this little restaurant that I go to in Phoenix and they do breakfast, they do this sourdough with homemade compote. Out of control.
Bread philosophy: Honest. I think that the tagline ‘Risen From Tradition’ really sums it up. I strive to only produce breads that contain four ingredients: flour, water, starter, and sea salt. The simpler, the better.
Signature products: We have a few. Country bread: a blend of white and wheat flours, super-moist interior, and a nice dark crust. Our millet bread has almost a cult following, some weeks I don’t make it and people are just crazy that it isn’t available. I rotate the breads weekly. The last bread that I would call a signature product is the Apricot Pecan loaf. I only bake it for a buddy of mine that we partnered up with who is this outrageous organic farmer. He sets up a booth and sells all of these great fruits and vegetables and has a spot for my breads. We do that bread for him, and when the market season ends, I have heard stories of customers buying 6-8 loaves so they can freeze them. Best compliment ever: “Where have you trained?” And my response is, “Nowhere.” “How did you learn to bake?” Any my response is, “By desire.” “Can I have your recipe!?” I start to tell them how I make the bread and they say to me,“You have the best recipe of life: a great job and an awesome lady that lets you do your thing.”
Best part of the bread business: The small-knit community of bakers, the customers that are so loyal, the solitude of a night’s bake, and seeing loaves emerge from the oven… hot, steaming, and to hear that music of crackling crust. I actually turn the radio off, just to hear that symphony.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? My life has been a twist and turn of different professions, what I would be doing is anyone’s guess. This is really a dream job. Like I have said before, I am the happiest I have ever been.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? Field blend (white, wheat, rye) because I have a lot of different attributes through my many life experiences.
What’s next? Sleep. And…I hope to expand a bit. I would like to be able to produce a bit more bread so more people can enjoy it. The only limitations I have right now are my oven and myself. Oh and hours in the day, but if it was up to me I wouldn’t stop.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I think we are seeing some progress in the baking industry. Consumers are really getting more and more picky about what they are eating. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a ton of industrialized breads out there, but I think the consumer is getting smarter – well, I hope they are. I also am really enjoying all the bakers out there getting more and more selective about the flour they are using. Arizona and California have a cool uprising of heritage wheats. I am fortunate to be participating in that movement.
Breads by Jason Raducha.
Mariposa Baking Company
Owner: Patti Furey Crane
5427 Telegraph Ave, Unit D3, Oakland, CA 94609
Questions answered by Raul Ramirez, Head Bread Baker
Business profile: Our start was simple. Patti Furey Crane, Mariposa’s founder, craved high-quality gluten-free sweets while pregnant with her first child. Finding few options at the time, she set to baking them herself. And so, in 2004, Mariposa was hatched. Mariposa’s mission – create wholesome, hand-crafted gluten-free food using the finest natural ingredients. Mariposa’s first few years were spent in a shared kitchen in West Berkeley, California. Our batches grew too big for those ovens, so in 2006 we built a new place to rest our wings – a dedicated gluten-free kitchen in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, California. This certified green bakery also houses our first retail bakeshop.
In 2009, we fluttered to a second home – a Kiosk in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Mariposa’s presence in this food purveyors’ paradise enabled us to bring daily bread and handcrafted treats to San Francisco’s gluten-free community. Two and a half years later, opened Mariposa’s SF Bakeshop, est. 2012. We have a passion for the baked goods we make, the creative journey we’re on, and the communities we serve.
How it all began: I was always interested in bread, even as a child. At the age of 15, I started helping my uncle, who was a bread baker. He had a bakery in Mexico and used to mix the bread by hand and bake his bread in a brick oven. I was fascinated watching him mix and form the bread. This really awakened my curiosity about making bread.
What you’re trying to do differently: We only make gluten-free bread at Mariposa and I try to mimic traditional breads (made with gluten) by finessing our techniques. We’re always striving to get a lighter bread with better texture and you can achieve this with the right techniques. Through a lot of experimentation, we found out how to adjust the time, temperature, proofing and steam to make the best breads.
Bread varieties: We make about a dozen types of bread: baguettes, sandwich bread, multi-grain bread, focaccia, “rye” rounds, cinnamon raisin bread, challah, sandwich rolls, rosemary rolls, dinner rolls, hot dog buns and panettone during the holidays. Favorite type of bread to make: I like making baguettes, challah and our faux “rye” rounds because you get to use your hands to form the dough into a loaf.
Favorite bread to eat: A baguette.
Bread philosophy: I try to make gluten-free breads with as few ingredients as possible, just like traditional bread, which just uses flour, water and salt. This can be difficult with gluten-free baking. Having that as a base, I’m always trying to make our breads better by keeping it simple. Usually, the simplest recipes are the best ones. Using organic and good quality ingredients also helps, as well as having the right techniques.
Signature products: Our most popular breads are our baguettes and sandwich rolls and sandwich bread.
Best compliment ever: To me, the best compliment is when I let someone try a recipe I’m experimenting with and, when I ask them what they would change about it, they tell me, “Nothing! I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Best part of the bread business: The best part for me is that I get paid to do what I love – make bread. To me, baking gluten free bread is similar to fixing a car. You have to figure out how to solve a problem. Intelligence won’t always help you – sometimes you must have the need to figure it out and this will propel you to find the solution.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? When I was little I wanted to be a doctor, so maybe I’d be a doctor if I weren’t making bread. Whatever I would be doing, I would have to do it with the same passion and love that I have for baking.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? Definitely a baguette! This is the bread I enjoy making the most. They’re so crispy and good. When you eat a baguette, you don’t need anything else – they’re delicious all on their own.
What’s next: Right now, I’m working on developing a really great croissant recipe and possibly a ciabatta roll.
Breads by Raul Ramirez.
Owner: Uri Scheft
18 E 16th Street, NY, NY 10003
Business profile: Our bakery produces artisanal, handmade breads and pastries using traditional baking techniques. We produce, bake and sell our product in the heart of the City. Most of the breads we bake are made from whole grains and go through a slow proofing process, to sharpen and improve the fl avor. A lot of thought is given to the nutritional value of each of our breads. We mindfully select the components of our bread, the types of fl our and add seeds and grains, all of which increase the nutritional value.
We produce and bake both sweet and savory items. The café serves premium coffee, next to light meals, made from fresh product that just came out of the oven. It is a walk-in shop, with an intimate bread counter at the front and a back counter where we serve coffee, sandwiches, soups, salads and more.
How it all began: I began baking bread at a very young age with my mother. I remember watching her make bread every Friday for Shabbat. When I was 11, I attended school in Denmark and took an elective in bread baking. After that, I would bake bread at home for family and friends.
What you’re trying to do differently: I am not trying to be different but to be authentic and true to myself. I do what I am passionate about and try to infl uence the people around me to do the same. Someone once told me, the bread is only half of the baker’s life. The rest is the people and the relationships surrounding the process. I try to bring out the best in my team and myself.
Bread varieties: About 20 – I have worked with many great bakers throughout my studies in Denmark, Italy, France and Israel and use these influences in our breads.
Favorite type of bread to make: French sourdough because it is made only with wild yeast and has a long proofing time. Making this bread is like riding a wild horse, you never know what to expect. 100% Danish Rye because it is made with lactic sourdough and is very wholesome.
Favorite bread to eat: The last one that came out of the oven or the last one I created.
Bread philosophy: Keep it simple. Making bread only requires fl our, water, yeast and salt. Although this is only a small number of ingredients, it’s the quality of these ingredients that makes the difference.
Signature products: Baguettes, Rye breads, Challah, Babka, Rugelach, and Almond Croissant.
Best compliment ever: When I hear that people could feel the passion and love in the taste of the bread.
Best part of the bread business: It’s rewarding. Bread touches so many people and I receive so much love because of that.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? I would probably be working with wood.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? I would say a Festive Challah because there are many different parts and because I like to party.
What’s next: I live in the moment.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I don’t know about the bread industry but I would like to think people will be more focused on what they are eating and where the food is coming from rather than following the trends.
Breads by Uri Scheft.
Sun Street Breads
Owners: Solveig Tofte and Martin Ouimet
4600 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55419
Business profile: We’re a bakery café serving breakfast and lunch and run a raucous pizza night on Mondays. Fast casual, all scratch, emphasis on American food with a strong nod to our friends at the Southern end of Highway 61.
How it all began: I attended a baking and pastry program in San Francisco in 1999 and prior to that I had made many loaves of really terrible bread. I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy making bread. But Peter Reinhart was my instructor and he really helped show me the way – he introduced me to the Bread Bakers Guild of America, the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, and generally made bread baking approachable. I was still making terrible bread, but I had met my match and had found something that would keep me challenged for years.
What you’re trying to do differently: Generally I’m continually trying to get better – at baking, at being a boss, at running a business, at keeping my sanity and not letting the shop take over my family life. I’m trying to increase the fun factor, trying not to worry so much, and definitely trying to find more time to be involved with the community that has taught me so much. The artisan bakers in this country are generous and smart, and they are the main reason I love doing what I do.
Bread varieties: We make about 12 types of breads and rolls with lots of other seasonal options. We only make four to five kinds every day (our shop is quite small and we don’t do wholesale).
Favorite type of bread to make: Baguettes, because they’re the most difficult for me and show every mistake you made along the way. I learn the most from them.
Favorite bread to eat: Our Bergen Bread – it’s basically a bunch of whole grains (rolled rye, cracked wheat, rolled oats) and seeds (flax meal, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds) held together with a little bit of dough. Packed full of goodness, soft for days, a true “daily bread.” One slice of that in the morning with a mild cheese and you’re ready for battle.
Bread philosophy: Let the grains speak for themselves. Controlling fermentation is the key to a great loaf of bread, and we work hard to make sure the complex flavors and textures of properly fermented loaves are predominant. Anything we add to the loaves (nuts, seeds, fruits) should complement the flavors of the grain, not dominate.
Signature products: Our Kingfield Sourdough gets lots of press, and the Lunch Box Bread probably has the most loyal following. The sourdough has some cracked wheat, a little rye and some whole wheat flour, gets retarded overnight, and is pretty true-totype for an American naturally leavened bread. And I developed the Lunch Box Bread when my daughter started school – I wanted a family-friendly, wholesome pan bread. My Mom baked bread when I was growing up – her oatmeal bread was my favorite, and this is my tribute to that. It features cooked steel cut oats, some whole wheat flour (plus a little brown sugar), and makes great sandwiches.
I’m really happy with our Christmas breads – we make a great Julekake, which is a rich Norwegian bread made with cardamom and cherries. Most of the versions around here use those toxic red and green cherries – but we candy our own dried tart cherries and add lots of candied orange peel. My other favorite is our Vört Limpa Rye – it has a spice blend of fennel, anise and dried orange peel, plus we use a rye malt syrup from the local brewing supply store. The formula was inspired by the Swedish Baking Team’s offering at the Louis Lesaffre Cup in Lyon, France, where I was fortunate to be a judge in 2011.
Best compliment ever: I love it when people bring my bread to holiday meals or other celebrations with friends or family, and then tell me that it really made the meal. I get so nervous around the holidays that something we make isn’t going to come out right – and that this item that is supposed to be contributing to a fabulous feast is a disappointment. So when I get reports that our offering to someone’s party was well-received I am hugely relieved and very happy.
Best part of the bread business? Pretty much everything. I love my fellow bakers who share their knowledge, I love hearing stories of epic shifts and food service shenanigans, I love pulling loaves out of the oven that are better than I expected. I like that this is a physical job, I like that I have problems to solve, and I even like the hours (well, when I manage to get a couple days off here and there). Above all, I greatly appreciate our employees who take such good care of us and our customers.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? I’d be on a never-ending road trip with my family – eating, researching and chronicling all the interesting food traditions in this country and meeting the people that keep them going.
What’s next: I’ve been trying to get a series of classes going at the shop – I love teaching because it helps me organize what I know, and figure out the answers to what I don’t. But finding the time for that has been difficult. So, hopefully I get that running, and then I’d really like to write a cookbook – baking at home is very different than baking at work and teaching classes to home bakers really forces me to get formulas and process notes properly dialed in.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I just hope it keeps going in the direction it’s going right now. There’s a rising tide of artisan bakeries sourcing highquality grains and flours – many are even milling in-shop – and everyone seems to be using more whole grains in their products. I think we’ve taken “fl our” for granted for many years and are learning that the milling process matters – we have more options in the types of grains available, more options in the types of fl ours, and it’s exciting to see bakers working with millers and farmers to continue to increase the quality and variety of our ingredients.
Breads by Solveig Tofte.
Greg Wade, Photo by Huge Galdones.
Owner: Stephanie Izard
820 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607
Questions answered by Greg Wade
Business profile: I would describe Little Goat as an eclectic foodcenter. There’s the bakery, which supplies for Girl and the Goat, Little Goat Diner, sandwiches from Little Goat Bread and also a retail area in the diner and at the French Market. Then there’s the diner itself, as well as a second floor kitchen which serves as private events kitchen and also puts out a separate rooftop menu. All in all, there’s a lot going on.
How it all began: I first started making bread with my father when I was seven or eight. It was using my grandmother’s old bread machine and recipes from books severely outdated, but at the time we thought it was great.
What you’re trying to do differently: What I’m trying to do differently with my bread baking is to respect tradition and understand the fundamentals of baking, but to also apply that to a radically unrestrained mindset. I love and respect the work of Raymond Calvel, Jeffrey Hamelman, Peter Reinhart and all these very traditional bakers, but I think the next step is to take what they’ve done and use it in a way that fits into our modern food scene. In Chicago, and especially working for Stephanie, there are no boundaries on what we can serve. Just as long as it’s tasty.
Bread varieties: We make about 40 different types of bread per day. We have a lot of breads that are in production every day, like the sandwich breads and rolls needed for the diner. We also have breads that cycle out, either in retail or for our sister restaurant, Girl & the Goat. So all in all we’ve got about 70 to 80 different breads in our recipe books with more always being developed. Because of the many different areas of revenue that we can take with our bakery products, we’ve got a huge variety of breads and styles. We are able to do traditional sourdoughs, miche, ryes, baguettes, croissants, bagels for retail, but then we are able to make parathas, indian flatbreads, pita, naan, scallion pancakes because of the versatility of the diner. Then for Girl & the Goat we can do anything from chicken soup bread, to the miso hungry (fish sauce, soy sauce and peanut tiger bread with a miso rice topping), pretzels or focaccia. We’ve really got the ability to make anything and have a way to get it on a menu. Favorite type of bread to make: A traditional, naturally leavened sourdough. Just good ol’ bread.
Favorite bread to eat: Now this depends on the application. If I’m eating it with just butter, I’d like a fresh baguette. If I happen to be lucky enough to be eating a cheese plate, I’d probably prefer sourdough. Steam buns are a good afternoon snack, and who’s going to say no to a soft dinner roll sopping up the remnants of mashed potatoes and gravy on Thanksgiving? I guess I’m going to say my favorite type of bread to eat is bread.
Bread philosophy: My general philosophy of bread is to just let it happen. Understand what the dough needs, take care of it. Also, let the application help decide where to take it. Sometimes it needs more time, sometimes it needs another fold, or a longer bench proof. Sometimes it needs bacon.
Signature products: Fat bread – smoked duck fat, beer, milk, pickled mustard seeds
Broccoli cheese – just like it sounds.
Corny Goat – caramelized onions, goat cheese, corn.
Peter Piper – pickled banana and red peppers, yogurt, fennel seed.
Grumpy Goat bagel – fennel seed, golden raisin, goat cheddar.
Best compliment ever: The nicest thing that’s been said to me personally was, “You really turn this into an art form.”
Best part of the bread business: There’s not much I don’t like about bread baking, but most of all I like how tactile breadmaking is. I get to feel the starter, feel the dough develop. I press on the loaves to test if they are sufficiently proofed. It gets me to feel incredibly attached to the work.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? I would be in the French profession of a quatorzieme – the professional fourteenth dinner guest. Ultimately it would entail being able to have witty conversation without being too invasive and have a broad knowledge of nothing specific.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? I would characterize myself as a sourdough. Naturally leavened and a little funky.
What’s next: Next I’m going to keep on living life. I’ve got no idea what is actually in store for me, but luckily that keeps my options pretty open.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? The direction I’d like to see bread baking go is related to the way I’d like to see the American lifestyle develop. I’d like for people in a city get back to a sense of community, get back into having a great amount of pride in our work and not try to cheapen or market every idea and experience we have. I think we are heading in two directions at once. One direction is commodity everything from Costco, genetically modified vegetables and chicken grown in a lab. The other direction is a movement very against those ideals. We want quality over quantity, true skill and craftsmanship in a product, the ability to recognize the difference and the humility and good grace to give someone a compliment when they’re doing it right.
Breads by Greg Wade.