I must admit i’m not a great baker. There’s a love/hate relationship between me and yeast that’s so bad at times i can almost hear the micro-organisms yell in unison: “We ain’t working for you, sucker!” It’s a little bit like trying to run things with a worker’s union on your ass. The problem is, i’m really eager to learn more about bread so on my quest to become one with the dough i asked my friend Jeremy Shapiro, Chef, Baker Extraordinaire and Blogger at Stir the Pots, to stir me in the right direction.
Jeremy is the executive chef of a private club in midtown manhattan but moonlights as a bread baker from his home kitchen. I contacted him last week with a simple request: to show me one of his creations and convince me that i can too whack yeast into submission. A few emails later, i was in Sunnyside, Queens following the recomforting smell of freshly baked bread all the way to his kitchen.
As i walked in, i remember thinking: “Damn, this dude can bake!”
Not only Jeremy baked four different kinds of breads from three different countries, but each looked better than the next. Damn overachiever!
There was a German bread called Schwarzwalder Landbrot (Black Forest Country bread) that’s made with rye, wheat, levain (a bread leavening agent 007) and pre-fermented dough which result in loaf with a perfect crust, a very open crumb and a mildly sour taste. Simply outstanding.
We took a little detour by Italy with this concord grape and muscat Schiacciata, which is made with semolina, wheat, grapes, rosemary and fennel, some levain and commercial yeast. It’s called schiacciata d’uva in Italian, which translates, appropriately enough, as “squashed grape thing.” If i wasn’t such a gourmand i would call this the work of the devil. It is so incredibly addictive.
Next we stopped by France with something i’m quite familiar with, a Couronne Bordelaise made with levain dough with some rye, spelt, whole wheat, wheat and teff and was a wonder of taste and architecture. It consists of eight dough balls connected together with a collar that pops-up during baking. Cool? Yes! Delicious? Yes!
It’s amazing what a well-behaved leavening agent can do. How come mine is such a moody pain in the ass!?
By the way, for those of you who believe you need big fancy ovens to bake the perfect loaf , you’re about to be proven wrong. Everything on this post has been baked in a home kitchen in a small Cuisinart Brick Oven you can get for under $200. Yes, really!
And we went back where we started with this beautiful German chestnut bread made with wheat, chestnut, spelt flour and honey. That’s when Jeremy cut a few slices, spread some French butter on it and pulled out his special label “Killer Bee” honey, the provenance of which will remain unknown to the rest of us, mere humans. Oh, boys and girls! I can’t tell you how good this was.
After this little preview i’m hungry for more. Now i want to do a step by step post with the Master Baker on how to produce the perfect loaf. What do you all think?
Of course, you put two chefs around freshly baked bread, awesome charcuterie from Butcher Johnny in Sunnyside, Queens (whose amazing creations deserve a post on their own) and mustard from Düsseldorf and it’s not before long they start geeking about the industry and sharing juicy anecdotes. We even realized we worked at the same restaurant “back in the days”. Oh, that makes me feel old.
I left thinking New York City needs a Jeremy’s Bakery. So if you know someone with pockets full of dough don’t hesitate to pass the word: “Jeremy needs a start-up for his starter!” I would be a regular customer and i’m sure i wouldn’t be the only one. In the meantime, you can always go say hi to him at Stir the Pots.
Thank you Jeremy, for your hospitality and fabulous bread!