Posted On: 01/01/2010
Satisfying for stomachs and souls in icy winter, fresh-baked breads from specialty bakers fill the basket for seasonal shopping in January. The shapes, tastes and textures of these breads might not be familiar, but bread translates easily.
Take a Saturday trip to the St. Louis Community Farmers’ Market or the Maplewood Winter Market for a little taste of European specialty breads. “We found this Alsacian beer bread on our last trip back to Germany,” said Aaron Groff, owner of Four Seasons Baked Goods and Catering. The squat, triangle-shaped rye bread looks a bit odd. “Americans have this idea of bread as a loaf, in the supermarket. It’s not like that everywhere.”
The flavor of this dense rye makes up for its lack of squareness. “We use local ingredients – Schlafly beer, whatever is in season,” Groff explained. “The rich flavor comes from the rye flour, but the creaminess comes from the addition of mashed potatoes. European bakers use mashed potatoes to improve the moisture content.” The light-colored, beer-bitter crust is unique. Groff mixes rye flour, yeast and beer to spread on top of the rye as it proofs. “It cracks, bakes lighter in color, and the flavor – it doesn’t taste like beer, but you get a little saltiness, a different taste.”
Groff and his wife, fellow baker Agi Groff, like this bread for morning toast with butter, honey or marmalade. They cut long thin slices for panini filled with fresh goat cheese and salumi from market vendors. “We sometimes add roasted red peppers or a little pesto. Of course, it’s great to dip with soups or stews.”
In contrast to the rustic beer bread, the Groffs’ brioche a tête bakes light and silky. Individually sized, these whimsical “heads” sit high on the plate, golden and petite. There’s nothing pint-sized about the butter-rich taste, however, or the glossy flakiness of the crust. Slice and toast with butter or jam if you like, or simply pull off pieces and allow them to melt on your tongue. Although this bread is sweet, it makes a delicious savory bread pudding. Eggs, bits of guanciale, Parmigiano-Reggiano, a few herbs – add milk, bake and you’ve got brunch.
Another sweet bread, rosca de reyes, is traditionally served on Día de los Reyes, Three Kings Day. This wreath-shaped bread is frosted bright yellow, baked with citron and packed with a triple surprise: “The three people who find the baby Jesus then cooperate to host a party on Feb. 2 for Día de la Candelaria. One brings posole, one brings the toppings for posole – chopped lettuce, radishes and onions – and the third brings drinks,” said Ana Rivera of El Chico Bakery on Cherokee Street.
It’s best to order rosca de reyes ahead, but El Chico’s head baker, Chico Rivera, makes other sweet breads fresh every day, like conchas baked with a hearty topping of cinnamon sugar or colored granulated sugar. These breads taste great with Mexican hot chocolate or coffee; El Chico sells bags of this bread day old, too, to make light bread puddings.
Other don’t-miss items include telera for tortas and bolillo, a pointy oblong loaf of the same dough. The latter is great for stuffing: Cut the loaf lengthwise, hollow out a bit of the bread and stuff with a mixture of cream cheese, chopped jalapeños and Chihuahua cheese. Brush with butter, bake, slice and serve steaming.
For artful flatbreads, visit Savalan Market on Bates Street just west of Grand. Owner Rayhaneh Gholinia bakes every morning: small pillowy loaves for the market’s gyros; barbari, an oval-shaped bread with deep runnels; and big rounds of akmak pricked with a quilt-like geometric pattern. Gholinia surprises, too, making an artful sweet bread with raised designs (pears, pinwheels). Breads come out of the oven on most mornings around 11 o’clock. The cooled breads sit wrapped in big plastic bags on shelves and counters just inside the door; ask if you don’t see them.
The unique shapes and beautiful golden hues of Gholinia’s breads make them worthy of serving whole; simply invite guests to pull off pieces and taste. Or slice them and crisp them under the broiler. Plain, buttered, dipped in a stew, wrapped around cheeses, topped with roasted garlic, tapenades or relishes – I’m still finding ways to enjoy her breads.
Finding the market can be a bit of a challenge: There’s no sign, just a sandwich board on the sidewalk hawking gyros, baklava and coffee. But the taste of the fresh baked bread is worth it – plus the adventure involved in picking them up adds spice to dreary January days.
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