Bread Machines

March 17th, 2010: As seen on Time Out Chicago (PDF)

Artisanal bread bakeries are still rare in this town, so these independent bakers are taking matters into their own hands.

Ellen Carney Granda of Necessity Baking Co. 
Granda loves the fact that she’s “not educated” in artisan bread making, and the baker uses her newbie status to justify her unheard-of flavors. (Case in point: her half-focaccia, half-ciabatta “faux-cacia” with candied lemon, sweet balsamic vinegar and rosemary.) Even though she’s just getting started, Granda’s on board with the idea of artisan purity. “The U.S. is probably the last country that lets [the chemical compound] bromate be added to bread. And in the right amount, it helps the bread rise. But if it’s not baked off, it can be a carcinogen,” she says. That’s why you’ll find only unbleached, unbromated flour in all her breads, from boules to challah.

GET IT Born last June at Highland Park’s Ravinia Farmers Market, Necessity Baking Co. grew quickly, filling baskets shortly thereafter at Deerfield’s Market, followed by Lake Bluff and a permanent stand in the Chicago French Market (131 N Clinton St). She charges a little bit more than the industry standard (roughly $8 for a pound-and-a-half loaf), but, she says, “you’re paying for the human resource and the beauty of that human interaction with a product.” To that end, Granda is often stationed at her store, ready to show you the burns on her arms should you question her cred.

Anne Kostroski of Crumb 
As experimental as Kostroski gets with her boules (a recent batch involved sparkling grape juice and apples), she insists it is nevertheless simple stuff. “You take water, flour, yeast and salt and work with the ratios of water to flour. That’s how you make a good loaf of bread.” Honing her craft at Napa Valley’s Culinary Institute of America, Kostroski stresses her independence from chemicals and dough conditioners, instead letting her ingredients do the work. In addition to tame items like walnuts and olives, her bread ingredients also include items such as those in her “stockyard” batch: Vienna Beef hot dogs, onions, tomatoes, sport peppers, poppy seed and celery salt. With flavors like that, the only other thing she has to lean on for her bread is her set of earthenware clay pots, which help her achieve a perfect crust.

GET IT Kostroski usually sells out of bread about halfway through the Empty Bottle Farmers’ Market (1035 N Western Ave; dates and times vary), and Logan Square’s weekly Sunday market in the lobby of the Congress Theatre (Sundays, 10am–2pm, 2135 N Milwaukee Ave). But if you miss them, you can get her boules ($5 for a small one; $7 for the larger) via delivery service, offered through her website, crumbchicago.com.

Vincent Colombet of Cook Au Vin 
Paris native Colombet pseudo-teases that he started baking bread because “there was no decent bread in Chicago.” Whether that’s true or not, the payoff for us are his earthy boules, which are made from his Alsatian grandmother’s recipe and which he claims need only a “great plate of cheese and a vintage cab” to make a meal. With his petite French grocery and cooking-class hub Cook Au Vin off the ground in Bucktown, Colombet has been able to concentrate on mastering his “very labor-intensive dough.” Yet with all the bread making he’s doing, he’s still keeping things simple. His flavor experiments extend to a little cereal, parmigiano cheese or dried fruit every now and then—but that’s where it ends.

GET IT Colombet has been popping up at the Logan Square Farmers Market to test out his old-world breads. Meanwhile, his flagship store (2256 N Elston Ave) is selling those boules for $4–$5 a loaf. Come summer, he’s moving some ovens over to a new Logan Square storefront (2569 N Milwaukee Ave) with a full boulangerie and a home-delivery service called Bread-Fix.

Michelle Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery 
Michelle Garcia is known for her charity cupcakes and Take-A-Hike scones. Now she’s started a bread co-op, putting out a weekly, rotating cast of pound-and-a-quarter boules like Irish soda bread that are priced to simply cover the costs of ingredients. “People are more emotional about bread,” says Garcia. Maybe. But we have to imagine people are more emotional when they don’t have bread, and that could be a problem, because Garcia is baking her breads in batches of no more than 50.

GET IT Garcia has two storefronts, one in Roscoe Village (1955 W Belmont Ave) and one in Oak Park (1010 North Blvd). Both serve as pick-up locations for the $5-a-loaf breads, which are ordered on Friday and picked up on Sundays. Soon she and her husband plan to bring the whole operation to an impending 6,000-square-foot flagship space somewhere in Ukrainian Village, complete with a rooftop garden and another USDA organic stamp.

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