July 13, 2005

New York: Breads

I recently visited New York with my mother. (Like so many other food bloggers!) She retired this year and we took this trip with two of her long-time friends and their daughters. We all had different goals for the trip and I regret that I did not get to as many bakeries as I had hoped, but the most important thing was spending time with my mom and I am happy to say we had a lovely time. It had been four years since I had last been to New York and I fell in love with the city all over again. I will always be a Chicago girl at heart but I hope to spend some more time in New York soon.

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On the morning of our third day some of our party insisted on going to Rockefeller Plaza to shout at morning news stars and try to get on TV. After about thirty seconds of this I took refuge in the Dean & Deluca on the corner and decided I would spend my time reviewing something tasty. Their croissants sure looked like they would fit the bill.

This croissant was buttery and tasty, though uncomplex. The crust did not flake as one would desire and was overall below average with an unappetizing toughness. The crumb did most of the work and was in fact quite decent, as was the coffee (though I did not see any fair trade options).

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Later in the day my mother and I parted ways with the other women and headed to Amy's Bread in Hell's Kitchen. Amy's is an adorable little store with a shockingly blue paint job and a pleasant staff. There are a few tables in back as well.

I ordered a rosemary mini, a small black olive loaf, a French baguette, and a tomato and basil focaccia.  My mother and I walked to Central Park and I planted myself in the grass to try the breads while we waited for the others to meet up with us.

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I began with the French baguette. In the handout I picked up the French baguette is said to be made with: "unbleached flour, water, salt, and yeast. Shaped by hand!." I find the latter claim to be a bit alarming, what else should I expect from a small, professional, artesian bakery? The appearance of the baguette was nice (must be that hand shaping!). The crust was oddly chewy, soft, and flavorless.

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The crumb had a nice flavor but a poor structure and very few holes, much like a hamburger bun. Butter did very nice things for this bread. Overall this was a below average baguette.

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The rosemary bread is said to be made with: "unbleached flour, organic whole wheat flour, water, natural starter, fresh rosemary, olive oil and salt." This bread had a fantastic aroma and a lovely flavor. You can tell that they do in fact use fresh rosemary. The thin, chewy crust was good and had integrity, though ideally it would have been a little more robust and thick.

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This bread had a nice crumb that was moist and semi-resilient with a decent hole structure. However, it was in serious need of some salt. With a bit of sea salt and butter this would have been a very nice bread.

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The black olive bread is said to be made with: "unbleached flour, organic whole wheat flour, water, natural starter, Kalamata, Amfissa and Atalanti olives, salt, and yeast." This bread also had an excellent aroma and had a pleasant sourness that went well with the olive and yeast flavors. Much like the rosemary bread, this crust was decent, thin and chewy but could be improved upon.

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The olives were chopped and used liberally, giving a strong and excellent flavor to each bite. The crumb was resilient and glossy with a decent hole structure. This bread took butter superbly.

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The focaccia is said to be made with: "unbleached flour, water, natural starter, olive oil, milk, salt, and yeast." They had a lovely tomato and basil focaccia propped up in the display window and it prompted me to order one. However, as I spread out my loot in Central Park I noticed that my tomato and basil focaccia had no basil. . .

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This was a beautiful focaccia nonetheless. Unfortunately, it did not taste as well as it looked. The crust was passable, but the crumb was down-right bad. It had the same hamburger bun-like texture of the baguette but this was far worse. It honestly looked indistinguishable from a bun and it tasted like one too. This focaccia was also far too oily. It was a hot day so I could be mistaken, but it appears as if the bread was doused until wet with olive oil after it was baked rather than before.

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Amy's is an adorable bread shop and I suggest a visit. When you go stick to their rustic breads rather than their delicate European breads. Amy's would do well to let a real crust form on their breads. I do not know what type of oven they use, but a thick charred crust would do wonders for the olive and rosemary breads.

I will post more about our New York trip soon.

June 10, 2005

Gemma: Artopolis Bakery Cafe

Last Saturday Harold and I visited Artopolis Bakery Cafe in Greektown. Set along Halsted amongst noisy Greek restaurants and small grocery stores, this attractive cafe boasts sunlight, space, plenty of seating, and a wide array of foods and drinks. It is no small wonder that the clientele appeared to be largely UIC students. We left with four loaves of bread and two decent cups of coffee and headed to Harold's house.

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Harold laid out a small bowl of arugula, two fine cheeses that had been coming to temperature, and some seltzer water, then we began with the 'French epis long' that you see above.

This was a gorgeous looking bread, dusted with cornmeal and expertly split. The exterior was nice and crusty and the crumb was soft and chewy-though not resilient. The bread had a nice subtle flavor that went wonderfully with the cheeses.  This was not an amazing bread, but certainly quite passable.  It was also the first epis cut I have seen since beginning these reviews, so that increased my enjoyment of this bread.

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In this photograph you can see the French pretzel, the round levain sour dough, and the kalamata olive bread.  In the distance you can see our cheeses (and below you will find a better photograph) The first was a hard raw milk Gruyere-Reserve by Emmi and the second was a softer sheep's milk cheese from Neals Yard Dairy.

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The French pretzel was available with salt or with sesame, we naturally chose salt. A very thin and chewy crust enclosed a crumb with very small and uniform holes.  The crumb was a bit bland and unresilient, though moist and the crust was pleasant, though the salt was doing most of the work, I believe.  This was a mediocre bread, the crumb needs some work.  I would be interested to try this with the sesame in place of the salt. 

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On the left is the French pretzel interior.  To our right is the levain sour dough interior. "Levain" is a French word associated with the English "leavened" or meaning "to rise."  Basically, this simply means that the bread is naturally leavened, or to put it more simply, a sourdough. One could find a more eloquent description of the nuances of this word.

This sour dough round had a beautifully flour dusted top and a thin, light, overly chewy crust.  Some whole wheat flour had been used resulting in a very smooth texture and flavor which was quite nutty and earthy.  The crumb was soft, moist, and unresilient and the crust should have been more substantial and crisper.  The over-all flavors, though nice, would not be described as sour.  Amazingly, the bread did not take cheese well at all.  This bread was a disappointment due to not being nearly as good as it looked.

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We then moved on to our last loaf, the kalamata olive bread, which you see on the right in the above picture (the French epis long interior is on the left). The soft crust was dusted with cornmeal and the crumb was -again- soft, moist, and unresilient. The crumb contained the expected kalamata olives but also. . . chopped onions and flecks of oregano.  Why oh why do people insist on including cold and wet ingredients in an otherwise decent bread?  The flavors were strange and resulted in a sweet taste.  The onions and the olives did not compliment each other well.  Over-all, this tasted like cheap pizza dough or some horrible "fresh baked" creation from Subway.  This was a thoroughly uninspiring bread and something to avoid.

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In conclusion, the Artopolis bakery and cafe looks like a lovely place to spend a quiet afternoon people watching, reading, drinking coffee, and munching on their impressive selection of foods (and I intend to do just that sometime soon) however, their breads are mediocre to poor depending on what is selected.  They suffer from the all too common ailment of seemingly mass-produced breads where the crust is thin, dense, and overly chewy and the crumb is soft, far too moist, and completely unresilient.  These breads had no character and tasted roughly the same if you were to remove the salts, olives, and whole wheat flours.  The French epis long (you can see another interior shot above) and the levain sour dough were the better of the four, but while on the higher end of mediocre, these breads also left something to be desired. 

May 17, 2005

Gemma: Bennison's Bakery

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This past Saturday Harold and I ventured to the outskirts of Chicago where lies Evanston, an off-shoot of the city that is neither truly Chicago nor quite a suburb. The purpose of this trek was to visit Jory Downer's  Bennison's Bakery who, along with two other bakers from the U.S., just won the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (The World Cup of Baking). How lucky we are to have such a notable baker in our own backyard.

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We purchased four items from the busy store: a seeded baguette, a strawberry rhubarb brioche, an S.O.P. round loaf, and a raisin bread loaf. In addition, we ordered coffee and tea and a croissant. We sat on a park bench outside the store and enjoyed our warm beverages while I munched on the croissant. This was a superb croissant, very rich and soft with an incredible flakiness. My all-black attire was covered in greasy-golden specks when I was through.

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We drove back down to Hyde Park, and as usual, planted ourselves hungrily at my dining room table. We began with this beautiful and intriguing strawberry rhubarb brioche. This tasted very much like a danish, which are delicious. This was a very wonderful pastry, but I must say the virtues of the brioche were lost underneath the other ingredients. I love brioche however, so perhaps this would not be as heart-breaking to another. In the end the brioche tasted a bit dry when I didn't have a mouthful of jam to accompany it. The toppings were sweet, but not over the top. All in all, I would have loved to try a plain brioche, which they may in fact sell some days.

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We then moved on to the breads. Clockwise from the top we have the seeded baguette, the S.O.P. round, and the raisin loaf. The seeded baguette was in short one of the best I have had. It was seeded with sesame, black sesame, poppy, and sunflower seeds. It had a perfect crust: not to thick, not to thin, and very crispy. The crumb had great integrity, soft yet strong, well-holed, moist and resilient. The flavor goes great with butter, but is not needed to improve the taste in the least. This was a great, no-nonsense, well-built baguette. My only complaint was that it was perhaps overly seeded. The seed flavors were nice, but it could have been toned down a bit so as not to overpower the breads real flavor. I imagine they also make unseeded baguettes some days as well.

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Next we tried the S.O.P. round. You are probably wondering what such an acronym means and I unfortunately have to admit that we are too. I will have to give the bakery a call in the next few days to figure it out, as the ideas that Harold and I came up with are surely not correct. It is the 'S' that keeps throwing me off. I am fairly confident that the 'O' stands for olives and the 'P' for peppers. This was a very soft and egg-y bread, with a moist crumb and a thin crust (much like a. . . hamburger bun. . .). The bread had very few diced olive pieces and many large yellow, green, and red bell pepper pieces. I do not understand the choice of bell peppers. Their use created wet pockets that were cold, flavorless, and slimy. This bread was unique, but uninspiring. The flavors were strange, bland, and begging for salt. This could make a good garlic bread, perhaps. If cut into thin slices and topped with butter, herbs, and lots of garlic then broiled. Perhaps then the flavors would improve/be covered up and the hamburger bun softness would crisp up as would the slimy bell peppers. This was a strange bread.

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Finally, we moved on to the raisin bread (the interior shot above shows this on the left and the seeded baguette on the right). This was a heavy and dense bread, with a soft and strong crust dusted with cornmeal, and a soft and springy crumb. It was packed with yellow raisins (which are called sultanas, yes?) and fennel seeds which creates a very interesting taste combination that I grew to be quite pleased with. This is a delicious and well-constructed bread which keeps well (I have been enjoying slices for breakfast the past few days).

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Above you can see the interior of the S.O.P. round. Below you can see Harold passed out in my living room after too much bread.

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Bennison's is a lovely bakery. They specialize in pastries and cakes, but their baguettes and croissants were superb. Stay away from the S.O.P. though. I hope to go back to find a plain brioche one day.

April 20, 2005

Gemma: Fox & Obel

My first experience at Fox & Obel was kind of horrible. I went during my lunch break from work one day to poke around and perhaps buy something unique. I'm all for shelling out too much money for something that I have never seen before and that looks like an exciting kitchen addition, however I was disappointed to see that Fox & Obel simply sells mass marketed gourmet mustards that you can find in any foofy coffee shop and your standard imported British cookies---at about twice the price. I'm sure if I spent more time in there I could find something intriguing and there is something to be said for having all of those items in one store, but I was still over-all unimpressed.

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On this first day I tried their bread, a baguette, and the female employee helping me was impossibly rude and the baguette was impossibly rock-hard. I wouldn't have gone back so soon except that Rob at Vital Information convinced me to give them a second chance.

Harold and I drove up last Sunday and spent a large amount of time looking for parking. Reader be savvy: Fox & Obel will validate your parking ticket if you park across the street in the lot. Harold and I took a gander around the store and then decided coffee was highly in order. We got in line behind 7 or so people in the back cafe area and proceeded to wait for nearly 30 min to even order our coffee! There was a collection about 5 employees behind the counter arranging bagels and chatting while one astoundingly slow woman took orders.

Finally with some caffeine in hand and running low on leisure time we went to select some bread from again, not the most friendly woman. Overall, the experience with the haughty clientele and the bizarre employees was less than great the second time around as well. I did manage to find some excellent fage Greek yogurt and some fancy mineral water that didn't break the bank. Let's see how the bread compared. . .

We ate a pretty tasty brioche on the way home because we were very hungry. Upon our arrival at my place we started with the semolina loaf. In the above picture (beginning at the top left and turning clockwise) we have the semolina loaf, a half eaten mini-baguette (ok, so we started on that in the car too), our 1/4 of the peasant sour, an olive ciabatta pillow, and the ciderhouse dark rye. The semolina didn't seem to have much semolina in it. It was basically a fancy white bread which tasted a bit like a gas oven when you breathed out of your nose as you ate. That sounds pretty awful, but I would say it was a generally inoffensive bread without much going for it. However it did have a decent crust with a soft crumb which had a very nice hole structure.

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Above you can see the interiors of (l-r) the baguette, the semolina loaf, and the olive ciabatta. The baguette was much better than the one I had on my solo trip. Though, it still wasn't spectacular. It was a little flavourless and was too airy. It had a very soft and squishy crumb and a hard yet thin and flaky crust. This baguette was a little too delicate too take seriously.

We then moved to the peasant sour. This was a gorgeous bread. You can see the browned/charred, floured crust in the first picture. Just beautiful. It had a soft and very moist crumb that was dense and springy. I am fairly certain they use a real sourdough starter (thank god), though it had a mild aroma. We used some butter on our last pieces and it did great things for the flavour. This was a good bread in a style I had not seen before.

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(l-r) the semolina loaf and the olive ciabatta again, the peasant sour, and the ciderhouse dark rye. The ciderhouse dark rye was billed as a rye bread made with hard cider. An interesting idea, though the cider flavors were not that pronounced they certainly did add something to the flavor. The exterior of this bread was seeded with caraway. It had a good crust and a moist, soft crumb. The crumb was a very pretty mousy grey-brown and the taste was slightly sweet. This bread went great with cheddar. This was also a wonderful and unique bread.

Lastly, we tried the olive ciabatta pillow. This ciabatta had nice holes (much nicer than some of the other bakeries we have been too), a traditional crusty-crust with a glossy crumb. The crumb had a lovely cool, creamy texture. Oddly, the first bite of the crust I took tasted like slightly burnt popcorn. . In any event, the ciabatta was filled with many kinds of superb whole olives, much more delicious than the typical one type-diced. I thought this was delicious and it went great with chevre.

Overall, I still can't really stand Fox & Obel, but their breads have improved greatly in my mind. Stay away from the baguettes and the semolina loaf and go instead for the unique, rustic, darker breads like the peasant sour and the ciderhouse dark rye. The olive ciabatta pillow would be a tasty and quick lunch if you are in the area (and probably much cheaper than actually using their lunch counter).

April 11, 2005

Gemma: Argo Georgian Bakery

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Last Sunday the temperature in Chicago reached above 70F.  It was glorious.  Harold and I drove up to Devon with the windows down and then walked our way to Argo Georgian Bakery (2812 W. Devon Ave. Chicago, IL 60659.  773/764-6322). Upon entering the quaint storefront, the most unique and obvious feature of Argo is the brick, domed oven in the center of the store.  According to a website called Savoring Chicago, the kind of oven is called a 'tune' oven (I was, however, unable to find further information on this type of oven with a brief Googling. Feel free to share if you are familiar with such an oven.)  Further, the site claims that is the only Georgian bakery in the country.  Another Googling seems to support this (though there is one in Canada).  As you will read, I believe we Chicagoans are quite blessed in this case.

The staff and owner are very sweet and friendly and they even opened up the lid to the domed oven to show us the interior when we walked to the railing to gaze at it.

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Harold and I purchased three items to eat in house, plus two loaves of bread, and a seltzer water.  We sat at one of the few, small tables and began with a spinach pie.  This was a savory pastry with a soft, not particularly flaky crust and filled with chopped and cooked spinach.  The spinach tasted as if it could well be fresh and my only complaint was that the overall effect was bland.  With some seasonings, even as simple as some salt and pepper added to the spinach (or perhaps more decadently, some type of cheese such as feta), the taste might have been improved.  All the same however, this was a very worthwhile purchase.

Next we tried a tapluna, which is a honey and walnut pie.  It consists of a long triangle of flaky pastry dough, rolled from the base of the triangle to the tip, dusted with powdered sugar, and filled with the honey and nut paste.  This was also quite delicious, though perhaps a bit too sweet for my tastes.

Lastly, we dug into a hachapuri (see picture below), which to our delight we realized was still quite warm.  And might I say, this alone is worth the trip to Argo regardless of where you, lovely reader, might live.  The hachapuri was a square shaped puff of flaky, golden pastry filled with the most divine mixture of mozzarella, feta, and farm cheese which, thanks to the still warm pastry, was warm, creamy, and oozing out of the pastry as we ate. 

At this point, to our horror, Harold and I realized that in our overzealous consumption of these delicious things I had completely forgotten to take pictures before digging in, which must be a mark of how good everything looked.  (See how well-disciplined Harold and I are for you most of the time?  Sometimes it is pure torture to take a decent picture before ripping into some fabulous looking loaf or pastry).  At about the same time, with no real consultation, Harold and I decided we MUST have another hachapuri.  This batch had come right out of the oven, and as I already admitted on my post at Chicago Foodies, I burnt my face on the hot steam escaping from the puff's interior as I bit into it perhaps a bit too hungrily.  The warmer the better folks, but do be careful.  I was lucky to escape without a red mark on my nose and cheek from the burning steam.

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The second hachapuri was gone in seconds and as we came back to our surroundings we noticed how quickly the hachapuri was disappearing as it emerged from the oven every 10 minutes or so.  People were being asked to either wait our come back.  This said, let me clear that you simply must try a hachapuri if you visit Argo and it would be quite wise to leave an extra 20-30 minutes just in case you need to wait.

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Harold and I then returned to my apartment to try the two breads.  The first was a long bread called a shoti (pictured above).  You probably aren't going to believe this, but the first taste this bread gives off is exactly like honey-dew melon.  This is not a bad thing, but just an odd one.  This taste disappears into more traditional bread flavors almost immediately, and you might not even notice it.  This is a soft, creamy, and chewy bread.  It has a dry crust, a slightly salty taste (though a bit less so than the second bread below) and a dense, glossy crumb.

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The second bread was shaped in a large circle and is called a puri. This was a very chewy, quite dense bread, with many tiny holes.  It had a dry crust and a glossy crumb which was creamy in texture to the mouth.  It had a pleasant slightly salty taste and I believe it would be fantastic with a dill Havarti.

Both of these breads were superb and very unique.  I have never had anything quite like them and I highly recommend giving them a try.  Argo Georgian Bakery was quite impressive and I will definitely be back.  Harold commented and I agree that this was the best bakery we have visited since Red Hen.  One of the best.

March 24, 2005

Gemma: Breadsmith Bakery


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Originally uploaded by dumin.

Two weekends ago Harold and I, accompanied by our friend Paul, visited the Breadsmith Bakery at 1710 N. Wells in Chicago. As you can see from the link, Breadsmith is a chain located throughout the Midwest. The bakery we went to is located in the upscale neighborhood of Old Town and the clientele seemed representative. I lived a few blocks from this bakery with my uncles for a few summers and had been interested in returning for some time.

Upon entering the store I noticed the dog biscuits for sale and almost turned around to leave. But, I was humbled when I made it up to the register and noticed that every penny of their sale goes to an animal shelter. I took a picture of their lovely ovens, but was confronted by the manager who probed me for information on what the photo was for. I was caught off guard and rambled about 'really loving ovens. . ' or something like that. He asked if I was from a trade magazine and if so said they had stock photos. I regret not asking for one, because I would love a big glossy picture. This leads me to the question, would he consider this a trade magazine? Hrm. . . In any event, I am now afraid to post the lovely picture I took of their large and shiny ovens, so you will all just have to visit to see for yourself.

Here is what we selected (clockwise from the top ring):
Simit
Cheddar Jalapeno Sourdough
Salt Sticks (2)
Small Focaccia
Sourdough Roll

The simit had a delicious aroma of nutty toasted sesame. It was moist and very sweet. The flavor was a bit odd. The crust too soft, actually the whole bread was so soft that it almost disintegrated in your mouth. Oddly, it almost tasted and smelled like a commercially produced soft whole wheat sandwich loaf. Simit is a traditional Turkish bread which is indeed supposed to be quite sweet and nutty. However, this crust was much too soft and should instead be quite firm and chewy.  Here is a shot of the interior:
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(l-r) Cheddar Jalapeno Sourdough, Focaccia, Simit, Sourdough Roll.

The cheddar jalapeno sourdough contained a massive amount of cheese with jalapeno slices and caraway seeds in the center. The bread was delicious and enjoyable, but this was mainly due to the cheese and not to the bread itself. The extra ingredients were spread onto the rolled out dough, it was rolled up into a loaf and baked. Without these extra ingredients the bread would be bland and unremarkable. It had a very soft crumb and chewy crust. Tasty, but solely do to the extras. 

The salt sticks were covered in caraway seeds which went fantastically with the saltiness of the bread. This was a chewy bread with a nice, glossy, chewy crust and a soft, fine crumb. It would be lovely with a soup or pasta. Perhaps ideal with a warm carrot and caraway soup (ooh, I'll have to make that!) or a caraway and tomato based pasta sauce.

The small focaccia was similar to the cheddar jalapeno sourdough in that it would be an uneventful product were in not for the ingredients the bread was stuffed with. (In fact, it tasted like the bread would be a mediocre over-sized pretzel without the extra ingredients). It was also a rolled dough, stuffed with chopped tomato, white cheddar/Parmesan, salt, and spinach. It was very tasty and soft. It unfortunately fell apart when cut. Golden, thin, soft, and glossy crust. It was not oily, which is a plus. A second shot of the interiors:
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(l-r) Salt Stick, Cheddar Jalapeno Sourdough, Focaccia, Simit.

Lastly, the sourdough roll had a very hard crust and a moist light crumb. It had small, but plentiful holes and crustiness that would be ideal for soups but a bit too hard for eating alone. The aroma was indiscernible and while the taste was sour, I suspect (though am highly disappointed to say) that they must use an artificial sourdough additive rather than using a real starter.

Overall, this is a nice neighborhood bakery with solid products, but nothing to right home about. The salt sticks were the winner.

February 20, 2005

Gemma: Medici Bakery

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This Sunday morning John and I met Harold at the Medici Bakery in our neighborhood of Hyde Park, Chicago. (See Harold's review below)

The Medici Bakery is located next to the Medici Restaurant and the University Market, all owned by the same family. Interestingly, Lauren Bushnell the Medici's head baker, once worked at the Red Hen which we reviewed the other week. *(UPDATE: I have learned that Ms. Bushnell left the Medici Bakery this past spring and is currently working towards opening her own bakery at 61st and Dorchester.  This excites me!)*

This attractive and modern neighborhood bakery is frequented by neighborhood families as well as University of Chicago students. Besides breads, they serve coffees, teas, ice cream, and pastries. We purchased the lovely things you see below:
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beginning at the top left, two small whole wheat and walnut rolls, our Morbier du haut L'ibradois cheese from University Market, a soft pretzel, (and on the lower cutting board from top to bottom) a semolina sesame loaf, a seeded baguette, a small ciabatta, and a small olive ciabatta.

We began with the pretzel. I was more interested than usual in ordering a soft pretzel because I recently made my own pretzels at home with some success. The Medici's had a thin, chewy, glossy, and golden 'traditional' crust with nice salt distribution and a moist, silky crumb. Harold remarked and I agreed that it had the consistency of a sourdough. Overall enjoyable.

Next we tried the semolina sesame. This was heavily seeded with a thin crust and a glossy and erractically holed crumb. It tasted heavily of the toasted sesame with almost a smokey flavor. The crumb was moist and soft with a light semolina flavor. There was a smooth nut butter flavor suggested by the aroma, which we decided could be described as a 'creaminess.' It went fantastically with a bit of irish butter as well. A good bread.

Next we started on the plain ciabatta. Perhaps it was an off day or perhaps it was due to not purchasing the full sized loaf, but this was not a strong example of a ciabatta (and unfortunately this trend continued for the rest of the breads we sampled). The flavor was nice; salt and oil (though a little heavy on the oil). It had a thin chewy crust with very odd and atypical holes. Did it not rise well, did something strange happen during kneading? It had a shiny, glossy crust and crumb. An aromatic and yeasty flavor--a little too close to pizza dough. See the interior below:
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From left to right: plain ciabatta, olive ciabatta, semolina sesame, and seeded baguette.

Next we moved to the olive ciabatta. This had many of the characteristics that the plain ciabatta had. Strange holes, one huge air pocket in the top mid-crust, the same very chewy, glossy crust, salty, oily. For both of these ciabattas, the chewiness was almost plastic-y and they were not very true to what I normally expect in a ciabatta.

We then tried the seeded baguette. This was also a very odd version of a standard bread. The crumb was overly soft and glossy, completely uncomplex. It was seeded with sesame, fennel, and poppy seeds. I think Harold put it best when he described this as a 'limp-wristed baguette.'

Lastly, we sampled the two small whole wheat and walnut rolls. They were suprisingly sweet, had a dense crumb, a soft crust, and a savory-walnut flavor. As a roll, I thought these were quite good. They would go particularly well with a pasta with a tomato-based sauce.

The cheese was quite nice. It had a subtle, chalky and sharp flavor that was pungent yet not over-powering. It went best with the semolina sesame, seeded baguette, and the olive baguette.

Harold lives nearby the Medici Bakery and was shocked at the poor quality of things he normally enjoys from them. Since they are a neighborhood bakery we decided we could give them a second chance. Check back for an update when that occurs. Hopefully the Medici Bakery was simply having an off day.

The Medici
1327 E 57th St.
Chicago, IL 60637

February 19, 2005

Gemma: Chiu Quon

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The other weekend a few friends from Reed and I attended an alumni event in Chinatown. We ate dim sum and then wandered around through some stores afterwards. We came upon a bakery called Chiu Quon. The bakery was bustling with shouting customers trying to make their way to an employee behind the counter.

We were eventually helped by a sweet young woman who was patient with us as John and I made our selections. Of the handful of things we purchased, here is the first of the three we will highlight:

moon cakes
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These tiny little cakes had gorgeous patterns imprinted on their dough encasings. Inside, the cakes were filled with a thick, golden jelly. They tasted pleasantly of sweet musk and jasmine, however the texture was so thick and overwhelming that they were difficult and ultimately unenjoyable to eat.

Second, we tried a coconut puff:
Coconut_puff

These delightful puffs shared many characteristics with the common danish. They were soft, glazed, sugary, and airy. The cocount flavor worked well and did not seem overly sweetened. The puff was not necessarily remarkable, but it did have a much subtler taste than a normal doughnut or danish might and was considerably less sweet, which I enjoyed. As such things go, I was impressed with this version.

Lastly, we tried a creme puff:
Creme_puff

The creme puff was soft, airy, and golden. It was sprinkled with coconut shavings and stuffed with a light creme frosting. It was quite sugary and would have been impossible to eat entirely on my own, but sharing it with John and Molly for dessert worked well (we could have used a fourth person in the end). The creme puff was good, but also irremarkable. The coconut was a nice touch, but overall I would not order a second one.

Chiu Quon bakery is a nice, quaint, and popular destination in Chinatown. They do things well, but not spectacularly. The coconut puff was the standout of our selection due to the subtle flavors. I would not make a special trip to Chiu Quon, however If I were hungry for a sweet and in the area, I would duck in for a coconut puff.

February 13, 2005

Gemma: Red Hen

gemma

We began our bakery tour last weekend with Red Hen. (See Harold's review below). We went to the Milwaukee Ave. location.

This cute, small store front filled to the brim with delicious looking baked goods, wooden shelves, and bright sunlight made for a perfect early Saturday morning excursion. The two nice young women presiding over the store were patient with our indecisivness and helpful when answering our questions.

After the intoxicating selection process we retired back to Hyde Park to enjoy our goods.

We began (in the car, I admit) with a focaccia. The thing that stood out to me most was the soft texture achieved without an overwhelming oily-ness. The seasoning was delicate and savory witout being over-powering. A very nice way to start the day.

We then began on the lovely things you see here:

Red Hen Breads


On the left you see two asiago cheese and black pepper mini brioches on either side of a mid-sized regular brioche. Up above you see our cheese selection, Stinking Bishop, and below that in the center we have our olive rosemary boule, to the right-- a Milwaukee sour, and of course, a seeded baguette.


The asiago cheese and black pepper mini brioche was delicious. They were true to their title and the black pepper was the stand-out flavor, the sharpness of which was nicely rounded out by the asiago cheese. These were not greasy and only had a hint of cheese, which worked well. The crumb was not as delicate as a typical brioche.

The regular brioche was airy and delicate with a golden flakey crust and a soft crumb. This was a well-crafted version of the standard brioche and Red Hen will certainly be my default brioche vendor from now on.

We then moved to the olive rosemary boule. When we sliced into the interior we were greated by large kalamata olives, fresh rosemary, and a mouth-watering aroma. The olives and rosemary were evenly distributed throughout the bread and there was a moist and shiny crumb. The crust was dark and thick. This was an amazing bread with a pungent but never overwhelming taste. You can see the interior in the picture below. The olive rosemary boule is on the right and the Milwaukee sour is on the left.

Red Hen Texture

We next sampled the Milwaukee sour which had a beautiful golden crust. One thing I noticed right away as the bread was being cut was the very resilient crumb. Upon further experimentation we found the bread could be fully compressed between your fingers and immediately bounce back to it's original stature. This sour was denser than others I have had, while also being perfectly moist. The crust was thin and hard and the crumb was chewy (in the good way). The bread had flecks of whole wheat. This was a far more substantial bread than most sourdough and was not as aromatic or as pungent in taste. This was a delicous bread, though quite a bit different than other sourdoughs I have had. I will have to learn more about the Milwaukee sourdough tradition in order to see if this was a typical offering or not.

Lastly, we tried the seeded baguette. I found this baguette to be very unique. It was encrusted in fennel, sesame, poppy, and caraway seeds. The unique flavor could be traced to the number of fennel seeds, making it a powerful flavor. The scent of the crumb was almost rye and was moist and nicely holed. The crust was hard, thick, and did not flake. Overall a very enjoyable bread.

The Stinking Bishop is a very pungent cheese. We asked Whole Foods for a soft and pungent cheese that would be ready to enjoy in about an hour, and this is exactly what we got. The Bishop was silky, but not melty, and had a nice sponge to it. The rind was soft, light, and golden. It worked well with the baguette and even better with the sourdough--to our suprise. The cheese brought out more of the sour aroma.

Over-all I highly recommend the Red Hen.