Our Daily Bread -Spring 2014

by: Kimberly Nolan

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Standing ALONE in the middle moors, pastry chef BEN WOODBURY says a short PRAYER. Under the early-evening sky, while the air is still warm, he begins the process of collecting WILD YEAST – with gratitude.

“I try to hold onto the truth that so many powerful, necessary and transformative things are given to us freely,” Woodbury said.

Inside Woodbury’s 12-quart bucket is a simple wet batter concoction. He waits as four quarts of flour and water attract wild yeast that begins the alchemy of baking bread.

The wild yeast yields flavor characteristics specific to Woodbury’s WICKED ISLAND BAKERY bread.

“People are really tasting the wild yeast in the French bread we make because flour, water, salt and yeast are the only ingredients in there,” Woodbury said.

The Nantucket Loaf, Portuguese bread, Struan, French bread and a changing menu of specialty breads are all baked inside a hearth oven at Wicked Island Bakery on Orange Street.

“The bread is baked on the floor of the oven and everything gets steamed out through the crust,” Woodbury said.

The Nantucket Loaf is modeled off of Cornell bread, developed at Cornell University. Cornell bread is a mellow white bread consisting of powdered milk, wheat germ and organic soy flour. “The specific ratio of ingredients boosts the amount of usable protein,” Woodbury said. “Our Nantucket Loaf is a two-pound Cornell loaf.”

The most popular of Woodbury’s breads, the Struan loaf, evolved from a recipe that started with Peter Reinhart, baker, author and former Eastern Orthodox monk.

“The Struan loaf is more of an idea than a recipe,” Woodbury said. “It’s a convergence of streams that include a little bit of everything: seeds, 21 varieties of grains, cooked items and a dry-mix blend.”

Woodbury said his predecessor in the Orange Street bakery space, Liz Holland, baker and owner of Daily Breads, popularized the Struan loaf and had built a substantial following. After the venue changed hands, including sitting vacant for a year, Ben and his wife Heather opened Wicked Island Bakery last March.

Heather, the bakery’s general manager, said a nationwide farm-to-table trend has increased customer awareness and curiosity about the ingredients going into bread today.

“We start with sourcing ingredients as locally as we can get,” Ben said. “If it’s not available on-island, then we’ll buy regionally within Massachusetts. Everything is available within New England. Nearly all the flour we use is King Arthur flour from Vermont.”

Science is only part of the baking process, Ben said. The unstructured, raw ingredients are influenced by many variables, including temperature, humidity and protein content.

“You have to have a sense of where you’re at and where the products are at,” Ben said. “If you’re in a funk, the dough will be affected. You need to be in tune with yourself and with the product.”

Among their offerings, the Woodburys serve breakfast sandwiches on soft Portuguese bread topped with oven-baked eggs, Cabot Vermont cheddar cheese, uncured bacon or homemade sausage.

The Portuguese bread is mellow, soft and almost “cakey,” Ben said. He describes the Portuguese bread as a white bread without much fermentation flavor, consisting of dry milk, butter and malt, which lends a bit of sweetness.

“It’s mixed in two stages, giving it a soft, even texture with good keeping properties,” he said. “It’s nice for toast and sandwiches. Our hearth oven makes it look a little darker than other Portuguese bread around the island.”

Portuguese bread has also been a longstanding hallmark of the NANTUCKET BAKE SHOP.

“What’s special about our recipe is that it’s the same recipe we’ve been using for 38 years,” said coowner Magee Detmer. “It was an artisan bread before there was such a thing as an artisan bread. It does not contain a poolish starter, but it does have the longer fermentation time typical of an artisan bread.”

Detmer said the Bake Shop’s signature Portuguese bread consists of flour, water, yeast, salt and milk powder. It is hand-molded and proofed three times before it is baked. The first proof allows the dough to rise in a bowl, Detmer said. The dough then gets divided into loaves and rises again. It is then handmolded and laid into wooden boxes for its final rise before being loaded onto the steel shelves of a rotating oven.

“Hand-molding is hugely important,” Detmer said. “We had a friend in the bakery business that gave us a machine to mold loaves and scale off dough. We brought it to the landfill. Nothing can duplicate hand-molding, which helps the density, the shape and the quality.”

Portuguese bread is a tradition that transcends generations, Detmer said. She used to stand in line to wait for the Portuguese bread coming out of Joe Cecot’s oven. Cecot was the former owner of the Nantucket Bake Shop.

“Other places sell Portuguese bread but it is not the exact same bread,” Detmer said.

In 1976, summer residents David and Anne Bradt, Detmer’s parents, decided to purchase the Nantucket Bake Shop with the caveat that Cecot pass on his baking knowledge to Magee and her then-fiancé, Jay Detmer.

Magee said her parents convinced her and Jay to stay for the summer and learn the baking trade. Years later, the husband and wife team continue to bake together. Magee’s domain is cookies, pies, cakes, cake-decorating, squares and preparing hot lunches during the winter months. Jay’s specialties are bread, doughnuts and breakfast items.

Included in their loaf lineup is Jay’s three-cheese bread, cranberry walnut rye, French bread, herb bread consisting of seven different herbs and spices, sunfloweroatmeal bread, which is a lighter whole grain bread, and Portuguese sweet bread.

“The Portuguese sweet bread is different from Portuguese bread,” Magee said. “It has sugar, eggs and spices in it. It is almost like challah but it is not glazed on the outside. Traditionally, Cape Verdeans and Portuguese like to eat it with kale soup. Some restaurants on-island like to use it for French toast.”

The Detmers closed their doors at 79 Orange St. and relocated to 171⁄2 Old South Road in late 2012.

The original building had no heat, no insulation and no ventilation, Magee said. During the winter months, Jay would go to work five hours early to turn the heat on. He would have to continually rely on pots of boiling water to add enough humidity to the air.

The new building has heat, adequate ventilation and overall elemental control, yielding more consistent bread, Magee said.

Due to demand, the Detmers ship Nantucket Bake Shop specialties for much of the year. They do not ship from June 15 to Sept. 15, however, because the summer heat will compromise the integrity of their fresh-baked products, Magee said.

Matt Fee, owner of SOMETHING NATURAL, echoes the Detmers’ sentiments about his own customer base.

“It’s important to keep some of the recipes the same,” he said. “The memories get passed through the generations.”

Fee said his Portuguese-bread recipe is 40 years old, dating back to his father’s former restaurant The Skipper. After purchasing Something Natural in 1983, Fee continues to mix, mold and bake under his own roof.

Fresh ingredients, including honey from a Massachusetts apiary, add to the consistency of Something Natural bread.

“If you do a good job with the ingredients, the bread will be good.” Fee said.

The bread lineup at Something Natural includes six-grain, herb, oatmeal, challah, rye, pumpernickel, raisin, whole wheat, French and Portuguese. The latter is what Fee describes as “everyday bread.” The Portuguese bread is basically French bread, with water substituted for milk.

George and Peg Fleming, the former owners of Something Natural, created the oatmeal, raisin and herb recipes. Fee continues the Flemings’ tradition, with his own signature loaves.

The flavor profile specific to the pumpernickel, rye and six-grain comes from a longer rise time and the use of a rye starter, Fee said. French and challah breads both require a longer fermentation time to meet Fee’s standards.

“Depending on how you treat the yeast will depend on which strains survive and which won’t,” Fee said. “If dough is wetter and warmer, it will rise faster. If it is colder and drier, it will rise slower.”

BARTLETT’S OCEAN VIEW FARM baker Josh Norton said breakfast pastries, cookies, pies, granola, cakes, desserts and bread keep the bakery going yearround. French baguettes are the only year-round bread they produce.

During the busy season, Norton expands his loaf offerings to include roastedgarlic potato bread, rosemary and kalamata olive loaf, and variations of focaccia.
Norton changes the focaccia combinations depending on the availability of farm-fresh herbs.

“We use as many farm-grown items as possible,” Norton said. “Later in the growing season, we even add our own pumpkins to some of the focaccia.”
Two and a half years ago, Norton created a “sour” that he continues to rely on to develop the flavor characteristics of his French bread and focaccia. When developing a sour, Norton begins with flour, water and whole grapes. He feeds the grapes equal parts flour and water to build up to the desired volume. The grapes provide yeast. Their solidity allows for easy removal.

“(Developing the yeast) is typically a three-week-long process before it’s strong enough to leaven bread and yield the right flavor characteristics,” Norton said. “Even now, our sour isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be. San Francisco sourdough is so sour because of the yeast and bacteria specific to that area.”

Baking is a science, but what sets bakers apart is where they find manipulation within the science.

“There is a right way and a wrong way to do things,” Norton said. “Within the right way, you’re going to find your own way.”

The same ingredients will yield different results, depending on the technique, said Tiina Polvere, PETTICOAT ROW BAKERY executive pastry chef and co-proprietor. ReMain Nantucket approached Tiina to expand her existing Nantucket Cake Company into Petticoat Row, and came on board with an ownership stake. She and her husband Don opened the self-described “no nonsense French patisserie” on Centre Street in 2010.

“Some of our recipes were tweaked more than 15 times to get the exact recipe we were looking for,” Tiina said. “Having good bread takes time. The dough needs plenty of time to rest. We have developed a baguette that is different from other baguettes found on-island.”

Tiina described the Petticoat Row baguette as having the consistency of a ciabatta, with an airy and bubbly inside texture. “Hippie” bread is another signature
loaf produced by the husband-and-wife team. Hippie bread, jokingly named after an employee, is a fullyseeded bread, Don said. The loaf contains pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, wheat flour, rye flour and white flour.

Tiina’s hand-rolled, boiled bagels are an homage to her years in New York City, and Petticoat Row’s sourdough bread is an ongoing development that she is honing to make even more sour. Past sourdough manipulations included the use of Squam Farm grapes as starter, she said.

Petticoat Row also sells bread to local restaurants. The Company of the Cauldron restaurant features its cottage loaf, which is created from the same dough as the bakery’s baguettes, presented in a different form, Tiina said. The Polveres’ brioche rolls are used for the lobster rolls at Millie’s restaurant and the Nantucket Golf Club.

The Polveres said serving Nantucketers with consistent products has been their mission all along. This season they will also outsource regionally-baked, arti-
san breads, an initiative Don said is intended to offer variety and quality to the community.

Eventually, the Polveres said they would like to expand Petticoat Row and acquire a second facility, one solely dedicated to baking bread. Their vision includes a lineup of artisan breads that incorporate local, farmfresh ingredients. Don said they would also like to increase their wholesale offerings.

“In France, customers go to a patisserie for pastries and the boulangerie for bread,” Tiina said. “They are two different enterprises.”

The 35 Centre St. bakery’s namesake harks back to the island’s whaling days. While the men were on whaling voyages, sometimes for years at a time, women took over the day-to-day commerce. During the 1800s, many of the island’s businesses were located on Centre Street, which became known as Petticoat Row. ///

Kimberly Nolan is a staff writer for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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