Artisanal Loaves

An affair of the hearth.

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” —James Beard (1903–1985)

Step into a bakery and you invariably go weak in the knees, closing your eyes while breathing deep the air redolent of freshly baking bread. There are few scents in the world that conjure such an instantaneous visceral reaction, evoking memory and innocence and simple unadulterated joy. And the process of bread baking itself is sheer alchemic genius, an exacting yet instinctive, almost meditative process that transmutes flour, water, yeast and salt into a treasured loaf. Three of the Lower Mainland’s most respected bakers give us some insight on their individual approaches to creating artisan bread.

Transilvania Peasant Bread is the culmination of Florin Moldovan’s search for inspired baking. His space exudes rustic simplicity with its rough-hewn plank floors, hefty artisanal loaves lined up like sentries on unfinished wood shelves. Moldovan’s passion for baking was spurred by a yearning for truly good bread. “There’s something about the bread I grew up with—it’s a workhorse kind of bread, bread that nourishes you,” he reminisces. “In Europe, you buy a loaf of bread and eat it throughout the week. Good bread ages and changes over time. Every single day you discover a new layer of flavour. That’s the sort of bread I was looking for, and when I couldn’t find it here, I taught myself how to bake.” Moldovan’s dense, hearty bread has legions of devotees. The idiosyncrasies and heating cycles of his wood-burning oven limit his daily quota to about 75 loaves over two firings. Organic whole-wheat peasant loaf is available daily, while light rye and sprouted wheat alternate days on the shelf.

Equally devoted to his craft is Chris Brown of Rise Artisan Breads. Co-founder of one of Vancouver’s first artisanal bakeries, Ecco il Pane, he now bakes independently, selling his creations at the Trout Lake and Kitsilano farmers’ markets from spring through fall and at the ever-popular Winter Farmers’ Market during colder months. Brown bakes 300 to 400 loaves each week in a frenzied all-night affair fueled by passion and a steady supply of audio books. He works 24 to 30 hours straight, Friday through Saturday, to ensure that his bread is fresh for the morning markets. “I don’t belittle the fact that it’s kind of off the wall,” he muses. “I have the stamina to do it and I love baking—the process of transforming some really basic ingredients into something that people really appreciate is incredibly fulfilling.” Brown’s repertoire ranges from organic spelt bread to three cheese with caramelized garlic and chocolate sun-dried pear loaf. Seasonal favourites, such as Coronation grape bread in fall, are always the first to sell out.

Aficionados don’t bat an eyelash at trekking out to Crescent Beach in South Surrey for an ethereal loaf from Fieldstone Artisan Breads. Paul Hanley is the consummate perfectionist, and his meticulous dedication is motivated by a deep reverence for every step of the baking process. “It’s all about loving what you do, about waking up every morning, looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing that you’re doing your absolute best,” Henley says. “I don’t accept anything less than perfect.” Fieldstone’s product list is staggering, totalling over 350 items, but the bread is what keeps customers lined up in droves both at the bakery and at their farmers’ market stalls during summer months. Hanley’s bread is infused with the wisdom of experience gleaned from years of training, travel and research, along with the wonder and delight of creative inspiration. From apricot and pecan country bread to roasted fennel and balsamic pugliese, each loaf that emerges from Fieldstone’s French stone-hearth oven is, in a word, revelatory. The miller’s grain loaf is wondrous in its simplicity—exquisitely crisp crust surrounding an impossibly moist, toothsome centre. So complex in flavour—nutty, malty, perfectly salted with just a hint of sweet to balance—that you’ll eschew butter in favour of the bread’s pure taste alone. Each bite is like falling in love with bread all over again.

Post Date:

September 19, 2010