Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Language of Bread

Just call me “Little Miss Sunbeam Bread”. When I was little, this doll-like icon with the yellow Betty Grable curls and plump cheeks was my ideal of girlish beauty. But when it came to choosing my “pain quotidien”, it was Wonder Bread everyday.

Ironically, I was raised in a family of good bakers. Each fall and winter, Aunt Margaret’s Vermont kitchen would be full of the scent of her homemade donuts. Grandma Goodrich was queen of the pies; and one year she taught me the tricks of the trade. The result of our first collaboration, miniature sour cherry pies, was the gourmet hit of the church Strawberry Festival. Grandpa Goodrich, on special occasions, would channel his French/Canadian ancestry, and serve up his famous crepes. Aunt Lois, a Southerner, introduced me to the delights of Sally Lunn bread and seven layer cake. However, no one in our family baked bread until along came “moi.”

Once a week, the children and I would take down the big yellow mixing bowl, flour-up, and produce four loaves of bread. The hands-on favorite was Challah or Sabbath loaf (House and Garden’s New Cookbook, p.257). My little apprentices became expert at punching down the giant yeast puffball, and braiding the three pieces of dough into exquisitely tressed creations. Sometimes, just to put a little pizzazz into our routine, we would add raisins and a topping of sugar glaze, or grated cheese. I even attempted, and mastered Julia’s French baguette recipe.

When we went to live in Europe, I hung up my apron because there was so much good local bread to be found. How could I possibly compete with the brot from the bakkerijs in Belgium, or the pain from the boulangeries in France and Switzerland! When in Paris, we would always beat a path to Poilâne on Cherche-Midi, for some of the best rustic loaves and apple tarts ever. Back home in Belgium, we discovered that the same local monasteries so praised for their beer, also made heavenly bread.

European style bread-making has even come to my hometown in Upstate New York. The new kid on the block is Dustin Cutler, whose shop, Normal Bread, is located at 111 Washington Street, Geneva, NY. Dustin apprenticed to Richard Rice at the North Head Bakery in Grand Manan, New Brunswick, and has been in his present location for two years. He uses only 100% organic flour, and almost no sugar or oils. The bread is fermented overnight, and then baked in a four deck steam tube oven.

Et voilà, out comes his crusty signature Levain de pâte and assorted other breads. (Photos courtesy of Doug Reilly/Dandelion Empire.)

Bread culture and history is celebrated around the globe. For a list of bread museums, see (Use the search term "bread" under Food Museums.)

For example, Save the Bakehouses is a unique movement to protect and preserve the old baking huts of Belgium. These historic structures are disappearing quickly. Thus far, 2903 examples have been inventoried. For a complete list and slide show see:

It’s a Wonder-ful World,


  1. I love the bread here ( Netherlands) On vacations its always a suprise what you get. But its lovely that there are so many breads .

  2. What a beautiful post ! I love your blog, thank you so much for sharing it, & hello ! It's lovely to meet you

  3. Funny you mentioned that in Europe you stopped making bread since there is plenty of deliciously made bread everywhere. I think that is the reason why my mom never made bread or taught me how to either. I walked down the street every morning with a linen bread bag and come running back home with plenty of fresh and crispy bread hot from the oven...begging for a thick layer of the most delicious butter...sigh...
    When I go back to Portugal every year, guess what I'm having for breakfast ;)

  4. It's so hard to find nice bread in Australia, we just don't have the history or culture for it. Which is a shame as I adore eating nice bread. Thanks so much for stopping by Beach Vintage and leaving a comment.

  5. What a fascinating post. I love bread and bread baking. I didn't know about Save the Bakehouses! Thanks so much for sharing this. xo Gigi

  6. Thanks for your sharing ^.^ this post has a lot information about "making bread". I learned a lot too, hehe.

    I really appreciate your experience in this field.

    I also love bread d(^.^)b

  7. A beautiful and interesting story,what fabulous posts you write..a real pleasure to read, as are your comments.thankyou so much.
    Have a lovely weekend
    Lynn xxx
    Yes it is a day of memories today so sad xxx