A Bakery Worth the Drive

The last few years I have spent a lot of time on the road. I’m not a “road trip” fan, but have made a conscious decision to embrace them. As much as possible, I try to do a bit of pre-drive research and seek out a few interesting places along the way – or not too far out of the way.

One of my recent trips through the Berkshires gave me the chance to discover Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Housatonic, MA, just beside Great Barrington. What a delightful discovery!  Run by Richard Bourdon – born in Quebec, trained in Europe, THIS PLACE GETS IT RIGHT. The fresh milled flour is right – the technique is right – and the “art” of bread…is right!

Their croissants are the best I have tasted in a very long time, on BOTH sides of the Atlantic. They are a perfect combo of flaky and elastic such that the layers pull apart beautifully!  The bakery is really well known for their “bread and chocolate” a sourdough full of dark chocolate chunks. Saveur Magazine recently wrote a glowing review.Click the link to have a read.

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article - my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article – my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

Of course I had to try replicating Bread and Chocolate as soon as I got home….how could I resist? My reading told me I would have to increase hydration of my sourdough. A lot. So I did. I used 100% hydration, meaning that for 1000g of flour that I added to my levain, I added 1000g of water, rather than my usual 700 g. My dough was a goopy mess! I was sure it was going to be a disaster. When it finally flopped into the pan,  I imagined myself throwing it into the garbage 40 minutes later.  But wait, it was a little less “high” coming out of the oven than my regular loaves, but…it was amazing. The dough inside was glossy and stretchy. I don’t really understand why the chocolate dictates a higher hydration level, but hey, as long as it works, I’m ok with it!

Hmm. I wonder if I could get there by the time the next batch is out of the oven. Think I will fill up the car. I want a croissant. And a pizza. And….


Bad Bread. Why?

Why is it in the culture of “heirloom” this and “artisanal” that there is still so much bad bread? I’m not talking about the stuff sold in bags in supermarkets (which I admit, makes great pb+j and grilled cheese sandwiches). No, I’m talking about the $3 and over loaves we all buy at our local bakeries.  No argument works for me. It doesn’t cost more to bake good bread, or take more time.

If you mix flour, yeast, salt and water, let it sit for 12 – 18 hours, you can bake a great loaf of bread at home. NO kneading, no mess, no fuss. The secret is a good, heavy oven-proof pot. Here’s what I use.

My secret to baking great crusty bread

If you want to see how to do it, watch Mark Bittman’s video.   Now you are done the hard part of the process! (Really.It is that easy!)

Recipe for 1 minute bread:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. yeast

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cup water

For EXCEPTIONAL bread, follow Chad Robertson’s recipes. They are in a book named for their bakery in San Francisco, Tartine.  If anyone would like sourdough starter, e-mail me and I will send you some. Otherwise, it is a fun and easy project to make your own. Buy his cookbook for lots of amazing options. Here’s a video from Tartine’s site:

Tuesday’s Sourdoughs


Martha Stewart (no comment) has the basic recipe on her site. Here is the link:

Challah really deserves a post of its own. If bread could be a hug, this would  be it. Here is my go-to all time favourite recipe. Warning – do not eat it with butter. Or Nutella. Or jam. Or anything.  There’s no going back to regular, crappy bread if you do.

4 braid challah


3 tbs.                    active dry yeast (instant or regular)

2 ¼ cups               warm water, divided

¾ tsp.                   sugar

5+1                       eggs (room temp. if possible)

1 1/3(ish) cups    clover or other light honey ( or you can substitute part with maple syrup)

¾ cup                    canola oil

2 ¼ tsp.                salt

10-12 cups          All-purpose flour ( I use organic unbleached, sometimes some bread flour…it really isn’t a finicky recipe)

Directions: This makes 2 HUGE breads, or 3 – 4 normal size loaves.

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 ½ cups of the water, and sugar. Let sit 10 minutes and make sure it proofs.
  2. In a very large bowl beat the 5 eggs with the honey. Add remaining ¾ cups of water, oil and salt. Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
  3. Add 5 cups of the flour and start mixer. (can add raisins now – 3 cups or so).  Keep adding flour until you have a shaggy mess. 2 options – keep adding flour and mix until you get a dough that is pretty stiff (almost done here) OR, you can let it sit now for 20 minutes – it makes the final knead really easy.
  4. If you are hand kneading, do it now. Add enough flour to get a stiff but not dry dough. Think of “baby’s bum” as what you want here.  If you are machine kneading only, keep adding flour carefully until you get the right texture.
  5. Let rise in a clean bowl, covered with damp towel for 2 – 4 hours. It is forgiving. OR let rise in fridge overnight.  If you refrigerate, it needs 4 – 6 hours to rise the next day)
  6. When dough has risen, punch down and turn onto board.   Give it a good knead for 3-5 minutes Divide dough into a multiple of 4. (this recipe makes 3 -4-5 loaves) Roll each lump into a ball, then pull the ball onto itself, making a seam at the bottom (to develop surface tension). Let balls rest 10 minutes at least (cover if they seem like they will dry out)
  7. Roll balls into sets of 4 ropes. Let ropes rest a few minutes (covered).  Add flour to roll the ropes if necessary to keep from sticking, but you still want the dough to feel soft.
  8. Do a 4 rope braid (pinch ropes together.  Number them 1,2,3,4. Put 1 between 2and 3, put 3 where 1 was then take 4 and put it between 3 and 2, and take 2 and put it where 4 was. Continue and tuck the ends under the loaf. If you need to see it, there are you tube videos.
  9. Put braided challahs on a cookie sheet with parchment. Cover with damp towel (or do egg wash + sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds) and let rise 45 mins – 1.5 hours.  Again, it is really forgiving. Just make sure it is puffy and doesn’t spring much when you press it.
  10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Do the egg wash and sprinkle seeds – sesame or poppy, or my kids’ fave, pasteurized or sparkle sugar.
  11. Bake for approx. 45 minutes. You may need to cover loosely with foil if it browns too fast.  Test for doneness by tapping bottom of bread and listening for hollow sound.

I just wish I could somehow post the aroma.