Our Daily Bread: Area Bakers Offer Quality, Variety
There are few foods that delight the senses like freshly baked bread. Just as we are blessed with exceptional local produce and artisanal foods, Northern California also has some of America’s truly exceptional bakeries.
Here are some Silicon Valley and Bay Area favorites well worth a visit:
Mayfield Bakery & Café, Palo Alto
It would be easy for a carbohydrate connoisseur to dismiss a bakery that goes through 21,000 pounds of flour every week as too big to be considered truly artisan. Executive Pastry Chef Kayvon Jordan would beg to differ. Unlike many commercial bakeries that cut corners in order to produce massive amounts of rustic-looking bread, Mayfield employs a combination of modern technology and old school technique to bake over 14,000 pieces of bread per week that are as legit as it gets. And they bake a myriad of traditional pastries, as well. All of Mayfield’s loaves are slow-proofed in a retarder (essentially a large refrigerator that slows down the fermentation process). These long fermentation times, sometime up to 72 hours, not only allow the dough to develop rich flavors but also allow the gluten to break down, improving digestibility and lowering the glycemic index. Founded by the Bacchus Management Group to supply their restaurants with bread that matched the quality of the rest of their menus as well as to offer baked goods to the public, Mayfield is quickly outgrowing their space, although the bakery is in use around the clock. So how does Chef Jordan feel making so much bread every day? “There is a great feeling when the day’s bread is completed. There are so many steps involved in the bread process it is a definite feeling of completion. However, the process may be finished for the day but is ongoing for the next day. It’s not work when you enjoy what you do,” he says.
Esther’s German Bakery, Los Altos
When Esther Nio moved from Germany to California with her husband, Robert, in 1997, she brought her love of bread and tradition along. Nio describes her early childhood in Munich: “Every Friday was baking day. I came home from school and would bake with my mother. It smelled so good, that’s how you knew that the weekend had started.” When she decided to start a bakery 10 years ago, Nio’s goal was to have professional bakers making traditional eastern European recipes, using long fermentations, mostly organic ingredients and no preservatives, chemicals or fillers. She brought in a master baker from Germany (a title that takes seven years to earn) and started selling her nourishing, sturdy loaves at farmers markets as well as wholesale to tech cafeterias and grocery stores. As time went on, Esther found herself craving interaction with customers and opened the café in Los Altos. (All 300–400 loaves per day are baked offsite and delivered fresh in the morning to both the café and wholesale side of the business, which Robert runs.) They make six varieties. When asked which is the most popular, Esther replies “each has it’s own fan club!” In addition, the refreshingly unpretentious café offers other baked goods including pretzels and an array of classic sweets, several German beers on tap, a full menu of traditional German food (all house made), German newspapers to read and a biergarten to enjoy it all in.
Beauty’s Bagels, Oakland
Owners Blake Joffe and Amy Remsen moved to Oakland from Philadelphia in 2009, and after realizing the dearth of good bagels on the West Coast, set out to do something about it. Joffe traveled to Montreal for an apprenticeship at the famous St-Viateur and, together with Remsen, founded Beauty’s upon his return. Joffe says that comparing New York bagels to Montreal bagels is “like apples and oranges” but describes Beauty’s as something of a hybrid. Beauty’s Bagels uses a massive 10,000-pound wood-fired oven to supply the Bay Area with 800 hand-shaped bagels every weekday (1,300 on the weekends). From start to finish, each bagel takes about 24 hours, with the final 15-minute five-step process being the most labor-intensive. The shaped dough is poached in honey water, seeded on both sides, baked on wood planks until a “skin” is formed, flipped onto the hearth and then rotated (and closely monitored) until perfectly baked. If you’ve only ever eaten what tend to pass for “bagels” here on the West Coast, you really owe it to yourself to try a Beauty’s. While you’re there, you can sample any of their other house-made offerings (which skew toward traditional Jewish delicacies), all made with the same commitment to quality ingredients and respect for tradition. In addition to their spacious and beautifully appointed Oakland location, you can get your Beauty’s Bagel fix in the Mission at Wise Sons. Holiday pro tip: Substitute bagels for bread in your stuffing! And you can call ahead for orders of over two dozen or for catering.
Suncoast Organic Farm & Bakery, Hollister
Suncoast has only been on the scene for two years, but it’s hard to tell when you pay them a visit at the farmers market. Every week, founder Lisa Jensen and a handful of family members and employees bake 500 loaves of bread in 15 varieties along with pastries, graham crackers and seasonal treats, and send them out into the world. What makes Suncoast unique is that they not only mill most of their own flours in the same 100-year-old barn that they’ve converted into a bakery, but also nearly every ingredient in their breads is grown on the family farm (including olive oil, honey, fruits, vegetables and herbs). In 2008, Jensen walked away from careers in both radio and finance to return to Hollister (where she was born) and the ranch her family has owned since 1991. Nearly everything on the farm has either been restored or repurposed, with the one major exception being the wood-fired pizza oven where all of the bread is baked. It may seem odd to use a pizza oven in a commercial bakery but according to Jensen, “it’s much more fuel efficient for the small batches that we bake.” Since the majority of the flours are milled onsite, most of Suncoast’s breads are truly whole-grain and keeping their runs small means that everything they offer is at the peak of freshness. Currently, Jensen and her family are building a climate-controlled room (which will enable long fermentations), as well as renovating another barn to be used as a brewery. You can find Suncoast’s bread at the Mountain View Farmers Market on Sundays, in the brand new Suncoast “Breadbox,” parked off of airline highway next to Mansmith’s BBQ and Bertuccio’s Market on Fridays from 3 to 7pm, or you can pick up a loaf right out of the oven at the farm on Fridays and Saturdays while they are baking. (The olive oil and fruit breakfast pies are also fantastic.)