Bread Touched by Human Hands

WITH a fleet of 15 delivery trucks carrying its products to 450 shops and restaurants in New York and New Jersey, Balthazar Bakery, in Englewood, runs more like a factory than a quaint neighborhood bake shop.

But the 14,000-square-foot industrial setting belies the bread-making philosophy of the 40-member bread-baking crew, chief among them Paula Oland, who founded the bakery here in 2000, and her husband, William Young.

“As soon as you get machines involved, things start getting screwed up,” said Mr. Young, 47, of Tappan, N.Y., during a recent tour of Balthazar. At a long, flour-dusted wooden table, a dozen men in white smocks and pants stood wordlessly kneading and shaping blobs of dough.

The Englewood bakery, which is owned by the New York restaurateur Keith McNally, makes bread and breakfast pastries for Mr. McNally’s brasserie Balthazar in SoHo; its products are also sold to the public in one corner of the building here. (Pain de seigle, a sourdough rye, is $15 for a 16-inch boule or $3.75 for a quarter of a loaf; a small cranberry-pecan batard is $6.75. Prices may vary in outlets elsewhere.)

“One of the defining things we do here is let every decision be made by humans,” Mr. Young, who is known by the initial B., said. Though the bakery uses mechanical mixers for the dough, the loaves are shaped by hand, and a crew member, not a machine, decides when they are ready for the ovens.

While commercial yeast is used, a naturally fermented flour-water starter is a more important part of most recipes. It builds a bread’s “character,” he said.

Mr. Young scoffs at the word artisanal — “everyone’s an artisan now,” he said — but it is a fair description of the baking process at Balthazar and several other bakeries in New Jersey that make crisp baguettes, hearty multigrain loaves and sourdough ryes in a similar hands-on fashion, if on a smaller scale.

The Witherspoon Bread Company in Princeton is one such bakery. Carlo Momo opened the 990-square-foot shop in 1998 to supply bread to the other restaurants that he owns with his brother Raoul as part of the Princeton-based Terra Momo Restaurant Group. The bakery is in the process of changing its name to the Terra Momo Bread Company to make the connection to the restaurants — including Eno Terra in Kingston — more apparent, Carlo Momo said.

He keeps an eye on the trashcans in the restaurants to make sure as little bread as possible is wasted. “Denis puts so much work into making this bread — I’m always telling the servers, put out a little, let people ask for more,” said Mr. Momo, 53, of Princeton.

Denis is Denis Granarolo, the head baker, recruited from Paris by Mr. Momo before Witherspoon’s opening. Mr. Granarolo begins working at 2:30 a.m. and finishes at 11 a.m., by which time he has churned out racks of 24-inch round sourdoughs ($9.90), black olive batards ($3.50) and baguettes ($2.40), among other breads and pastries.

“The difference between us and another bakery is time,” said Mr. Granarolo, 54, of Princeton Junction. Sometimes it takes two days before dough is deemed ready to bake.

He also chooses his flour carefully, relying on the unbleached King Arthur Flour for many breads, he said.

Karen Child, owner of the Village Bakery in Lawrenceville, is also particular about what goes into her breads.

“Part of it for us is buying the highest-quality, most expensive ingredients,” she said, like higher-fat, European-style Plugrá butter for brioche. She refers to her business as “a bread-baking boutique,” and credits the head baker, Luis Uroza, who hand-cuts and hand-forms each loaf, with supplying the shop daily with fresh ficelle sticks ($1.75), batards ($5) and large brioche Pullman loaves ($20), among other European-style breads. Ms. Child, 59, of Princeton Junction, is the pastry chef.

When she opened her 1,500-square-foot shop seven and a half years ago, she said, “I knew I needed some artisan bread to go along with my handmade cookies.” The bread, which is also sold at five area farmers’ markets as well as in the shop, “takes time and costs money, but there’s no skimping here,” she added.

Sally Reinhardt, who owns the 19-year-old Bread Company Montclair with her husband, Will Reinhardt, also subscribes to the precepts of artisanal baking; everything is made fresh daily, and no dough goes untouched by Mr. Reinhardt, the head baker. And nearly every sack of flour that enters the 500-square-foot shop is organic.

Mr. Reinhardt uses it to make organic products like whole-wheat and sunflower bread ($4.50) and olive oregano rolls (75 cents). The flour is “not perfect,” said Ms. Reinhardt, 58, of Montclair; it is less consistent than other types and varies depending on weather and other factors. “But we try to make nutritious things that people feel good about eating,” she said.

The Reinhardts even resist slicers. “Bread stays moister if you take it home unsliced,” Ms. Reinhardt said. And, she added, “We don’t like the noise.”

Nina White, 52, an owner with her husband, Jonathan, of Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse in Milford, sources her flour from older, organically grown plants. Its gluten content is not engineered to be pulled through machines, she said. “Gluten doesn’t have to be as strong” when it is in a hand-formed dough, she said.

Though her flour, which comes from a company called Farmer Ground Flour near Ithaca, is organic, the 14 handmade breads she makes — including roasted-garlic duck-fat ciabatta and “medieval rye levain,” a mix of rye, oat and wheat — are not entirely so, because other ingredients, like onions and olives, are not.

Ms. White sells them (prices range from $4 to $6) at Manhattan farmers’ markets, by mail order and at the farm; she also holds bread-baking classes ($50) at Bobolink for up to 12 people.

Ms. White bakes in Bobolink’s wood-fired oven twice a week in winter, more often in spring through fall. On other days, she sells her breads frozen.

“They freeze beautifully,” she said.

By Tammy La Gorce

FIND US

Terra Momo Bread Company

74 Witherspoon Street,

Princeton, NJ 08542

Phone. 609-688-0188

Fax. 609-688-0389

Email. cgranarolo@terramomo.com