Sometimes Robert Biancavilla just sits in front of his oven so he can watch the bread bake. "It's no accident that it has a big glass door," he said. "I love to watch it bloom. That I can take flour, water, salt and yeast and turn them into bread -- it's a miracle to me."
Biancavilla, whose day job is deputy chief of homicide for the Suffolk County district attorney, rents a commercial kitchen in Northport and, since 2012, has sold artisanal breads and pastries exclusively at the Northport Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Just a month ago, he started baking in a reconditioned steam-injected Pavailler hearth oven from France.
Steam injection is what distinguishes a true bread oven from the convection type used for cakes and pastries. "Without steam," Biancavilla explained, "the skin of the baking bread tightens up and as the dough expands, it busts out in all the wrong places. The bread still tastes good, but it doesn't look right." With steam, the bread obediently springs forth from the smart slashes he's made in its surface, creating craggy ridges, like the crests of waves.
Indeed, Biancavilla's baguettes, seeded ryes, durum wheat loaves and fougasses (herb-topped Provencal flatbreads) look like they belong in a magazine -- or in a fine French boulangerie. They taste even better. Because he makes lavish use of various prefermented starters (that is, "old" dough that is alive with naturally occurring yeasts), the complex flavor of wheat (or wheat and rye) is allowed to shine. The crusts crunch; the crumb is firm, springy, alive.
Prices for loaves range from $5 to $7.50. Biancavilla also sells an assortment of exquisite pastries, $2.50 to $4.
Find out more at duckislandbreadcompany.com.