Chewy bread, moist and full of holes with a crust that requires teeth. Bread that stands up to butter, jam, olive oil — or can stand proudly alone. Bread that may not make it home in one piece because you can’t wait tear off a hunk of it in the car.
The current shorthand for this type of bread is “artisanal,” a term that gets thrown around a lot but which, more than not, signifies little more than a hopeful marketing strategy. But the word, derived from “artisan,” is used honestly when it connotes an item made by hand by a craftsman who adheres to traditional methods of production.
No matter the name — baguette or batard or boule, ciabatta, Pugliese, sesame-seeded semolina or caraway-seeded rye — these loaves owe their flavor and texture to centuries-old techniques from France, Italy and Germany that rely on hand forming (rather than machine) and, often, natural leaveners instead of commercial yeast. While most are savory, there is also a category of sweet breads called Viennoiserie — croissants, Danish, brioche — that are every bit as artisanal.
For years, Long Island was a dead zone for great bread. Then in 1999, Keith and Nancy Kouris opened Blue Duck Bakery in Southampton. Kouris, formerly a baker with King Kullen, was inspired by Dan Leader, whose Bread Alone Bakery in the Catskills (established in 1983) was at the forefront of the country’s rediscovery of traditional breads.
At Blue Duck, Kouris baked everything — cakes, pies, pastries and bread — but it was the handmade European-style artisan loaves that took off. In 2008, Blue Duck opened a second retail shop, in Southold, with a kitchen large enough to accommodate the growing wholesale business. In 2012, Saveur named its Finnish rye ring one of the country’s top 20 loaves of bread. The bakery now supplies scores of restaurants and markets on Long Island and in New York City.
It took more than 15 years, but Nassau and Suffolk bakers are finally picking up Blue Duck’s baton. In the past three years, the number of small, artisanal bakeries has gone from zero to five, and many of them also function as cafes. We take a tour of these brave, new bakeries:
Blacksmith's Breads (870 W. Beech St., Long Beach): Of course Long Beach’s burgeoning West End needed a hip, old-school, new-wave bakery, and Raymond Smith obliged. Blacksmith’s, which opened in December, is decked out with lots of reclaimed wood, white subway tile and stainless steel. It’s a tiny place, and almost every chair, sofa and stool has a view of the open kitchen, itself jam-packed with its triple-decker steam-injected oven, dough mixer, dough sheeter and workbench. In 2016, Smith and partner Michael Blackburn were cooking at the nearby Long Beach restaurant Lost & Found when they launched a weekly pop-up bakery called, inevitably, Blacksmith’s. Last year, as they began planning to open their own bakery, they took another partner, Shane Herbert, another young Long Beach restaurant veteran. During the long months of the build out, they established Blacksmith’s as a vendor at Long Beach’s Saturday farmers market. Blacksmith’s is part of a nationwide bread movement that combines centuries-old baking methods with a contemporary focus on local and organic grains. On weekdays, the shop sticks to the basics: the signature Long Beach sourdough, a crisp-crusted baguette that contains a little whole wheat for heft, country sandwich bread, croissants and brioche. But come the weekend you’ll also find sunflower-seed rye, red quinoa-paprika, shown, and sumac-poppy loaves, and the Hundo, made from 100 percent New York State whole grain. Breads range from $4 to $9 per loaf, and there are also pastries, sandwiches, Stumptown coffee and a very cool vibe. More info: blacksmithsbreads.com
Blacksmith's Breads co-owner Raymond Smith uses old-world methods to make traditional, artisanal breads for the Long Beach bakery. The shop is named for him and co-owner Michael Blackburn.
Carissa's The Bakery
Carissa's The Bakery (68 Newtown Lane, East Hampton): One of the hottest new food spots in the Hamptons is also one of the hardest to find. After baking out of a shared kitchen in Southampton for three years, Carissa Waechter opened a retail bakery in 2017, hidden behind Newtown Lane in a building facing a parking lot. The sleek shop is a study in white and stainless, the better to highlight the golden brown of the baguettes, the burnt umber of the rustic loaves, the rich chestnut of the croissants and the speckled seeds of the pickle rye loaves, shown, which get their sour saltiness from pureed pickles from Backyard Brine in Cutchogue. Local ingredients are an article of faith to Waechter. Her bakery has grown in lockstep with Amagansett’s Amber Waves Farm, whose wheat makes up anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the bakery’s loaves. The “Amagansett baguette” gets its lift not from commercial yeast but from a sourdough starter that originated in Amagansett in 1965. At Carissa’s The Bakery, the kitchen is in full view of the sales area, which means that the openhearted Waechter can greet customers and, if she doesn’t have her hands full, give them a hug. Breads at Carissa’s range from $6 to $8, sandwiches are $10, pastries are $4. Pies and cakes have a stark, minimalist beauty, the former hovering around $25, the latter from $40 to $60. More info: 631-527-5996, carissasthebakery.com
Carissa Waechter, owner of Carissa's The Bakery in East Hampton.
Flour Shoppe Cafe
Flour Shoppe Cafe (486 Sunrise Hwy, Rockville Centre): When it opened in June 2015, the Flour Shoppe Cafe quickly made a name for itself with homemade baked goods, over-the-top breakfasts and innovative sandwiches. But the following year, the rustic-chic eatery upped the ante with an ambitious program of artisanal breads, developed by executive chef John Maher. Maher, a co-owner with Bert Accomando and managing partner Madison Kaer, now leaves most of the baking to Brittany Improte, a 23-year-old with an old baker’s soul. She tends the wheat-and-rye starter that lives in the walk-in and powers all the shop’s sourdoughs, above, — plain, olive-rosemary, sun-dried tomato-Asiago, caramelized onion-mushroom. The starter also finds its way into the griddle-baked English muffins, the enormous rustic loaf (nearly 2-feet long) whose slices form the foundation of the cafe’s tartines (open-faced French sandwiches), the straight-sided Pullman that is pressed into service for grilled cheese and croque-monsieur sandwiches. The cafe, which bustles through breakfast and lunch, has sparked an appreciation for artisanal breads among its customers and it now offers three-hour bread-making classes three times every month. Breads range from $3.50 to $6. The cafe also has a wide range of pastries and desserts. More info: 516-536-2253, theflourshoppebakery.com
Head baker Brittany Improte, 23, shapes sourdough loaves in the kitchen of the Flour Shoppe Cafe in Rockville Centre.
Heritage Bakers (1 Garvies Point Rd, Glen Cove): Last year, David Shalam’s 3-year-old popover business moved into a cavernous, 2,700-square-foot commercial bakery in Glen Cove in order to keep up with wholesale demand: he supplies 15 Whole Foods in the Northeast. But having mastered the art of popovers — yeast-free buns that get their lift from beaten eggs — he began to explore the world of artisanal breads. Weekdays, the team labors at popovers, but Friday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., they welcome the public into a sunny retail cafe. The “heritage” in the bakery’s name refers to the wheat that Shalam looks for, so-called heritage grains that predate the era of modern hybridization techniques that increased yield and pest resistance — often at the expense of flavor and nutritive value. He’s partial to Red Fife, a wheat variety popular in the 19th century that is currently enjoying a renaissance among artisanal bakers for its nutty flavor and satisfying texture. His ciabatta (the result of a three-day process), is strengthened with a small percentage of Red Fife whole wheat. Red Fife accounts for half the flour in his multigrain bread; it’s blended with bread flour, oats and flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds that are soaked until they are just about to sprout. There’s also a New York-style seeded rye, baguettes, bagels, croissants, scones and muffins and the Island’s (if not the world’s) widest selection of popovers: plain, popovers crusted with Parmesan, and dredged in cinnamon sugar or herbes de Provence, and filled with pastry cream and fruit. All of these, plus Irving Farm coffee and fresh sandwiches, are available at the cafe. Breads range from $5.25 to $6.50, popovers, buns and pastries $1 to $4. More info: 516-676-8989, heritagebakers.com
Baker David Shalam moves a rack of ciabatta into an oven at Heritage Bakers, his shop in Glen Cove.
Duck Island Bread Co.
Duck Island Bread Co. (201 E. Main St., Huntington): Duck Island Bread Co. was conceived in Robert Biancavilla’s home kitchen in Northport. The Suffolk County homicide prosecutor enjoyed blowing off steam by baking, but soon found himself obsessed with traditional artisanal breads. By 2012, he had rented a commercial kitchen and started selling at the Northport farmers market. In 2015, he opened this small Huntington bakery, which sells a wide range of baked goods on a very limited schedule: It’s only open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Biancavilla retired from the district attorney’s office at the end of 2017 and plans to expand the bakery’s hours soon.) The retail area barely accommodates customers, but while you wait you can watch the bread being made. It’s all there: the bench where loaves are formed, the sheeter, which helps form the layers that make croissants and Danish, the imported Pavailler oven in front of whose glass window the baker stands, transfixed, when he’s alone, baking. Behind the counter will be pain au levain, the great French sourdough, and sesame-seeded durum wheat loaves; olive-oil-rich fougasse (an herb-topped Provençal flatbread) and shatteringly crisp baguette, pretzels as well as burnished croissants and pains au chocolat, Danishes and the Breton specialty kouign amman (QUEEN-ah-MAHN), a super-rich caramelized croissant baked in a muffin tin. Also scones, cookies and brownies. Most breads range between $5 and $7.50, pastries between $3 and $4.50. More info: 631-223-2799, duckislandbreadcompany.com
Baker Robert Biancavilla holds a basket of assorted baked breads, at his Duck Island Bakery in Huntington.