Great cakes and cookies and tarts and muffins and scones - we've got plenty of them on Long Island. But true artisanal bread - hard of crust, chewy of crumb, complex of flavor - is a rarity.
For Keith Kouris, artisanal bread is a calling. It was about 15 years ago when Kouris, who owns Blue Duck with his wife, Nancy, came across Daniel Leader's seminal cookbook, "Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves From Your Own Hands" (Morrow, $32.50). At the time, Kouris was a baker with King Kullen, and he started playing around with some of Leader's recipes. In 1997, he took a course in artisanal baking with Leader at Manhattan's French Culinary Institute. In 1999, he and Nancy bought a Southampton bakery and called it, for no other reason than they liked the name, The Blue Duck. (The Southold location, where all the bread is now made, opened in October 2008.)
Starters are the key to artisanal breads. Rather than commercial yeast, artisan bakers use pre-fermented, natural-yeast starters for leavening. Kouris mixed up his first batch of levain (French for sourdough starter) when he opened the bakery. Every day, Kouris' bakers use some of it to leaven the dough of his French-styled pain levain and pain rustique, then they "feed" the levain more flour and water to keep the culture going. Ditto the biga naturale used for his Italian Pugliese bread.
"If you only use commercial yeast," he explained, "then you get a bland loaf with a very regular crumb and no depth of flavor. It would be like trying to make wine from grapes that had aged for three weeks."
--Compiled by Erica Marcus