First, a tip of the hat to theuneditedfoodie for his recommendation of Chris Glen's breads. Thank you, Raj!
Because of Raj's comment on a recent blog of mine about Fervere Bakery, my wife and I made a jaunt down to The Bad Seed market in the 1900 block of McGee Street in Kansas City. It's a funky little (with emphasis on funky and little) marketplace that features different providers of everything from hand-crafted soaps to free-range chicken (and eggs) to breads to produce. Plus a few other things that I probably missed. It is open on Friday evenings from 4:00-8:00. The market has recently added a new vendor of artisanal breads, The New Traditionalist.
You may have noticed that The New Traditionalist, aka Chris Glen, was quite outspoken in his praise of Fevere's products. On the one hand, that's a very gracious acknowledgement of a competitor. On the other hand, Chris knows whereof he speaks because his own breads are equally praiseworthy.
I purchased a loaf of his whole wheat bread. It is a naturally leavened bread consisting of organic whole wheat, water, and sea salt. You can't get much more elemental than that.
Shaped as a batard, the loaf was boldly baked,
which enhances the play of flavors between crust and crumb. The crumb texture is very light and open. No bricks here.
You can see that the crumb is open, laced with bubbles of all different sizes. The sheen of the cell walls attests to full gelatinzation of the starch. Chris shares a commercial kitchen with another business, baking his breads in pizza ovens. That isn't an ideal setup but Chris has found a way to go beyond his circumstances instead of being limited by them. As I write this, I realize that I ought to have asked Chris what flour he uses. It appears to be very finely ground since large flecks of bran aren't evident in the crumb.
Now, you may have wondered why I mentioned a chocolatier in the title for this blog. That has to do with a bit of geographic serendipity. Christopher Elbow Chocolates has a store exactly one block north of The Bad Seed. In appearance, it is everything that The Bad Seed is not. Glamorous. Gleaming. Elegant. Refined. Although Elbow refers to his products as artisanal, one would not be far off the mark by referring to them as art. We, naturally, did not leave empty-handed. Once my wife spotted the toffee robed in dark chocolate and covered with toasted pecans, the deal was sealed.
There is a greater serendipity at work here than just geographic location. The one that I was surprised by this evening has to do with flavor, with maximizing the potential of the ingredients. I had savored two or three slices of Chris' whole wheat bread with a bowl of soup at dinner, marveling at the richness of the flavors he had teased from such simple ingredients. And then the stunner: I tasted many of those same flavors in a piece of Christopher's toffee when I had it for dessert. Yes, there were differences. The candy, for instance, tasted nothing of wheat or levain and the bread wasn't nearly so sweet as the candy. But both the candy and the bread shared flavor notes of nuts, of toast, of chocolate, of deeply roasted malt, of butter. I am frustrated by my inadequacy in providing an accurate description of what I sensed, because there was so much more than I can put down here in words. The parallels were so clear, so surprising, and I would have missed them entirely if I had not eaten the two in close succession. Beyond the specific flavors, the bread and the toffee each displayed a respect by their makers for the ingredients, as well as a willingness to apply skill and technique to realize every potential locked in those ingredients.
Thank you, Chris, for a superb loaf of bread. May The New Traditionalist prosper.