Monday, December 16, 2013

Artisan Bread: Don't Put It Away

The advertising business has a maxim that goes something like, "If you want your message to get through, repeat it. Then repeat it again. And again. And again. [etc.]" It's why we remember classic slogans like "it's the real thing," "the un-cola" and "you deserve a break today."

A few years ago I bought a giant—and I mean at least 20 inches across—loaf of artisan bread from Pearl Bakery to take on a beach weekend with friends. As she handed it to me, the sales clerk said, "Don't wrap it in plastic or put it in the refrigerator. Leave it out on the counter even after you cut it open. The outside will get nice and crusty and the flavor of the bread will continue to improve."

We got to the beach and, when we'd used some of the bread with our crab Louies and it was time to clean up, I just couldn't do it. The bread was popped into a plastic bag and went into the fridge. It was fine, of course, but lost that crusty crunch of an artisan loaf.

Years later we were on a road trip to the Okanagan region of BC to check out its food and wine scene and ran across an artisan bakery called Walla in Penticton. We bought a loaf of artisan bread from owner Benjamin Manea, a Romanian-born Israeli, and as we left he said in a stern, heavily accented voice, "Before you buy, you need to know about this bread." He instructed us to never, ever put the bread in a plastic bag in the fridge, that when it’s cut open it needs to be stored cut edge down on the counter and that it would last for four days. As we were paying, he grumbled something about people not knowing how to take care of fresh bread.

When Dave started making his own sourdough bread we remembered Mr. Manea's instructions and started leaving the bread out on the counter, standing it up on its cut side after slicing what we needed. As the clerk at the bakery said years earlier, the outside gets a nice hard crust and the inside keeps its chewy, moist texture for several days—up to a week, though a loaf rarely lasts that long.

My brother, who regularly is given a loaf so his son can have toast for breakfast in the morning before heading off to school, leaves it on the counter as instructed. But if it happens to be a day when their housekeeper comes to clean, she wraps the bread in plastic and puts it in the fridge. I guess she just hasn't heard the message often enough yet.


Tracy Thomas said...

Thanks for posting this. I had never heard it before, and am already putting it to practice. Procured a loaf of Grand Central sourdough, and left it cut side down on a wood cutting board on the counter last night!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Let me know if you become a convert, too, Tracy!

kay said...

I grew up with homemade bread; never had heard of putting bread in the refrigerator until I married a southerner. Happily, he was soon trained to better habits. In my family, though, bread was usually covered with a clean muslin dishtowel. But we did store it cut end down on a plate.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks for the story, Kay, and good for you for showing your husband the light!