A comfort food since the dawn of time, freshly baked bread evokes powerful nostalgia in the form of all five senses. From the intoxicating smell of a just-baked loaf coming out of the oven, to the sight of warm butter melting into nooks and crevices, to the chew of the soft middle, bread is more than a choice between white or wheat, especially in Austin. Marking the beginning of a beautiful meal, an epic family gathering, a romantic dinner for two, and more occasions, breaking bread is as much as ritual as it is a vehicle for what’s between and on top.
Austin is a city of culinary achievements, and pastry chefs and cooks all over town have a dedicated devotion to the craft. Here, we celebrate the bread bakers and their goods, from the simple to the inventive.
Eater gets to the bread of the matter with five of the city’s most-talented bakers (Abby Love of Dai Due, David Norman from Easy Tiger and other ELM restaurants, Odd Duck's Blake Gardner, Garrett Cullen from Emmer & Rye, and Amanda Rockman of South Congress Hotel) to find out how each chef stays fresh and rolls out delicious delicacies that make Austin crazy for carbs.
Abby Love, Dai Due
The Bread Program: At the meat-centric Dai Due, Abby Love is in charge of all things bread — all made from scratch, as is the restaurant’s utmost mission — using non-GMO flour that is locally-sourced and milled, whenever possible. This gamut includes sandwiches, biscuits, pancakes, sourdough, and all toast and spans to the bread sold in Dai Due’s expansive butcher shop.
Infamous for: The dinner-only bread and butter is served with whipped lard, which makes it pretty delicious. A sprouted-rye loaf makes for the main event in a few of the lunch menu’s sandwiches, and also makes an appearance on the cold meat board.
Approach to Bread Making: Love has a self-proclaimed “completely unscientific approach to breadmaking,” that relies on a lot of intuition. She surmises that her cooks hated her for the first six months until they learned her unspoken language of dough-speak — the way dough feels, smells, looks, and pulls apart. Because she loves bread more than any other part of her job, she’s developed a sixth sense for the craft and relies on her intuition above all else.
On the One That Never Rose: Apparently, one must “whisper sweetly” to sprouted grains to make bread from solely sprouted grains, or at least, that’s how it felt to Love during her attempt to do so. She took on the advantageous task of sprouting grains herself, and then grinding, kneading, and baking into loaves of bread. The result? Completely inedible, and “not in the cool, Tartine way.” Alas.
On Bread Dreams: Love is in love with a classic peanut butter and jelly — one made on pillowy soft, thick-cut white bread served homemade jam. She wants something that’ll stick to the roof of your mouth when you bite down. To her, there’s nothing better than that.
David Norman, Easy Tiger
The Bread Program: Equal parts artisan bread bakery and beer garden, Easy Tiger is a dual-concept space with good eats and good ping pong. David Norman and his celebrated team not only bake bread for Easy Tiger’s beer garden menu, but also for over 40 wholesale accounts and the other three restaurants under the ELM Restaurant Group umbrella, including 24 Diner, Italic, and Irene’s, plus Easy Tiger expansions. He’s also working on his own bread cookbook, out sometime in 2017.
Infamous for: There may be no better beer-pairing than the pretzel, which Norman serves up in droves in Easy Tiger’s beer garden, served along with housemade accoutrements like beer cheese, mustard, and salted whipped butter.
Approach to Bread Making: With an unabashed love for traditional breads, Norman draws from historic culture and follows heritage recipes, focused on the end result: how the bread will be eaten. That means he sticks to steadfast tradition for German rye bread, and follows the French methods for pain au levain and baguette.
On the One That Never Rose: A chocolate bread for Valentine’s Day just didn’t sell, which is less about the quality of Norman’s experiment and more about lazy gift-givers falling to what’s easy by way of drug-store procured chocolate boxes.
On Bread Dreams: Norman sees bread as one part of cultural cuisine, bound with the ways of eating in that culture. It’s no surprise that Norman dreams of Danish rugbrød, that toothsome, dark rye bread that is the base for Danish open-faced sandwiches.
Blake Gardner, Odd Duck
The Bread Program: Odd Duck celebrates classically tasty foods with creative and inventive spins, and the bread program fits this thematic. Take, for example, the carnitas pretzel, the infamous pig face parker house roll, and the soon-to-come queso lava bread. Blake Gardner revels in crafting residual heat wood-fired hearth loaves, baked with local grains and natural sour ferments.
Infamous for: The aforementioned pig face parker house roll is a best-seller with a savory bite, but Odd Duck also excels in strong delivery on the basics, like sandwich breads, sourdoughs, and burger buns.
Approach to Bread Making: Like all else, good bread begins with good sourcing, and Gardner is dedicated to using local grains and finding the freshest wheat possible. He and the Odd Duck team have an uncanny ability to pay homage to tradition while embracing the weird, the wild, and the wacky — perfect for a city that prides itself on keeping things weird.
On the One That Never Rose: Gardner is working to bring beer to the world of bread. Currently, he and the team are working with brewer friends to bake up a dry-hopped sourdough that produces enough floral hops without a lingering strong bitterness.
On Bread Dreams: In his heart of hearts, Gardner believes that the perfect bread experience ought to come with safety goggles, for a crunch so hard, it hurts. His dream sandwich textural experience begins with a wafer-thin, shatter-to-the-bite crust and a creamy, dreamy interior.
Garrett Cullen, Emmer & Rye
The Bread Program: Emmer & Rye centers around a dedication to relic grains, so devoted that the restaurant freshly mills these grains for pastas, desserts, and of course, bread. It’s no surprise that good bread begins with good grains, and Emmer’s proprietor Kevin Fink has a steadfast belief that “the majority of people have tasted only a shadow of what flour should actually taste like.” Garrett Cullen is responsible for schooling us all in this regard, and he starts with freshly milled flour is created from a wide variety of grains including white sonoran, Oklahoma winter wheat, and red fife. Combined with a hydrated yeast starter that ferments overnight for rich and robust flavor, this yields a hydrated dough that holds shape, creates volume in the proofing process, and gives way to a beautiful end result full of flavor and crumb.
Infamous for: Emmer is Cullen’s first foray into dedicated bread making, but this seasoned chef prides himself on making a “a pretty darn good biscuit.” On the menu, Cullen crafts everything from baguettes at brunch to the grilled bread served with savory dinner and dim sum favorites.
Approach to Bread Making: An open mind and a full heart are the drivers for Cullen, who continues to learn and embrace a new found love for all things bread.
On the One That Never Rose: In culinary school, Cullen sought to recreate a chocolate brioche from the eponymous Charlie Trotter’s Desserts cookbook. While he didn’t succeed in this, he quickly pivoted to a pass by way of a Plan B croquant.
On Bread Dreams: Cullen is all about the reuben sandwich, with pumpernickle as the bread vehicle, dotted with lots of Japanese pickles.
Amanda Rockman, South Congress Hotel
The Bread Program: Although Rockman focuses on sweets, this Texas bon rising star is the executive pastry chef of the South Congress Hotel, where she oversees the pastry and bakery programs for in-room dining, banquets, and the hotel’s four food & beverage outlets: Café No Sé, Central Standard, Mañana, and the occasional Stephen F. Frostin’ ice cream truck.
Infamous for: Self-described as sweet with a back-bone, Rockman is best known for her take on a pastry that could be described the same way: kougin amann. Rockman believes that nothing is as flaky and layered than this French pastry, something that she became obsessed with during her time in Chicago.
Approach to Bread Making: This celebrated chef is all about the butter, and believes that any dough layered with the spread is magical. She loves making enriched, fatty breads that are laminated, meaning that butter and dough fold together into thin layers to create a perfectly thin and flaky finish.
On the One That Never Rose: A babka too large for its pan once exploded all over the oven, a failed experiment that was not fun to clean up.
On Bread-Dreams: Savory croissants rise above the rest of Rockman’s dreams, like an open-faced stunner served at South Congress last spring, topped with pesto, goat cheese, and roasted tomato.