January 4, 2011

FEATURE: Bread Makes a Comeback with Kosher Consumers

 Brooklyn NY…Man can’t live by bread alone…but it sure is hard to live without it. With the exception of challah for Shabbat, many kosher homemakers, amateur bakers and even professional chefs have long shied away from making any kind of bread, considering it too complex to make. Bread often requires a lengthy time commitment involving kneading, rising, and then baking. Coupled with the fact that many people feel they need bulky and expensive machinery to help them achieve a perfect loaf of bread, many just say no thanks, head to their local bakery and call it a day. Recently, with kosher gourmet restaurants and cafes on the rise and major supermarkets like Brooklyn’s Pomegranate carrying more high-end ingredients, bread baking at home – perhaps one of the last real frontiers of kosher food – has been experiencing something of a renaissance.

Chef Jesse Blonder, Director of the Center of Kosher Culinary Arts, stated, “For a long time, you couldn’t get good bread anywhere, be it a kosher or non-kosher venue. Like many areas in the food world, however, artisan bread baking has made a huge comeback.” CKCA – the only completely kosher culinary school in New York and one of the few in the world – recently held a bread baking workshop featuring resident bread expert Lynn Kutner, the author of “Bountiful Breads: From Basics to Brioches” and a teacher of bread-baking techniques since 1974. Despite a looming blizzard, every registrant attended. Kutner led the participants through the entire bread-baking process of bagels, bialys, sourdough rye bread, and provencal frougasse. “Bread is an especially easy subject for the kosher cook, since most breads are inherently pareve,” says Kutner.

One major reason for bread’s resurgence in popularity may be because the low-carb crazes that swept America are, for the most part, over – or at least relegated to the back burner. Bread, once vilified as the enemy of a successful diet, is now recommended in small quantities as part of a healthy diet, so long as it’s a whole grain version. Still, visit any kosher bakery and there will usually be many more cakes, cookies, and pastries than there will be artisan breads. Commenting on why bread baking is fairly uncommon as of yet, Chef Blonder said, “The knowledge isn’t there yet – artisan bread baking is an art and a science and to do it well on a consistent basis, commercially, isn’t easy. It also presents less desirably than a colorful, well-decorated cake, whose rewards scream out to the consumer. Bread is humbler, and therefore often overlooked.” Pointing out a relevant issue for industrial or commercial bakeries, Kutner says that if the bread is truly natural with no preservatives added, it needs to be eaten on the day it is made, or maybe the next day – but no longer. “The bakeries will have to advertise well and sell it fast!”

A smattering of online retail stores bake the bread fresh and then ship them out right away. The Nibble, an online magazine about gourmet and specialty foods, recently had a feature about organic and artisan breads. The site featured Rudi’s Bakery, an online kosher bakery with an extensive product line selling organic, artisan, and gluten-free breads such as Rocky Mountain Sourdough, Colorado Cracked Wheat, Spelt Ancient Grain, Rosemary Olive Oil, and Tuscan Roasted Garlic. All the products are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. And Eli Zabar, of the famous New York gourmet food institution Zabar’s, ships a line of specialty items, including artisan breads certified kosher by the OK that include Raisin Pecan, Manor House Round, and a health loaf with sunflower seeds and flax. Luckily, home bakers don’t have to deal with the same issues as commercial enterprises. “I hope that the students who came on Sunday now realize that great bread baking at home is very much within reach,” said Blonder .