Artisan breads rising in the Fox Cities!
A love affair warms up as some of the slower, more creative methods of bread-making tickle our crumb-craving fancy. We hanker for different herbs, cheeses, nuts, vegetables and other sweeteners to accent the yeast that is the stuff of the staff of life. We’re sweet on sourdough, lusting for the crusty, ordering organics and hungering for even our hamburger buns to be hearty and, well… different.
When it comes to bread, local bakers consider the single most important thing to be quality ingredients. No added fats or oils. No preservative. And plenty of whole grains.
This is true for Jan Behnke, co-owner of Breadsmith in Appleton.
“We’re known for making good quality breads that taste great,” she says. “Everything is made from scratch on site, where we hand-knead and shape all the loaves.”
Of artisan-style breads, Behnke says the most popular is French Bread, followed by French Peasant, made with cracked wheat and hearty whole grains. Another bread is the Tuscan Rustic, which offers a combination of two strands of different dough.
“People are used to breads that are very heavily preserved,” Behnke says. “Because our bread is baked every day through a long traditional baking process, and made without preservatives, it can’t be left on the kitchen shelf too long.”
For customers unaccustomed to natural ingredients, there may be a slight learning curve.
Some customers ask questions, seek menu suggestions or taste the sample breads; others know what they like and stick to it.
“One man walks in, doesn’t say a word, smiles, and we get him his favorite loaf,” Behnke shares. “Then he pays, smiles again, and that’s it. He’s said that the bread he’s bought from us is the only kind he can eat.”
Manderfield’s Home Bakery, located in Appleton and Menasha, was introduced to the Fox Valley in 1934 by Frank and Marie Manderfield.
Their grandson, Doug Manderfield, says, “Things really changed in the summer of 2007, when my brother Paul hired an artisan baker so we could offer the more creative breads.”
Today, those breads are being sold under the name Bitte Brot, German for “bread, please”. Manderfield’s made an investment by hiring the baker, but also had to purchase costly ingredients, including dried berries and whole grains, as well as a custom-built oven, where hand-formed breads are baked directly on stone and carefully watched.
“Artisan breads are very labor intensive,” Manderfield says.
Popular Manderfield breads are Honey Hearth and Farmer’s Peasant, which are both perfect for sandwiches. The Butter Crust and Sun-dried Blueberry Oatmeal are breads are good for those who make peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches or French toast.
Valentine’s Day may bring a tender Raspberry-Pie bread under a sweet and graceful glaze.
“People are looking for breads that are more healthy,” Manderfield adds. “They’re willing to pay a bit more for quality.”
He also feels customers want simplicity. Some of the bakery’s recipes have only five ingredients.
Grandfather Manderfield would approve.
Kevin Lisowe and his wife, Melissa, own and operate Great Harvest Bread Company in Neenah.
It’s one of the parent company’s 200 “freedom franchises,” meaning the local owners have a lot of flexibility in what they offer and how they meet the community’s unique needs.
“We have two distinct types of customers,” Kevin says. “Those who are looking for whole grains, and those who love their breads on the sweet side.”
He adds that even the sweet-pleaser items often include whole grains, like the 30-percent whole-wheat flour in the Pecan Cinnamon Swirls.
It’s a from-scratch operation. Anywhere from 150 to 200 pounds of Great Harvest’s Montana-grown wheat berries are ground on stone mills at the Neenah location every working day.
“It’s best fresh,” Lisowe says of the flour, noting that a ground whole-wheat berry will start to lose quality 24 hours after it’s cracked.
Each month Great Harvest features a themed menu and a website listing of at least five daily specials. The most popular Great Harvest breads are Honey Whole Wheat and High 5 Fiber, providing five grams of fiber per slice.
“People have forgotten the old ways of simple recipes and pure ingredients,” Lisowe says. “We’re just going back to that.”
Restaurants are gearing up to keep breads at the forefront of their menus.
Now with three Fox Cities locations, Aspen Coffee & Tea (its Appleton shop formerly Bela Bakery & Café, where the bread is baked) compliments their sandwich items with high-quality breads.
“Recently, we have started looking at sweet breads — banana breads with glazes and cranberry-orange breads,” explains manager Noelle Murray. “We’re also catering more artisan breads, as people are special-ordering breads like the cracked pepper and asiago cheese, and rosemary garlic bread. They’re prefect for family or corporate gatherings.”
“We’re always willing to figure out just what the customer is looking for,” she adds. “The flavor and the experience.”
Oslo’s Scandinavian-American Eatery, blocks from downtown Appleton, opened in August 2009.
Freshly baked cinnamon-enhanced rolls are offered to dinner guests. Oslo’s also bakes its own rosemary bread for sandwiches.
“Our two breads are very simple,” says owner Todd Weisgerber. “We try to follow Old World traditions.”
Whether flat, round, heavy, long, seeded, kneaded, slashed and sliced or ready to rip apart, we seek breads that are lovingly hand-crafted by Fox Cities bakers, often very early in dark mornings to be borne on heavenly aromas of special yeasts and grains to carry a careful blessing of tradition and innovation.
—By Lynn Kuhns