The aroma that wafts from an oven where bread is baking is enough to make one’s mouth water. Making bread at home can be enjoyable and satisfying, but if you don’t have enough time, there are a number of local bakeries whose crews do this while you sleep.
“Everything at Wave Hill Breads is old school,” says Tim Topi, owner of this artisan micro-bakery. He’s the master baker; his wife, Angela, manages the office.
“I don’t want to save money, so I use the best ingredients,” Tim explains. “Everything is made from scratch with no preservatives or additives. All the organic grains are ground daily to lock in flavor and freshness. Another key factor is maintaining accurate hydration levels within the dough to create a thin crust accompanied by a soft crumb with air pockets within the final baked product. This takes years of practice to master.”
“This is the best bread on the East Coast,” claim Michael and Jane Stern, authors of the Roadfood series of books. Wave Hill’s best seller is the traditional three-grain baguette with spelt and rye. Other favorites are wild yeast sourdough, olive and roasted red pepper ciabatta, 14 whole-grain multigrain, flaky and buttery croissants, and their new line of artisan sliced breads. Weekends are particularly busy, as more than 4,000 breads are sold. Any bread they don’t sell that day is donated to shelters or re-purposed in their kitchen to make croutons and crostini.
Before buying the business in 2015, Tim spent 15 years in Rome, Italy, perfecting his bread-baking skills. Now he and his team spend 12 hours each night mixing, proofing and baking the bread before letting it cool on oak racks. Three minivans deliver it the next morning to such places as Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Walter Stewart’s in New Canaan, Village Market in Wilton, and small businesses such as Copia Home and Garden in South Salem, N.Y., and Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford, Conn., as well as to farmers’ markets throughout Connecticut and New York.
From November to March Tim offers baking classes, some for parents and children, and other, more complex classes just for adults. “They fill quickly,” he says.
Wave Hill Bread is at 30 High Street in Norwalk.The small retail store is in front of the building; the baking happens in the back. Street parking is plentiful and free.
SoNo Baking Company & Café is in a 4,600-square-foot renovated warehouse along South Norwalk’s waterfront. Enjoy breakfast or lunch in their intimate and homey café with an open kitchen and bakery, where one can watch gorgeous cakes being decorated and delicate pastries constructed. Everyday artisan baguettes are available, as well as cranberry pecan, multigrain, and sunflower flaxseed bread, plus a variety of sourdoughs. Weekend favorites are ciabatta, rolls, Tuscan Boule and cinnamon raisin, rye, and semolina bread.
SoNo Baking Company & Café is the creation of John Barricelli, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Before opening the café and bakery in 2005, John worked as the consulting pastry chef at the former Elms Restaurant in Ridgefield, and had his own PBS show called Everyday Food that was produced by Martha Stewart.
When asked which one is his best seller, John says it’s the sourdough. “It’s finicky to make because the sourdough starter replaces the yeast. We don’t use fancy machines, so no bread is easy to make,” he explains. All the breads are 100% non-GMO and 60% organic. Look for these breads at some of Fairfield County’s restaurants, including Rowayton Seafood, Rosie in New Canaan, Artisan in Southport, and Bruculino in South Norwalk, as well as at farmers’ markets in New Haven, Old Greenwich and Westport.
John is the author of two cookbooks — The SoNo Company Cookbook and The Seasonal Baker, Baking with Fruits and Vegetables — and SoNo Baking Company & Café has two locations: 101 Water Street in South Norwalk and 49 Tokeneke Road in Darien.
Walk to the back of Palmer’s Market, located 264 Heights Road in Darien, to discover an elegant bakery that specializes in cakes, cookies, and pastries, and made-from-scratch artisan breads. Crusty Italian, sourdough, pumpernickel, rye, honey wheat, and cheese are their best sellers. Breads with flavors other than ones they bake are brought in each morning from Wave Hill and Michelina’s Wholesale Bakery in Danbury. “We’ve also partnered with a distributor who delivers bread, rolls, and bagels from the top New York City bakeries: Eli’s, Balthazar, A&S, Hudson, and Tom Cat,” says head baker Megan Palmer Rivera.
Simple Hearth Bread
(Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour)
2 cups of water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast, or one packet
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
Pour lukewarm tap water over the yeast. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Yeast must be active for the bread to rise, so it must blossom (baker’s lingo for bubble). If it doesn’t, stop — you’ll just be wasting good ingredients and your time.
No need to sift the flour; fluff it up with a spoon while it’s in the bag or canister. Sprinkle 1 cup of flour into a dry-cup measure and add to yeast mixture. Add salt, then stir in 4 ½ cups more flour until the dough begins to hold and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
It’s ready to knead. Turn onto floured surface; sprinkle it with ½ cup of flour. Fold the outside edge over into itself toward you, then push it gently away with the heels of your hands. After every push give it a 1/4 turn. Keep repeating this sequence for 3 or 4 minutes. If needed, sprinkle more flour on the board to prevent the dough from sticking.
Let it rest while you grease a large bowl. Knead for another few minutes. When the dough is smooth, elastic and no longer sticky, form it into a round ball and place in the greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel or piece of plastic wrap and put in a warm place to rise. When it is doubled in bulk, make a fist and give it a punch.
Knead again for a minute or two to remove stray bubbles. Let it rest for several minutes before cutting the dough in half and shaping into two loaves: long and narrow, French style, or short and oval, Italian style. Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover with a damp towel and let rise until doubled — about one hour.
Slash 3 or 4 diagonal cuts ¼ inch deep across the top. For a shiny bronze surface, brush a beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of water over the dough’s exposed top.
Place in a preheated 475-degree oven. After 12 minutes lower the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 25-30 minutes until it’s a deep, golden brown.