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The Corner Bakery

September 2, 2009 Books, Metro East, Retail 26 Comments

Few things are more urban than walking down the street to the corner bakery to buy a loaf of bread that came out of the oven just an hour before. Sadly, few of us live in places where doing so is still possible.  This post is, at the same time, a discussion of urbanity and a book review.  Not a book on urban life, but a cook book on baking bread.  The subjects are related.

Jeff Hertzberg, co-author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, wrote the following in the introduction:

I could finish half a loaf of very fresh, very crisp rye bread by myself.  The right stuff came from a little bakery on Horace Harding Boulevard in Queens.  The shop itself was nondescript, but the breads were Eastern European masterpieces.  The crust of the rye bread was crisp, thin, and caramelized brown.  The interior crumb was moist and dense, chewy but never gummy, and bursting with tangy yeast, rye, and wheat flavors.

The handmade bread was available all over New York City, and it wasn’t a rarefied delicacy.  Everyone knew what it was and took it for granted.  It was not a stylish addition to affluent lifestyles; it was a simple comfort food brought here by immigrants.

I left New York in the late 1980s, and assumed that the corner bread shops would always be there, waiting for me, whenever I came back to visit.  But I was wrong.  As people lost interest in making a second stop after the supermarket just for bread, the shops gradually faded away.  By 1990, the ubiquitous corner shops turning out great eastern, central and southern European breads with crackling crusts were no longer so ubiquitous.

Great European breads, handmade by artisans, were still available, but they’d become part of the serious (and seriously expensive) food phenomenon that had swept the country.  The bread bakery was no longer on every corner — now it was a destination.  And nobody’s grandmother would ever have paid six dollars for a loaf of bread.

St. Louis, like Queens NY, once had bakeries on corner after corner.  Today our choices are very limited.

Vitale’s Bakery, pictured above, is one of the few places left in our region where you can buy bread made on site.  Sure we have St. Louis Bread Co. (known to Panera Bread to readers outside the St. Louis region) but a publicly traded franchise company, even if local, is not what I have in mind.  Of course Vitale’s bread is trucked to our supermarkets as well.  Companion used to have retail sales at their bakery on Gustine before they opened high-end shops in Clayton and the Central West End.

Three years ago today I visited one of the few small bakeries built in the image of those from decades earlier:

222 Artisan Bakery, Edwardsville, IL on 9/2/2006

222 Artisan Bakery on Main Street in Edwardsville, IL is the corner bakery reborn.  Here is how they describe their bread:

Our fresh baked breads are crafted in the style of the French masters. We use a levain to create long fermented sourdough and rustic culinary masterpieces. Our breads are started days before they go into the oven using natural stone ground flour and the finest ingredients.

Most breads are ready by 9 am but there are no rules when dealing with naturally leavened bread-some days the dough wants to rest and some days it’s ready to roll. If you are having a party and would like to order something special,be sure to let us know 72 hours in advance so we can get started early.

Sounds good, but I’m not going to drive to Edwardsville IL for fresh bread.  Those in Edwardsville are fortunate.

For the last month I’ve been trying my hand at baking my own fresh bread, following the simple process described in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

I learned of baking bread this way after my friend Dustin Bopp posted a link to an article from Mother Earth News on his Facebook wall. Note, if you follow the recipe and use yeast in packets you need to use two packs to get the required 1-1/2 tablespoons.

I’ve emailed with the other author, Zoe Francois.  My plan is to make the Mennonite Zweiback rolls like my grandmother used to make.

Image source: Wikipedia (click image to view source)

These were the bread I loved as a child.  The last time I tried was 20 years ago. Way too time consuming.   I recall my Mom saying how, as a child of the depression, store bought bread was a luxury they couldn’t afford.  Today home baked bread is a luxury we all have time to afford.  If you live close to one,  please support your local bakery.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "26 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tony Palazzolo says:

    Sadly, subway bakes it own bread 🙂

    The Hill has another bakery, Marconi Bakery on you guessed it Marconi near shaw. They do very little walk up business and serve mainly to restaurants. If you want to get a feel for an old time bakery, the last time I was in there they hadn’t remodeled since about 1925. The register was about that old.

  2. Mark Groth says:

    ASW on Gravois just south of Bates has great bread baked fresh daily.

  3. Cherokee Neighbor says:

    Black Bear Bakery is a coop run outfit that specializes in artisan bread. I’ve never been there, but have purchased one of their ryes at the G and W Sausage shop on Parker off of Kingshighway.

  4. Jimmy Z says:

    I thought Companion did theirs on site, as well. And Penn Station, like Subway, bakes their own bread.

    One real challenge to running a family bakery, much like running a local donut shop (of which St. Louis has multiple great examples), are the hours – for fresh first thing in the morning means getting started in the middle of the night . . .

  5. Les says:

    Try making this bread…very easy and tastes great:

    Cook’s Illustrated
    Almost No-Knead Bread

    Makes 1 large round loaf. Published January 1, 2008. From Cook’s Illustrated.

    An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid yields best results, but the recipe also works in a regular cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy stockpot. (See the related information in “High-Heat Baking in a Dutch Oven” for information on converting Dutch oven handles to work safely in a hot oven.) Use a mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser (mild non-alcoholic lager also works). The bread is best eaten the day it is baked but can be wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in a cool, dry place for up to 2 days.

    3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus additional for dusting work surface
    1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
    1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
    3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (7 ounces), at room temperature
    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager (3 ounces)
    1 tablespoon white vinegar


    1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

    2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

    3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

    [slp — Thanks Les, but the process in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is much simpler.]

  6. StL Menno says:

    Zweiback is pretty fast when you get the hang of it-the key is how long it takes you to make the rolls!

  7. Jeff says:

    Diana’s on Cherokee street for sweet baked goods = YUM!

  8. Fenian says:

    Jeff has it right.

    Diana’s is fantastic. If you like sweets, they make a mean tres-leches cake.

  9. Brian S. says:

    You’re going to open your own bakery someday, aren’t you, Steve?

    [slp — I would like to own/associate with a bakery and/or restaurant. However I know enough that I don’t want to manage such a place or do the really hard day to day work that is required.]

  10. TeddyFrank says:

    I’d just like to second the no-knead bread recipe. It’s like 15 minutes of effort throughout the entire process, including dishes! The trick is to bake it right before you’ve got friends coming over. Even if you mess it up, it smells freaking wonderful and tastes good fresh. You only notice the imperfections the next day.

  11. Sandy G says:

    I’ve been doing the Artisan Bread in 5 recipe as our standard daily bread. We’ve only purchased 2 loaves of bread since January.

  12. Mark B says:

    Just to clarify a post above: Black Bear Bakery is a worker-owned cooperative started in 1998. We bake old world rye breads and whole grain organic breads as well as bagels, cookies, sweets and pastries. We renovated the Vandora Theater in 2006 and moved in and opened a cafe with seating for 50, open Friday to Sunday, serving All-You-Care-To-Eat vegetarian brunch on Saturdays. The bakery has 18 foot ceilings, a balcony, free wireless, and art on the walls. You’ll love our brownies.

  13. Tom says:

    The new bakery and donut shop at Morgan Ford and Connecticut in Tower Grove South offers bread baked on site.

  14. Sandy G says:

    Another thing about the Artisan in 5…If you’re really going to do it, you can order a pound of yeast from Amazon for under $5. 00.
    Buying the little packets at the store costs a fortune.

    We make one batch of the dough per week, which translates to all the bread two people who eat a lot of bread can eat. I’m still on the pound of yeast I first ordered in January.

  15. Margie says:

    I have to second the Black Bear Bakery endorsement. It’s one of the things I miss about St. Louis!

  16. PT says:

    I’m disappointed that Saint Louis Bread is discounted here to just another publicly traded corporation.

    Subway(Milford, CT) bakes frozen bread. Penn Station(Cincinnati, OH) warms partially cooked bread. Saint Louis Bread Co/Panera(Saint Louis, MO) is one of the best things to come out of Saint Louis in the last 30 years!! What other public or private company has had such success and creates pride for us here? We should be proud of it. They bake fresh dough(never frozen) every night on site(BY REAL TRAINED ARTISAN BAKERS….NOT 17 YEAR OLD KIDS!!). Its fresh, its wholesome and its all natural. You buy it from where its made.

    It’s a shame that because the single Bakery-Cafe in Kirkwood grew, went public, franchised and developed nation-wide that we write it off as a commercial monster with no relevance to our community corner. Go stand at the front door and observe the Saint Louis Bread bakery on 6th street. Take a look around before you order your next sandwich or bagel. Look at the artisan deck ovens behind the counter and the bread and bagels on the wall. It IS the old neighborhood bakery(just fancied up with a more comfortable setting for you to enjoy your bread in a sandwich form, with soup or a salad….and it was started right here in Kirkwood, MO! I encourage you to go to the Bread Co and buy a real loaf of bread(Try the whole grain or 3-cheese). Its crafted and baked just like old world artisan bread. Some people complain that the crust is “too hard”…. because that’s the way REAL BREAD was crafted and baked long before the 1950s brought a cheaper/softer loaf.

    They hire hundreds local people here in Saint Louis(and tens of thousands across the US and Canada), offering great health benefits, retirement packages and flexible hours. They also donate thousands of loaves of uneaten (but still fresh) bread to local shelters every night. 2 years ago, I participated in an event where Panera bought, built and donated over 100 bikes to a local Youth in Need program. We are not talking about Wal-Mart or McDonalds. Maybe the Urban/Light Urban Real Estate decisions are debatable on this blog, but you can’t argue that Saint Louis Bread Co is a real point of pride for Saint Louis, a local bakery, and not just another chain.

    Here are listing of artisan and specialty breads offered for sale:

    They also encourage you to cook bread in your home and break fresh bread with your family…check this out:

  17. Aidan says:

    I remember visiting a bakery at the corner of Delmar and North & South while growing up in University City. It was just a short walk from my home and they always gave out free cookies to kids like myself. Not sure what’s at that particular location now, but that corridor seems to be doing pretty well with Momo’s, Ghisallo Running, and Dewey’s Pizza. It’s unfortunate that there’s a drive-through bank and a drive-through Starbucks on the NW and SE corners of the intersection though…

  18. Jennifer says:

    I love the 222 Artisan breads & pastries, though I do spend a lot of time baking my own as well! There is nothing better than warm focaccia and a glass of wine on a cool, rainy fall evening.

  19. Steve:

    Thanks for mentioning our book “Artisan Bread in Five” in this terrific post. Come visit us at http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com if you have bread questions, or you feel like sharing your method for Zweiback rolls— just post into any of the “Comments” fields.

    Jeff Hertzberg

    [slp — thanks for reading my post, adding your comment, and for writing such a great book. I’ve bookmarked the site plus I’m following you on Twitter.]

  20. Jimmy Z says:

    PT’s right – relatively big is not necessarily evil (I remember when both Quizno’s and Chipotle only had one store each, as well). But bigger picture, as Steve alluded to in the original post, the real “heavy” in the demise of the corner bakery has to be the supermarket chains – it’s ever so much easier to pick up some really good breads, including many local ones, inside these big boxes than it is to make that second stop.

    But wait, there’s more! Coming soon to a grocery near you will be gasoline, much like at Costco and Sam’s Club. They do it other places around the country, and Shop and Save wants to do it in Kirkwood . . .

  21. a.torch says:

    Lubeleys (Watson rd close to the SW city limit) used to do bread, but they may not anymore; it is still a STL family owned small bakery and pretty damn good. Federhofers on Gravois might also, they were doing rolls and similar baked goods. Also, there is an old bakery by/on Ivory-Carondelet.

  22. L. Klein says:

    no bakery near my house. Middle Eastern pasteries in a little grocery don’t count. I have been making my own bread for the last year and have a fool proof method. I do this on Sunday when there are a number of radio shows I like to listen to.
    1) Mix half the dry ingredients (except the salt), all the yeast and all the water called for in mixing bowl. Put a full yohgurt cup of water in the microwave and blast 3 minutes. Inside will be full of steam. Quickly put the mixing bowl in the microwave close the door and set a timer for one hour.
    2) At one hour remove mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients – beat til it is punch. Blast the water for 3 minutes – quickly put the bowl in the microwave and time for one hour.
    3) Remove the mixing bowl and turn the bread out on the counter, knead it a little or a lot, shape it and put it into the oiled baking pan. Zap the water til steamy – 3 minutes, put the baking pan in the microwave for one hour.
    4) Light the oven – I find 375 works on my oven for a loaf of bread. When the oven reaches temperature, remove the baking pan from the microwave and put it in the oven. Time one hour.
    5) Tip bread out of the pan onto a rack so the air can get all around it. Do not bag until it is cool or you will get condensation in the bag and soggy bread.

  23. Yes, I agree with you.

  24. Love the fresh apples especially if harvested toxic-free. Your bread will surely be a hit especially to health conscious consumers.

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