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Local bakers rise and grind

Tasty treats on display at Esperance Bakery

Greg Bollinger

Homo sapiens wouldn’t be breaking bread, getting that bread, or yearning for the upper-crust without three simple ingredients—flour, water, and salt. Before early civilization conjured the supernatural phenomenon of fermentation, breads gracing ancient tables were as flat as the so-called “Earth.” But the turning point in human history is the discovery and subsequent harnessing of fermentation.

The human eye couldn’t even detect the microbes responsible for leavened bread until the invention of the microscope in 1860, and mass-produced yeast didn’t make its appearance until the 1900s. Pandora’s bread box was opened, resulting in rows of uniformly-sliced bread in clinically-sealed plastic bags glistening under garish supermarket fluorescent lights.

However, a few quaint local bakeries are giving rise to a renaissance in baking, where Old World methods and ingredients are embraced, and bakers tinker with techniques that border on alchemy.

Levain Kitchen & Bakery
10021 S. Yale Ave., #108

A great baker isn’t always born; oftentimes, they rise to the occasion. Trey Winkle began exploring the technical and artistic ins-and-outs of baking sourdough only a few years ago. But simple experiments with bread-making would soon become the backbone of his future French-inspired bistro, Levain Kitchen & Bakery.

“I’ve always liked to learn things that I’m not comfortable with, and baking bread is pretty complicated, especially if you aren’t using packaged yeast,” Winkle said. “It’s like you are having to tame something that’s wild by nature.”

A simple sourdough depends on two ingredients—equal parts flour and water, inoculated with lactobacillus (friendly bacteria), that will transform into a fermentation-fed, hot air balloon of dough, thrumming with bubbles of carbon dioxide and aromatic acids. This is the process behind each slice of sourdough and toasty English muffin served at Levain.

After years of research, Winkle strives for the perfect prototype—a glossy loaf with a deep auburn crust that can only be attained through proper steaming then roasting.

“You know the people like to pop bubble wrap?” asked Winkle, putting a two-pound loaf of intoxicatingly fragrant sourdough on the table. “It’s also really satisfying to feel the crunch of the sourdough with your fingers right out of the oven.”

Levain’s crew bakes up several loaves each day, along with tiny baguettes, burger buns, English muffins, and biscuits. Levain also serves a full breakfast, lunch and, now, dinner menu featuring the breads, meats cured in house, French fries with béarnaise (!), trout picatta, and cold cut sandwiches on that heavenly sourdough.

1124 S. Lewis Ave.

Bakeshop is the brainchild of three women inspired by the art of baking. The bakery was born from the restaurant concept incubator Kitchen 66, which has helped the tiny operation grow into their new storefront in the newly-opened food hall at Mother Road Market.

The bakery, known for its all-natural ingredients, unique flavor combos, and sophisticated pastries, was pushed to expand beyond their baked goods to include savory soups and hearty salads. The pastry side of things is managed by Morgan Barkley, and Emily Price takes care of the freshly-baked bread and the ever-growing selection of flavor-packed soups and hearty salads that round out the lunch and dinner menus.

“We’ve been more-or-less vegetarian during our lives, which helped us have that ability to combine healthy ingredients,” Landry said. “We aren’t a health food restaurant, but we do want it to be something that is really nourishing and filling for people.”

Barkley and Price are producing some of the most mouth-watering vegetarian-ish dishes in town. The bread is still the star, but the salads stacked with kale and tantalizing accoutrement, and steamy bowls of soup are worthy of their toasty accompaniment.

Bakeshop offers various sourdough and seeded loaves, along with a full selection of scones, and a satisfying gluten-free bread that can’t be beat when toasted and slathered with a big ol’ pat of butter.

Bakeshop’s eclectic selection of toasts make mere avocado toast look pedestrian by comparison. Start simple with the sweet-and-savory combo of fig and goat cheese, or mix it up with squash, hummus, pesto, and pickled onion.

Bakeshop can be found inside the Mother Road Market Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

610 W. Main St., Jenks

Baking the perfect croissant became a mathematical and chemical curiosity to Hope Alexander, owner and baker at Esperance Bakery, during a pivotal career change.

“You know those idiots that see something really challenging [and think], ‘If someone else can do that, so can I?’ That’s me,” Alexander said. “I had some time at home and a Julia Child cookbook. The thing is, I made a batch of the croissant and just feeling it—if something can feel beautiful—the dough, the smoothness of it felt beautiful to me.”

The dough itself is used for other items, like the mushroom, walnut, caramelized and onion tartlet. The melding of mushroom with the walnut lent itself to the heavenly, buttery crunch of the croissant. Each bite creates an audible crunch, unleashing a flurry of golden, feather-light flakes.

“You have to have good butter, and you have to have enough of it,” Hope said. “If you bite into a croissant and you don’t make a mess, something is wrong.”

Leftover croissants are transformed into hatch chili and sausage bread pudding. The ever-changing dessert case at Esperance regularly features items like sticky toffee pudding, pear en croute, and chocolate hazelnut bourbon tortes.

Esperance is open 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 7:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

Saint Amon Bakery
6333 E. 120th Ct., Suite F

Sarah Saint Amon, along with her husband, Jean (J.B.) Baptiste met while working together as pastry chefs. The two were married and now own their own patisserie, Saint Amon Baking Company. J.B. hails from Dax, France, where he began his pastry preparing tutelage at 18.

Saint Amon’s dessert case bursts with sophisticated pastries, artfully-crafted desserts and an ever-dynamic line-up of delicacies the couple feel inspired to create.

“That’s when we have a moment to have fun,” Sarah said. “But our specialty really is croissants. Most croissants you’ll find are too dense. There are about a dozen different nuances, but mainly because they are machine-made, or they are really rough with the dough and smash the lamination.”

The lamination refers to the layers of dough that give the croissant its delicate strata that is created by alternating layers of dough and butter. The Queen Amon is a regal manifestation of croissant dough, with layers of sugar sprinkled between the layers, and a glossy coating of bruléed brown sugar on top.

Though Saint Amon’s always has something to treat the sweet tooth, they also have a selection of savory items. Their version of a sausage roll—featuring kasewurst from Siegi’s Sausage—will ruin you for all future sausage rolls. They feature classic sandwiches, like ham, brie and butter on an authentic baguette. Saint Amon is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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