The Specialty Bread Course: A Global Bread Tour
While I’ve been teased before for being the critic at restaurants, Ireally don't believe my expectations are so idealistic that a reasonable effort couldn’t meet them. It’s just that knowing how considerably marked-up restaurant food is, I expect the atmosphere, service, and food quality to make the price worth it. I’m not talking extravagance. I just think I should feel appreciated as a customer when I enter - have my drink filled promptly after it’s been emptied and have empty dishes cleared when my server visits my table. I believe my food’s quality, preparation and plating to be at least as good as I myself could pull off, and, barring a few ethnic restaurants, I expect to be offered bread.
In fact, I believe these things so strongly that I recently wrote blog on the subject - Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease Vs. More Flies with Honey - where I detailed a less than satisfying restaurant experience. Though it was just one among many sins committed at the place, I explained a major sticking point - that while bread never being offered felt insulting enough as well-paying customer, when after repeated requests it never came, I was so thoroughly annoyed, I vowed never to go back again. (Right: The illustration that accompanied my letter of complaint.)
Bread and water – they’re basics, right? Turns out though, increasingly? Not so much!
As my boyfriend (who happens to work for another restaurant under the same management) later explained, though our server should have brought us bread, the fact that we had to ask for it wasn’t his fault. The company. had actually just established a must-ask-for-bread policy – and they aren’t the only ones. With consumers growing increasingly knowledgeable about bread, many restaurants are now phasing out the free bread basket for an upscale bread program. White dinner rolls are making way for rosemary focaccia and roasted garlic nann.
That’s right. The greatest thing since sliced bread? The specialty bread course.
Who Says Bread’s A Trend?
US Foods: “Restaurateurs may have once taken bread for granted, but no more. They’ve discovered that bread, as humble and relatively inexpensive as it may be, can be a powerful menu differentiator.”
Baum + Whiteman: “Restaurants won't give bread without you asking for it. And increasingly, they're charging for a breadbasket. Look for more elaborate breads and rolls, restaurants are baking in-house to save costs … and to ramp up distinctiveness, especially with sandwiches, emphasizing an “artisan” at work.”
Rozanne Gold, Huffington Post: “There's the artisan bread movement with bakers kneading not just wheat but all manner of grains to produce a denser product that's eaten more slowly…”
Nation’s Restaurant News: “Freeman said 2013 will also be the year of toasted bread. Replacing complimentary baskets of bread are bread-board samplers with a selection of toasted options that are served with a variety of toppings, as well as sweet and savory crostini and signature rolls.”
Jodi Eisenhardt, Culture Map Houston: “Look for more attention to be paid to bread, including house-made bread and bread service....”
Julia Bainbridge, Bon Appetit: “The hottest thing since sliced bread is, well, bread. Bread that's so good that it gets its own course… get used to the term "bread program." And get used to ridiculously good bread.”
The Main Bread Types
While bread courses may be the next trend in today’s restaurants, bread has also been a basic staple food since ancient times. With evidence of bread making dating back 30,000 years, throughout many cultures, bread is both a metaphor for basic life necessities and a food given sacred honor.
But what is bread really?
Yes, with a few exceptions, that’s pretty much it! A grain of some sort – generally wheat with its high gluten content which gives dough its sponginess or elasticity – mixed with salt and added to leavening liquid – and yet, there are literally hundreds of thousands bread falling into the following main varieties:
- White Breads: Baked with wheat flour in which the bran and germ layers have been removed leaving just the grain’s core called the endosperm.
- Brown Breads: Commonly labeled as wheat bread in America, brown bread is actually baked with just 10% bran to the 90% grain core.
- Wholemeal Bread: Baked with flour containing the wheat’s bran, germ and endosperm – literally the whole grain.
- Granary Breads: Partially fermented bread baked with flaked wheat grains mixed with either white or wholemeal flour and put through a malting process to maximize sugar content.
- Rye Breads: A dense, flavorful bread baked with a mixture of wheat and rye flour ranging from light to very dark depending on how high the proportion of rye to wheat is.
- Sourdough Breads: Bread baked with fermented wheat dough imparting a sour taste due to lactic acid released in fermentation.
- Flatbreads: Simple bread in which dough in thoroughly rolled and flattened. Many are unleavened meaning they contain no yeast or sourdough culture, though some do contain a small amount.
- Crisp Bread: A flat cracker-like bread usually made with a mixture of wheat and rye flours prized for its long shelf life and popular in Eastern Europe.
- Quick Breads: Breads that are chemically leavened balancing acidic and alkaline ingredients and usually containing both baking powder and baking soda.
Global Bread Platter
Feeling adventurous? Join in the specialty bread trend and impress your friends with a bread tour around the globe.
Food and Wine: Tangier Street Bread (Kalinte’)
“This "bread" is Tangier's version of socca, the chickpea flour–based pancake of Nice, France, but it's much thicker and more custardy, like flan. Moroccans eat it by the slice on the street, sprinkled with cumin or smeared with harissa, but it's also delicious spread with cold salads, like Fresh Tomato and Caper Salad.”
More African Bread Ideas: Bofrot, Himbasha, Injera, Kalinte’, Monkey Bread, Potbrood
Paula Deen: Vidalia Onion Cornbread
“This is one of the best cornbread recipes I've ever tried. Adding the dillweed is pure genius, Paula!”
More American Bread Ideas: Cornbread, Doughnut, Frybread, Hoecake, Hushpuppy, Pancake, Pizza, Quick Bread
Joe Pastry: Melonpan
“It’s not terribly sweet, nor does it have an especially pronounced flavor. However the textures are extremely interesting, and that jibes with what I know of Japan.”
More Asian Bread Ideas: Bing, Curry Bread, Green Onion Pancake, Khanom Bueang, Laobing, Mantou, Melonpan, Pandesal, Rice Bread
Bread Experience: Vanocka
“Beautifully shaped and scrumptious, Vanocka is one of the great breads of the world. It is traditionally shaped with a four-strand braid, followed with a three-strand braid and topped with a single twist. These directions make it easy yet the braid is of centerpiece status.”
More Eastern European Bread Ideas: Babka, Bagel, Bazlama, Borodinsky, Cesnica, Challah, Crisp bread, Flatbrod, Laufabrauo, Lavash, Lefse, Malooga, Pane Ticinese, Pita, Pretzel, Proja, Pumpernickle, Rugbrod, Tigerbread, Tunnbrod, Vanocka, Yufka, Zopf
“This slightly sweet, fruit loaf is excellent as partner to cheese or with a strong cup of tea.”
More English Bread Ideas: Bannock, Bara Brith, Biscuit, Roll, Cottage Loaf, Crumpet, Muffin, Scone
Eat Well 101: Baguette
“In my opinion, tasty baguettes should be simple and fast. I make my homemade bread twice a week and nothing is more pleasant than when the smell fills the house. It is pure bliss!”
More French Bread Ideas: Baguette, Boule, Brioche, Crepe, Croissant, Pain de Mie, Sourdough
Foodie Arsenal: Pumpernickel Bread
“Pumpernickel’s quirks and intensity make it a bread with character and personality; something interesting and noteworthy in a sea of fluffy white plainness. It’s also a fun challenge to bake, and it’s becoming one of my favorite breads in my arsenal, for the moment.”
More German Bread Ideas: Dampfnudel, Dinkelbrot, Gugelhupf, Pretzle, Pumpernickel, Rye Bread, Speckendick, Vienna Bread, Zopf, Zwieback
Simply Recipes: Irish Soda Bread
“It appears everyone has their favorite Irish soda bread recipe. This soda bread is a slightly fancied up version of the Irish classic, with a little butter, sugar, an egg, and some raisins added to the base.”
More Irish, Scottish Bread Ideas: Barmbrack, Brown Bread, Farl, Salt-Rising Bread, Soda Bread
My Recipes: Garlic Thyme Focaccia
“I love this bread. It's so easy to make, with amazing results every time. Perfect if you're short on time but craving that fresh-baked bread flavor with dinner. I've also made it with rosemary with great results.”
More Italian Bread Ideas: Breadstick, Ciabatta, Colomba Pasquale, Coppia Frerrarese, Filone, Focaccia, Michetta, Panbrioche, Pandoro, Pane Carasua, Pane die Altamura, Panettone, Panfocaccia, Penia, Piadina
INDIAN, MIDDLE EASTERN:
Budget Bytes: Naan
“This stuff is AMAZING. It is soft, pillowy, full of lovely bubbles and so extremely versatile. This recipe is so quick, easy and delicious that it is most definitely my new favorite yeast bread recipe. I can’t quite get enough of it.”
More Indian, Middle Eastern Bread Ideas: Appam, Bhakri, Bhatoora, Babri Bread, Bolani, Chapati, Dosa, Ka’ak, Kulcha, Lahoh, Luchi, Matzo, Naan, Puran Poli, Papadum, Paratha, Parotta, Pita, Puri, Phulka, Rumali Roti, Sangak, Shirmal, Taftan, Tandoor
Grain Doe: Massa Sovada
“Another unusual thing about this bread was that the sponge was made up with potato water. Very easy if you are boiling potatoes for dinner anyway, you just save the water… This was great bread, fun to make, and yum to eat.”
More South America Bread Ideas: Arepa, Broa, Hallulla, Jonnycake, Marraqueta, Pan de Pascua, Massa Sovada, Sopaipilla