Luscious Loaves

Thoughts of Beyond Bread tantalize the mind during Passover

By the time you read this, many of you, like me, will be in the middle of self-imposed jonesin'. It happens annually for us, lasts for eight days, and we eat a ton of matzo--more, probably, than we'd ever eat of leavened bread in the same period of time. It makes perfect sense to me that I have bread on my mind right now.

One of the most memorable disagreements I had with my second ex concerned Erev Pesach (Passover) about 10 years ago. I was insistent--in my quiet, subtle, gentle way, of course--that we rid the pantry of leavened products. He chalked it up to inconsistent and superstitious religious beliefs and stood his ground. I guess, in some ways, it is easier these days.

The truth is, I am not a huge bread or ground-grain eater. It's just not a daily staple for me. True enough, I regularly pick up a loaf of Ed's Special Bread at Ilse's (the very best for grilled-cheese-and-tomato sandwiches, as my colleague and helpmate Jane taught me), and I am too easily seduced by the tortilla chips at Poca Cosa and Guadalajara Grill. But I don't think they are the carbs that will do me in.

Nor will it be the challah from Beyond Bread, possibly the finest single food product one can eat. I am measured in my consumption of it, although it is tough to be prudent. Light, filling, sweet, thoroughly delicious, it's the best way to celebrate and end a week (and begin a new one if you have enough left to make French toast on Sunday mornings).

Beyond Bread makes and sells 250 loaves of challah every Friday. That's a tiny but significant portion of the approximately 3,000 "touches" per day made on the average at its two locations--3026 N. Campbell Ave. and 6260 E. Speedway Blvd. Those "touches" include all manner of leavened products: baguettes, rolls, the babkas (remember the Seinfeld episode?), etc., and the number can sometimes climb to 4,000 per day or more. This is bread-making on a big scale, folks.

"We wanted to have a quiet little bakery," said Randie Collier, who with her husband, Shelby, opened Beyond Bread in 1998, seven short years ago. But then they started making sandwiches, and the bakery "turned into a restaurant, with soups made from scratch, fresh salads and slaws. I love the product," said Randie, "and am really proud of it and the people who make it." She is particularly fond of some of the byproducts of the little-bakery-grown-huge: people who have proposed there and gotten married, the regulars and the special moments. But, says the mother of two, "It's a hard, 24/7 lifestyle." Bread is still the focus.

Shelby is at the center of things, and it is a demanding process. The yeast base for most of their breads is sourdough, and they "grow" it every day. The flour, water and salt sit together, become acidic and become the growth medium for most of the breads made at Beyond Bread. As it is used for the base, more is added. It's like the yogurt my friend Esther Levy used to make; hers was, literally, generations-old. When I moved back to the farm years ago and had to throw out the culture, I felt I was abandoning a friend.

The white bread at Beyond Bread has nothing in it but water, flour and salt--and the sourdough yeast. Days are spent mixing and shaping the loaves, letting them rise overnight and baking them first thing in the morning--and repeating the process every day. The sourdough base is not used on either the foccacia or the ciabatta. The Rustic bread, which has become Beyond Bread's signature product, is made with semolina flour and toasted white and black sesame seeds, and is amazingly good.

The thing I love about Beyond Bread is that it zoomed in on a product and concentrated its energies and attention on making the best of that product. So they got sidetracked to sandwiches and accompaniments--they have never lost sight of the central vision, which is to make the best bread they possibly can. That's the reason that it is still maddening to find a parking place at lunch there, even though it has moved across the street from its original location into bigger quarters and expanded to its second location on Speedway. It's a case study of excellence succeeding.

My friend Debbie gave me a loaf of challah from Beyond Bread last Friday, knowing that I loved it. I used the window of opportunity between Friday and the beginning of Passover Saturday night to gobble most of it down. Andrew was able to grab a little bit of it before sundown and Seder, and it was gone. Just as it should be.

But the memory sustains, and the matzo is almost gone. That, too, is as it should be.

From the Inbox

To Simone L.: Thanks for the words of wisdom. I wish I had become a chef, but I'm not that brave.

To Adrian B.: I appreciate the suggestion and promise to try it out. But, turnips???? Isn't there an alternative?

To Paul R.: Thank you for the imaginative suggestion about what I can do with my immersible blender. Unfortunately, I respect it too much.

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