Save The Crusts

March 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

I love the bread basket they bring you when you go out to eat at a restaurant. My favorite restaurants tend to be the ones with particularly excellent bread baskets. At Domicin, my favorite wine bar in Stillwater, they bring you a plate with slices of ciabatta bread and a little dish of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I know it sounds standard, but I’ve been to some places where the bread basket is just awful—or worse—nonexistant! Some places have the nerve to make you pay extra!

One of the best bread baskets I’ve ever tasted was from Spoon River in Minneapolis. It was a potato boule with real chunks of sliced fingerling potato in the bread. I was impressed, and when I said so to the server, she told me the bread came from none other than my favorite bakery for European-style bread in the Twin Cities (what an intro). Behold: Rustica. Ever since I tasted a perfectly flakey croissant from Rustica a few years ago, I was hooked. Now, as a disclaimer, I haven’t tasted the boules and loaves of bread from all of Minneapolis and St. Paul’s bakeries, but I have always been very, very happy with the bread I’ve found at Rustica.

It’s just as good as the baguettes I’d buy everyday in France. Julia Child was right—it’s not so easy to reproduce that incredible chemistry that France, and Europe at large, churns out morning after morning. So much of our bread here just doesn’t have that thick, impermeable crust. It’s all about that good crust.

Well, this weekend, I bought a loaf of ciabatta bread from Rustica whose crust I was particularly smitten with. It was like armor. Rhino bread. Bread chain-mail. Protecting that spongy-soft interior, so airy and light. Delicious to eat. Difficult to draw: My friend, Anna has talked to me about ciabatta bread before. The challenge of baking it. She speaks not from experience, but as an observer. Her husband has taken on the challenge of baking good bread, and from the sounds of it—it takes some practice. I’ve proclaimed on numerous occasions that I want to do this: bake my own bread. However…for want of time, I’m satisfied to buy a boule and carry it across the parking lot to my car.

Now, I don’t mean to keep waxing poetic on that crust, but man… look at this: There’s something to having a thick crust. A strong conviction. An exterior that takes effort to crack. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately, and most of the poets I’ve read have alluded to something I’ve always believed: when you’re in a solid relationship, or a true friendship with someone, you let them see that spongy-center part of you. In this way, you become vulnerable, but the relationship becomes more valuable.

It’s not the same to be a Wonder-Bread-kind of person, where you are always ready to pour your heart out, share your secrets, and open up. No—it’s far better to have that tough crust. Not just any Average Joe will buy that bread, and not just any Average Joe will be able to get beyond the crust. I know I’ve entered into that oftentimes foggy Land of Metaphor, but I think most of you will get what I’m trying to say. I’m talking about breaking bread with people that matter most to you, having conviction enough not to live your life like a loaf of Wonder Bread and—having the good taste to buy quality European-style bread for your own table. Here’s to tough exteriors and sweet interiors.

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§ 2 Responses to Save The Crusts

  • Ben says:

    Kelli, I never realized you had such an affinity for crusty individuals…

    I’ve been learning that there are many different ways to go about baking good bread, and not all require the devotion and tradition that I’m told French give to theirs. Bread with good crust, for instance, requires just a few basic ingredients – flour, water, yeast, salt – and treatments – time, heat and steam – and there are lots of means to reach that end.

    If you’re not already familiar with it, this article and technique (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html) started a minor revolution in the home bread-baking world, and it’s a fun way to get into that crust we’re all striving for. Perhaps even some potential fodder for a future post…?

    • Kelli says:

      I have heard of this no-knead technique! I may just have to try it. I’m getting sick of listening to my own excuses and time restrictions. 😉

      Thanks for the tip! You’re my Bread Guru, you know!

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