Upper crust A Happy Eater's guide to local loaves


It has been said that man does not live by bread alone. Maybe. But if you add a dab of butter or drop of olive oil to the equation, then not only are you living, you are lapping up the good life.

After years of being a boring bread town, Baltimore has recently been blessed with an influx of new, well-made loafs. The best -- or at least my favorites -- are made by Stone Mill and Marvelous Market bakeries.

My favorite Stone Mill breads are the couronne, the focaccia and the brioche. From Marvelous Market I like the loaves of olive and the rustic.

Stone Mill breads are sold at its two cafes, in the 1600 block of Sulgrave Ave. in Mount Washington and next to the post office in the Greenspring Station shopping center, as well as at Sutton Place Gourmet in the Festival at Woodholme, 1809 Reisterstown Road.

Marvelous Market breads are sold at its new store at 1420 Reisterstown Road; at Morton's Fine Foods, 10 W. Eager St.; and Cross Keys Market in the Village of Cross Keys.

Breads from both bakeries also are sold at Eddie's Super Market, 5113 Roland Ave.

Couronne means "crown," and this bread is aptly named. It is the king of crusts, and Billy Himmelrich, the young, enthusiastic owner of Stone Mill, is passionate about crusts.

About two years ago, when bread first started coming out of Mr. Himmelrich's steam-injected ovens, some customers complained that the crusts were too tough for their teeth. But Mr. Himmelrich stuck to his crust, and the bread-eating world is a better place because of it.

The couronne crust is a smooth, shiny, brown with a pleasing crunch. It takes a good knife to cut through it, but once past the crust, it is smooth going. The bread, made with a white flour dough, is soft with a fine, creamy texture. The bread of kings, it costs $6 a loaf.

Focaccia is the bread of lovers. It's a hand-rolled flat bread made with a combination of white flour starter and whole wheat flours, and flavored with rosemary and extra virgin olive oil. The bread's texture and olive oil flavor make eating a piece of it a sensual joy ride. Focaccia's price ranges from $4 for a quarter loaf (enough to satisfy an average appetite) to $8 for a half loaf (for those with extraordinary needs) to $16 for a whole loaf (for the ravenous).

VTC Brioche, made with eggs, sugar and butter, could pass for dessert. But since Stone Mill shapes it into a classic loaf, I treat it as bread. Or if a nutritionist is watching, I call it a complex carbohydrate.

With its pliant crust and fine white crumb, brioche is the stuff of easy pleasure. A small loaf is $3, a larger loaf $8.

The breads of Marvelous Market are imported, all the way from Silver Spring. In truth, even though I liked the flavor, I had trouble warming up to bread baked by an out-of-towner.

But when I learned that the baker, Mark Furstenberg, grew up in Baltimore and went to Forest Park High School -- and that his parents live here -- all my objections fell by the wayside. Mr. Furstenberg said he plans to bake bread in his Reisterstown Road operation perhaps as early as next fall.

Not only is Marvelous Market's olive bread made by a native son, it is delicious. A pungent sourdough shaped into round loaves and loaded with kalamata olives, it has excellent crumb, crust and aroma. It costs $3.75 to $4 a loaf.

While all bread should remain fresh at least 12 hours after baking, rustic bread has a longer shelf life than others. This bread, a sourdough with a long proofing time, is not shaped into uniform loaves. Thanks to the mysteries of bread making, lack of handling improves its honeycomb texture.

Moreover, it tastes terrific. It is a chewy, substantial bread, $2.25 to $3 a loaf, that makes you want grab it, a bottle of wine, a chunk of cheese, your favorite hunk or hunkette, and frolic like a ++ sun-drunk peasant.

Those who know their flours will note that I have not addressed the raging rye bread issue. Namely, should rye bread be soft or hard? It is an issue I plan to skirt.

My position on the rye bread matter, as well as on the multigrain bread matter, is still being formulated. Interested parties are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the rye of Pariser's Bakery, 6711 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville; the chewy Russian rye of Old World Delicatessen & Bakery, 9118 Liberty Road in Randallstown; and the seeded rye of Sutton Place Gourmet.

Those who want a bushel of grain in each slice of bread should check out the oat bran bread of Dorothea's, 2225 Eastern Ave., and the health bread of Stone Mill.

While we are waffling, let it be known that the race for the title of most decadent bread, between the chocolate cherry bread of Marvelous Market and the chocolate bread of Stone Mill, is a toss-up.

The ultimate test of a favorite bread is the gallow's dilemma: What bread would you request at your final meal, the one before the forces of homogenized white bread drag you off to the gallows?

On this I have a firm opinion. It would be the couronne, followed by the olive, finished off with the brioche.

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