Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Best in Bread

For many Europeans living in the United States, bread’s an issue. My family arrived in Kansas City in 1951; I was then 15. In those days hard, dark, German-style rye bread was nowhere to be found; soft white bread owned the market undisputed. It was a shock. Even toasted—and we never ate that sort of bread without first toasting it—white bread, was certainly not wonder bread for us; it lacked something. Many years passed before, in the 1960s, a store on the Plaza (mid-town) finally offered decent bread. But it still wasn’t the real thing; close, but not the hard, unsliced, dark loaf, the kind you could buy anywhere in Europe, in the smallest bakeries and in various sizes, including huge round heavy loaves. Things have improved, but throughout our history here, moving to another city always meant “finding bread.” The last time we went though that process was here in Detroit. Then we found Burkhardt’s and visibly relaxed. We’d found it, had a new source! Real bread. That was in 1989. Disaster then struck three or four years ago. News came that Burkhardt’s was closing. Fortunately we already had an alternative, indeed a superior alternative, and easily reached. At the Village Market, three blocks away, therefore reachable on foot (natural for Europeans) we could buy Dimpflmeier’s rye. And we had bought it many times before by then. It was better than  Burkhardt’s but much more expensive. Around here—adjacent as we are to Canada—it is, to put it simply, the best in bread.

Dimpflmeier’s Bakery was founded by Alfons Dimpflmeier, an immigrant from Germany. He settled in Etobicoke, Ontario (read Toronto) and started his business in 1957. Dimpflmeier bakes the real thing; not only are all the ingredients traditional, Dimpflmeier also bought himself a natural spring in Terra Cotta, northwest of Toronto, and uses it in baking. Some seventeen places sell Dimpflmeier’s across the border in Windsor. On this side there is Village Market in the East and Hiller’s in the West—and probably many more places yet I don’t know about. Thus, thank the Lord, we have bread.

Natural rye bread is so common in Europe I didn’t even know the word sourdough (speaking strictly for myself) until my first trip to San Francisco where I saw good-looking loaves sold at the airport and, bread being always to the fore in this house, arrived from my trip with three loaves in a bag. Now there is a bigger story behind that. I’ve learned since then that sourdough bread was the bread of the California Gold Rush. The mascot of the NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers, is Sourdough Sam. Early gold prospectors rushed to California in 1849; they gave this term its name. Why sourdough? It was the reliable way to ensure that you had bread. The 49ers carried little pouches of sourdough starter on their belts, a valued and highly protected possession. Sourdough was easier to use than yeast and baking soda. Sourdough also played its significant role in the Klondike gold rush in the 1890s in Canada and Alaska. America thus has a long, strong relationship to real bread—but not everywhere!

Natural rye bread is sourdough bread. Rye flour has less gluten and responds less effectively to yeast. The active agent in sourdough is a genus of bacteria called Lactobacillus. In fermenting the flour, the bacteria cause the formation of lactic acid. Sour. But after active baking, you have to keep a bit of the dough and store it for the next time. This gives the process a certain traditional aspect not exactly conformant to the modern tendency. The baking of the finished dough also takes longer—and time is money.

Tradition! Many good things are linked to Lactobacillus, not least (per Wikipedia’s article on the bacterium) yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, beer, wine, cider, kimchi, and chocolate. Kimchi, a Korean-style of fermented vegetables, may seem unfamiliar, but as for the rest, which ones would you like to give up? Chocolate?

Yes, Lord, we pray thee, do give us our daily bread—and if at all possible, make it sourdough rye!
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This post originally appeared on the early LaMarotte—removed some time ago because I could not control the appearance of advertising on it. Subject arose again just now, what with our discovery of another nearby bakery. So I thought I would resurrect this paen to sourdough.

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