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Stuffed with bar food, I’ve been excited to tear into something new. As Y&H readers know, I’ve been thinking a lot about bread lately, which resulted in this week’s Washington City Paper cover story. I’ve been eating bread all over the city and burbs, but my favorite loaf to date, it seems, is close to my apartment. But it gets its start on the other side of the globe.
Eating Locolat Café’s wonderful baguette, which comes from a bakery in France, makes me sad that bread like this isn’t available at every corner grocery. If bakeries like Uptown, and Panorama Bakery have seasoned bakers—and they do—why is it so hard to pick up a perfect round on the way home from work? The answer may be as simple as demand.
Sam Fromartz, a D.C.-based writer working on a book about bakers and their craft, knows a thing or two about good bread. Alice Waters featured his sourdough loaves and baguettes at a charity dinner to benefit D.C. Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table last year—not too bad for a baker working out of his home kitchen.
Over e-mail, Fromartz explained it’s hard to offer a great artisan loaf on a large scale because they can be difficult to sell. The main issue with bakeries in D.C. is that they are for most part wholesale operations and the logistics of their operations require that they bake bread hours in advance. There’s no judgment or craft by the baker in the supermarket, which is why Fromartz thinks so many of these loaves look underdone.
Even if grocers employed better bakers, many shoppers prefer a very soft even crumb and lightly cooked loaves, without the flavors that come with a well-risen product. Without enthusiastic demand for old-world breads, obstacles like production, and transportation costs make artisan baking on a larger scale a tough sell.
So D.C. will only become a great baking town if customers demand it. We aren’t there yet, unfortunately.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery