Tuesday evening, 6:35 PM. I hurry up the subway stairs and walk quickly down Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, hoping Grande Monuments is still open. I see the bright red neon "Monuments" light in the window. I pop my head into the door.
Just a minute... Grande Monuments? Yes, it's a tombstone store. However, I'm not in the market for a headstone. I'm going there to buy a delicious baguette for dinner. "Have you got any bread left?" I ask. "You bet," Jerry said as he pointed to a few baguettes lying on top of a grey flecked granite tombstone and handed me a fresh loaf.
I stop by Grande Monuments once or twice a week after work to purchase a loaf of two of bread. In my opinion, it's the best bread nearby and also perhaps the most peculiar. "I just have to ask," I say to Jerry, "bread and tombstones? I just don't get it. How did this get started?"
Jerry smiled and sat back on a headstone and told me his story. His cousin is the owner of a bakery in Bensonhurst called Il Fornaretto, where his 19-year-old daughter, Angela, also works. In the early days, she would bring home extra loaves after a day at the bakery and Jerry would share them with people in the community, including the nuns who lived around the corner. Pretty soon the priest from the church was ordering loaves for the congregation. People were coming by the shop and asking for more bread. The business took off from there.
Jerry puts his loaves in the window right next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. They are not easy to resist, despite your beliefs. I literally had to do a double take when I first saw them; it seemed like such an odd combination.
Jerry told me that one thing he really enjoys about selling the bread in his shop is that he gets a chance to work with his daughter. They started a savings account for her with the profit they made from the bread they sold each day. The bread experience gives them a little time to chat and get to know each other, since communication with teenagers, as Jerry mentions, "can be a bit tough." He really values this experience and hopes his daughter will one day come to work for the family business. "She went to a funeral the other day," he said with hope. You can tell that he's really proud of his daughter and the unique and lively business they created in their neighborhood. I imagine it's the kind of place you'd only find in Brooklyn.
Baking bread is definitely a talent and something that I never though I had the skills for until I tried Jim Lahey's recipe. I've tried making bread in the past, most recently a whole wheat loaf that could have been mistaken for a brick and perhaps used as a small weapon. There was always a lot of work and waiting... it seems so much easier to just go out and buy a loaf at the store.
This recipe doess require a bit of time: 12-18 hours! I found it best to make the dough the night before and to then continue to recipe the following afternoon so it can be finished a few hours before dinnertime. It's all about timing. There are only a few simple ingredients and barely any elbow grease needed! The bread slides easily out of the bowl after the first rise with the help of a spatula. And once the bread has finished baking you will just dive in and enjoy every bite. It's hard not to eat the whole loaf!
Anyone can try this and you'll want to keep baking it over and over and trying new variations. I have a whole wheat loaf rising in the kitchen as I write this. I can't wait to try many of Jim Lahey's other no-knead, one pot bread recipes.
(Above photos top and l to r: Jerry at Grande Monuments; Ready for second rise; Afternoon snack)
I’ve always wanted to be a prolific bread baker. I daydream about being the kind of woman who is covered in flour and sweat every Saturday afternoon, my kitchen warm from the oven.
However, I’ve always been slightly intimidated by making my own bread. It seems like such an exact science, one that I would surely get wrong in my haphazard way of doing things. I can’t even make a decent pie crust, so how would I be able to turn out an edible loaf of bread? In the past, I’ve left the bread making to the professionals.
Fortunately, in Beacon, a loaf of freshly-baked artisan bread is not too hard to find. Beacon does not have a dedicated bakery, but we do have an incredible café, Homespun Foods, that sells exceptional baked goods and bread. A large selection of Homespun’s bread is made right in town by Beacon residents Simone and David from All You Knead, a small bread making operation based in a classroom-turned-baker’s-kitchen at the old Beacon High School. Simone and David’s bread is crafted with love and chock full of local grains from Lightning Tree Farm in Millbrook. In addition to Homespun Foods and Adams Fairacre Farms, they sell their loaves each Sunday at the Beacon Farmers Market. Wendy from The Locavore Baker, another bread making operation in Beacon, mills local, organic grains and bakes bread right in her own kitchen. This year, for the first time, she will be offering bread shares to members of our local CSA, Common Ground Farm.
Simone, David, and Wendy are making incredible bread. Right here in my town. One in her very own kitchen. Maybe bread making doesn’t have to be so scary and hard? If they can do it right here in Beacon, can I?
Jim Lahey makes bread making easy for amateurs like me. His book is a beautiful thing. It’s full of gorgeous how-to photos, charming stories, and very approachable methods. It makes me want to bake my own bread over and over. I have a feeling it’s going end up being one of those cookbooks that is perpetually covered with flour and smeared with butter… you know… the best kind.
I was excited to try his recipe, so I dove headfirst into the 20+ hour long process without even thinking about the timing. I mixed my ingredients together and started the first rise on a Saturday morning, which meant that Step 2 would arrive at 4:30 AM the following morning. Smart, Kristen. Very smart. At least my 4:30 AM wake-up call was greeted with the most amazing bread dough smell ever. After a dusting of wheat bran, I wrapped the dough in a tea towel, in which it rose for another two hours. Finally, the soft, aromatic dough was ready for a go in the Dutch oven. Bleary eyed, I popped the bread into the oven and waited.
Less than an hour later, the bread was on the counter, deeply golden and whistling and crackling. I felt such a sense of accomplishment! It looked so professional and smelled heavenly. After several hours of allowing the flavors to develop, PJ and I tore into the loaf and smeared slices with goat cheese mashed with lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and layered them with roasted asparagus (a la shutterbean). We poured ourselves a beer and took a seat outside. The flavor of the bread was deep and tangy and matched well with the sharpness of the goat cheese and the woodsy asparagus.
I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked, and I’ll be baking loaf after loaf of Mr. Lahey’s bread. Come on over on any given Saturday afternoon for a slice.
(Above photos l to r and underneath: Dough, ready for baking; Fresh out of the oven; Simone from All You Knead)
View more of our bread photos on Flickr.