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R&IEditorial Archives2004 — May 15 — Food

Early Risers
Breakfast breads get warm welcomes for morning meals.

Forget the carbs and pass the bread. The good bread.

At least, that seems to be the current breakfast mantra. Interest in high-quality breakfast breads—from crusty, artisan breads and moist fruit breads to delectable, sticky cinnamon buns— is increasing, according to many in the business, and there’s no end in sight.

“People are very exacting about what they want at breakfast, and carbs are not an issue,” says Jim Dodge, author of several baking books and general manager of food and beverage at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

“It’s the one time of day when guests definitely have a routine. They want their coffee, they know how they want their eggs, and they want their bread.”

In business for 60 years, Chicago's Ann Sather restaurants sell 17,500 of their famed cinnamon rolls each week.

What’s different is the growing consciousness of good, healthful breakfast breads. For sure, the bustling little breakfast spots found in almost every town and neighborhood throughout the country are still flanking their breakfast plates with toast and English muffins. For example, Egg’lectic Café, with locations in Wheaton and Rolling Meadows, Ill., goes through hundreds of English muffins a week according to owner Tom Bozonelos. A close second on their breakfast bread list is whole-wheat toast. Overall, bagels are the most popular bread item in the country, according to a 2001 breakfast study by Chicago-based researcher Technomic Inc.

“But that’s more likely when consumers are eating at home, and they’re just grabbing something like a bagel,” says Technomic’s David Henkes. “If they’re going out, they want to treat themselves.” According to Henkes, breakfast sales (away from home) amount to about $58 million annually with breakfast breads accounting for 4%.

“Expensive” is how Ina Pinkney, owner of Ina’s restaurant in Chicago, describes the four little loaves of artisan bread that almost immediately arrive at each diner’s breakfast table even if they’re ordering pancakes. “I spend more than $3,000 a month on this bread, and technically, it’s a giveaway,” she says.

Giveaway or not, however, very little of the bread is sent back, according to Pinkney. “It sets the tone right away that this is going to be a special meal. But good bread requires the best ingredients. We only use the best sweet butter, and butter has almost doubled [in price in the last year] from $56 a case [36 pounds] to $92.”

“Peoples’ palates have improved,” Getty Center’s Dodge says. “And when you’re dealing with premium products that require a lot of good handling, it represents increases in both product and labor costs.”

Reality and perceptions
The growing popularity of artisan breads and rustic pastries is a major reason why the bread and pastry curriculum was totally revamped last year on the Charlotte, N.C., campus of Johnson & Wales University, according to faculty member Peter Reinhart, author of “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread” (Ten Speed Press, 2001) and “American Pie: My Search for Perfect Pizza” (Ten Speed Press, 2003).

"[Good bread] sets the tone right away that this is going to be a special meal," says Chicago restaurateur Ina Pinkney.

“One of the challenges the bread industry faces, as people become more conscious of their carb intake, is how to develop more nutritious and still-delicious breads,” says Reinhart. “The word ‘artisan’ probably means things that are made by hand, so the more accurate word [for such breakfast breads] would be artisan-style, which are now developed by machines. That’s still an improvement over former breads.”

Fruit breads at breakfast—and throughout the day—are the big sellers at San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel (operated by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants). Zucchini and banana breads, at $1.50 a slice, are the two most popular, according to Pastry Chef Mimi Young, “and I think that part of it is that people see these darker breads as healthier. It’s all about perception.”

There’s no “perception” involved at the three Chicago Ann Sather restaurants. Guests who order the famed cinnamon rolls know they’re getting lots of butter and sugar, and that’s what they want. “Generations have been coming here for 60 years, and our cinnamon buns are part of what makes us a destination,” says General Manager Michael Purvis. “We sell 17,500 a week.”

And out on the West Coast, one of the breakfast breads offered by the Getty Center is a chocolate muffin, maybe not what you’d call artisan or traditional, but definitely a nod to the universal sweet tooth. Says Dodge: “I’d be afraid to take it off the menu.”

Bread-baking pitfalls to avoid

Jim Dodge, general manager of food and beverage for the Getty Center, Los Angeles, has seen the good, bad and ugly in bread baking. He offers this advice:

  • Don’t overmix. It’s the most common mistake, because it’s a soft batter and people think they can handle it a lot. Not so. Instead of a light and delicate bread, you’ll get a dense and leathery texture.
  • Time baking well. It’s not going to be the same every morning; you’ve got to develop a good eye. It’ll turn into sawdust if you overbake and be a gummy mess inside if you underbake.
  • Think about the temperature of batter when it goes in the oven. When made from scratch and it doesn’t sit around, batter is going to be consistent. If refrigerated overnight, it’s a completely different product.
  • Test baking powder, because it goes flat. Pour three-quarters cup of hot tap water into a clear measuring cup, and drop in a teaspoon of baking power. It should look fizzy. If not, it won’t work. Baking power is fragile.

    • Ann Sather’s Famous Cinnamon Rolls
    • Lemon Poppy-Seed Bread

    Barbara Sullivan is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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