2010 Top Ten Bread Bakers in America
Dessert Professional
November 1, 2010

For the first time, Dessert Professional has delved deeply
into the world of artisan bread to name the Top Ten Bread
Bakers in America. This group of distinguished bakers has
mastered the art and technique of creating the perfect loaf—
that elusive combination of flavor, texture and appearance.
Though their backgrounds and approaches to baking may
differ, one characteristic was common to all the bakers on our
list: their willingness to share recipes and information and
to teach others about their craft, with the goal of improving
the quality of bread in America. Following is a short profile
of each of our Top Ten Bread Bakers in America, as well as
recipes. We also include a profile of Tom McMahon, our first
honoree for the Bread Bakers’ Hall of Fame.


Busniess profile: Amy’s Bread is a neighborhood bakery in the
middle of a big city. Although our staff and production have
grown, we still feel like a small, local gathering place. You can
come in and enjoy great bread, delicious morning pastries,
sandwiches, cakes and other sweets, but we’re still a bread
bakery at heart.

How it all began: I made my first loaf when I was 13, but didn’t
bake a substantial amount of bread until 1989 when I started to
study bread baking.

What are you trying to do differently? I am really focused on
making sure we have a great workplace for our employees. We
take good care of our staff, and at last count, 24 of our bakers have
stayed for between 9 and 18 years! These long-term bakers help
supervise the daily production and ensure that the quality of
the bread is the best it can be every day. They take great pride
in their work and (mostly) enjoy working behind the large glass
windows in Chelsea Market where everyone can watch us
making our products. The glass storefront keeps us on our toes!
How many types of bread do you make? We mix 25 different
kinds of dough each day, and each one is made into 2-5 different
products, so our selection is vast!

Favorite type of bread to make: I usually like to make wet,
sticky dough like Rustic Italian because it looks like it will
never come together, and then, voila! It finally takes shape and
becomes gorgeous, holey bread.

Favorite bread to eat: I love grainy breads. My current
favorite (this changes regularly) is my new Peasant Wheat with
Toasted Seeds Roll, a mild whole wheat bread with pumpkin,
sunflower, flax and sesame seeds inside, and a toasty coating of
the same seeds and a bit of sea salt on the outside. It’s crunchy,
chewy, nutty, toasty, and delicious.

Bread philosophy: From simple to complex, good bread starts
with well chosen flour, a perfectly fermented starter, plenty
of water, and the right balance of salt and other ingredients.
Given ample floor time at a moderate temperature, the bread
dough develops the complex aromas and flavors ready to be
released from this fermenting mixture. An intuitive baker and
a good oven are the other ingredients that make good bread.
Signature products: The bread we are best known for is
Semolina with Golden Raisins and Fennel. Our Black Olive
Twists and Chocolate Sourdough Twists are also very unique
and have many fans.

Best compliment you’ve ever received about your bread:
French people telling me that my bread is better than their
favorite bread in France. (French tourists flock to my bakery
because we are raved about in their guide books!)

Best part of the bread business: Bread bakers are interesting
characters. They are hard working, a bit crazy, and usually
quite willing to share ideas and secrets with their colleagues
and competitors. I really love the camaraderie among bakers
and their openness with each other. It’s a very unique business
that allows this kind of connection and admiration among
people that compete with each other in the industry.

If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing?
Lately I have had a chance to do some gardening and have
really enjoyed it, so I think I would be a vegetable and flower
gardener if I weren’t baking. Gardening reminds me of bread
baking: It’s hard work, it takes lots of endurance to get all the
work done, you need to work with your hands and stand on
your feet for long periods of time, there is a lot of heavy lifting,
it’s hot work on a summer day (like standing in front of the
bread oven), and the end result is very gratifying.

If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what
would you be?
I would be a Whole Wheat Walnut loaf. I am
glossy deep brown (that’s the dark hair), crunchy (that’s the
protective exterior that helps me run a bakery), grainy and
healthy (interested in healthful eating), slightly sweet (from a
dab of honey) and a little nutty.

What’s next? We need more space. So I guess that means
growing into a bigger bakery one of these days! Where and
when is still to be seen.

What direction do you see the bread baking industry
These are some trends that I have seen recently:
People still love bread, but they also love sugar. Bakeries today
must provide customers with more than bread. If they have
retail stores, they are expected to offer sweets, sandwiches,
beverages—a full range of products besides bread. As much
as people talk about whole grain breads, white breads like the
baguette still outsell all others by a large margin. We get lots of
requests for breads for special diets like gluten free, wheat free,
etc. Restaurants have cut back on their bread baskets or have
stopped offering bread in the more casual concepts. Bread is
here to stay, but expect to see fewer or simpler bread baskets
in restaurants, and bakeries with 5 or 6 kinds of bread to offer,
and a huge case full of sweets to keep their customers happy!