Monthly Archives: June 2010

Caputo Bakery, Brooklyn, NY

Five generations of the Caputo family have built on tasty Italian traditions in the heart of the Cobble Hill neighborhood.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

 

Walk by Caputo's Bake Shop in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill area and the wonderful aroma will draw you inside. Photo by Bakery Boy

When my nephew Nick, who grew up in the same family bakery I did, recommended Caputo Bakery in Brooklyn, I knew it would be special. Nick is as much of a Bakery Boy as I am, with a similar lifelong habit of sampling bakeshops everywhere. During five years of living in New York City, he’s scoped out some winners.

James Caputo, who worked 10 years as a Wall Street stock trader before rejoining the family trade alongside his now semi-retired father James, represents the 5th generation to run the business established in 1904 by his Sicily-born great-great-grandfather in Brooklyn’s largely Italian Cobble Hill neighborhood. That beats my clan by a couple of decades (I’m a 3rd-gen baker, Nick is a 4th), but I felt right at home. “Few people know it,” James says, “but my mother’s dad had a bakery too, a couple of blocks from my dad’s, so I’ve got bakery ancestors on both sides.”

Even from outside, I was impressed by the variety of great-looking breads stacked on trays and in baskets in the front window. Without hesitation I bought a crusty loaf of French bread for $1.90 to snack on while I checked out the rest. Before long I was asking a saleswoman—who sniffed at, but politely ignored, my crumb-dropping—to bag up a loaf each of Semolina Golden Raisin (with fennel), Multigrain (with whole wheat, oats, sunflower seeds, millet, flax, and cracked wheat), Cranberry Walnut Multigrain, and Sweet Onion Focaccia.

Wha, you don’t want the Scalita and the Olive bread too?” the saleslady mock-scolded while packing my order. Okay, I conceded, add one each of those—the first a dense, dry Sicilian loaf good for dunking in soup, the second glistening with an olive oil smear. I lived off of Caputo’s bread and hardly anything else for the next couple of days, with a smile on my face.

“LARD BREAD” The name seems more like a warning than a selling point in these health-conscious days, but Caputo’s has a loyal following for its rich, flaky, fat-friendly loaves ($4.25 each). Break one open and spy chunks of pork salami, bits of melted provolone cheese, and specks of course black pepper. It’s an acquired taste, habit forming to some but worth a try to all. (To see a photo of Caputo’s Lard Bread, click here for a recent Village Voice article.)

BEYOND BREADS Bread takes center stage at Caputo’s, but this well-rounded Italian bakery produces other noteworthy goodies too. Excellent biscotti, butter cookies, and tart little lemon cookies stand out. They also make beautiful strawberry and other fruit pies, chocolate layer cakes, pound cakes, cupcakes, and brownies.

SIXTH IN TRAINING? People in family businesses get asked all the time: Is a next generation, a 6th in this case, coming along? “My kids are just 6 and 7 years old,” James says, “so let’s not put that pressure on them anytime soon. My dad encouraged me to go out and try something else, and I did, but I couldn’t be happier now that I’m back here. We work long, hard days and have three trucks delivering to restaurants, grocery stores, and institutions, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We know most of the people who walk in the front door because Caputo Bakery has been a part of this community for a very long time.”

LOCATION 329 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231 (near the corner of Court and Sackett, two blocks from the New York subway system’s Carroll Street Station)

HOURS Mon-Sat 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

INFO 718-875-6871

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Sugaree’s Bakery, New Albany, MS

In a shop named for a Grateful Dead song—in a tiny Mississippi town you likely never heard ofa layer-cake fairy works magic.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

I stumbled upon Sugaree’s Bakery quite by accident, the kind of lucky accident that makes being Bakery Boy so much fun. Driving from Birmingham to Memphis one spring day, I stopped at Tupelo, Mississippi, to check out some bakeries. On a lark 28 miles further up the road I took a quick detour into New Albany, a population-7600 town I’d never heard of, and there it was.

A cake-holding fairy logo floats over the name above the retail entrance to this bakery in a former pharmacy. It’s part of a thriving, historic, two-block-long business district along Bankhead Street, where even with free angled spaces available, locals habitually park cars in a center lane you’d think was reserved for left turns.

Rainbow Cake

Caramel Cake

Inside, a host of gloriously tall layer cakes with gleaming frosting overwhelmed me. I tried slices of the two best sellers, Caramel and Strawberry, as well as the colorful and kid-favorite Rainbow Cake.

I could have sampled my way through other cakes including Chocolate, Coconut, Red Velvet, Banana Walnut, Italian Cream, Lemon, and Cream Cheese Pound Cake. Instead I found myself mesmerized by bites of Caramel Chocolate Walnut Bars, Lemon Bars, Peanut Butter Bars, Coconut Balls, and pretty little Petite Fours. So as not to enter a sugar-induced a coma, I saved the bulk of my samples to nibble during the 90-minute drive to Memphis.

Thumbprint Cookies

Clearly there’s a bit of fairy magic going on at Sugaree’s and, considering the size of the biggest jelly-filled thumbprint cookies I’ve ever seen, maybe there’s a giant working in the back room too!

 

SING ALONG Owner Mary Jennifer Russell named her place for a Grateful Dead song (click here for lyrics) with an infectious slow groove and the memorable refrain, “Shake it [pause], shake it [pause], Sugaree.” If you know the tune, just try getting it out of your head for the next hour or so after you read this!

 

Strawberry, Coconut, Caramel

SIGNATURE ITEMS “We sell more Caramel and Strawberry cakes than anything else,” Mary says. “About 90% of our production is layer cakes. Only maybe 25% of the business is retail out the front door. The rest we deliver to grocery, specialty, gift, and gourmet shops all over northern Mississippi and in five other states.”

 

Chocolate Meringue Pie

 

FRIDAY SPECIAL Walk-in customers look forward to Fridays when Sugaree’s makes its famously gooey and piled-high Chocolate Meringue Pies. “Each one has a pound of pastry crust, three pounds of chocolate cream filling, and a pound of meringue,” Mary says. Next time I go, I’m going on a Friday!

 

WHY HERE? “New Albany is my hometown and it’s where I want to be,” Mary explains. “I studied biology in college and was a pharmaceutical sales rep, but after being laid off three times in five years from different companies, I decided I wanted more control over my life. I learned cooking and baking from my grandmother while growing up, so I started with a $200 investment in some basic equipment and grew Sugaree’s from there.” Although Mary didn’t grow up in a bakery, her daughter Sylvia, now 6, will someday be able to make that claim.

LOCATION 110 West Bankhead Street, New Albany, MS 38652. It’s just off U.S. 78 (the future I-22 when construction is complete) 28 miles northwest of Tupelo and 80 miles southeast of Memphis.

HOURS Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

INFO www.sugarees.com or 662-534-0031

(Sugaree’s cake and pie photos courtesy of Dianne Bond at Bella Vie Photography. Others by Bakery Boy.)


 

La Loba’s Bakery, Blue Mountain Beach, FL

Hidden behind a bike shop in a Florida Panhandle beach town, La Loba’s makes giant cinnamon rolls, great scones, whole-grain breads, gluten-free granola & more.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

La Loba's cinnamon rolls weigh half a pound each. Photos by Bakery Boy

“People find me,” says Gwynn Baker of her less-than-obvious location in Blue Mountain Beach, Florida. “I’ve had a lot of incarnations in the 25 years I’ve lived in this area, from baking in a rented corner of an old country store to working out of my house. People who like organic, whole grain, baked-daily goodies always find me.”

Her current venue for La Loba’s Bakery—a cramped nook behind Big Daddy’s Bike Shop and a health food, herbal supplements, and massage therapy joint called For the Health of It—has Gwynn thinking she’ll stay put for a while.

“I don’t mind that the place takes a little effort to find,” she says. “Besides, where else can a baker enjoy a great view of the Gulf of Mexico while baking and even while washing the dishes?”

Blueberry & Orange Scones

WHAT THEY MAKE Cinnamon rolls weighing half a pound each—with optional organic-vanilla-bean icing and roasted pecans on top—rank high on my personal list of La Loba’s favorites. Cookies include wholesome oatmeal-raisin, chocolate chip, and pecan, but a standout variation dubbed “gluten-free chocolate puddles” are sticky, airy, brownie-

Gluten-free Chocolate Puddles

like marvels that resemble lumpy mud puddles. Scones made with fresh local blueberries or orange peal zest resemble thick, soft clouds and come with or without an almond-lemon or orange glaze. Layer cakes—including chocolate with chocolate butter-cream frosting, carrot with cream cheese frosting, and coconut—come whole or by the slice.

$15 LOAF! When I saw a single loaf of bread priced at $15, I just about freaked. But when hefty olive-mozzarella-asiago and spinach-feta-asiago loaves came hot from the oven, I realized they were worth it. They’re more like garden-fresh meals wrapped in whole grain or tasty pizzas rolled into loaf form. At $4.50 for a quarter portion, they make nice individual lunches on their own or go well with the beans-and-rice dishes La Loba’s sets out at midday.

Maple-Nut Granola flies off the shelves.

SIGNATURE ITEM “I’d say it’s my Maple-Nut Granola,” Gwynn says, “because through mail orders that’s what I make and sell the most of. It’s my own blend of organic rolled oats, pure maple syrup, pecans, almonds, organic extra virgin coconut oil, pure vanilla, and sea salt. But if you ask customers, you’ll get different answers. Some come in specifically for the breads, others for cakes or cookies or scones or at lunch time for pizza.”

An early La Loba's logo

ABOUT THE NAME La Loba is Spanish for female wolf. “I was inspired by the book Women Who Run With the Wolvesby Clarissa Pinkola Estés, an American poet and mythologist of Mexican and Indian descent,” Gwen says. “She writes about female wolves being caring and nurturing but also wild and free, which describes me.”

Yes, Baker is baker Gwynn's real surname.

SIMPLE START A Selma, Alabama, native who learned to cook by hanging around her grandmother’s kitchen, Gwynn earned a nutritionist degree at Auburn University, went to work in a hospital, and quickly got bored. “I heard about a baking guru in Petaluma, California, who specialized in building brick ovens and making naturally leavened whole grain breads, so I went out to study with him. I never got around to building a brick oven, but I loved the breads. I’ve been here in the Florida Panhandle for 25 years making good bread. Everything else just grew from that.”

Basil & rosemary for this pizza grew in La Loba's garden. Fresh tomatoes, asiago & mozzarella came from certified organic sources.

LIKE FAMILY A handful of fellow bakers help with production. “We’re like a family, even if we aren’t all related,” Gwynn says. “What we have in common is an appreciation of natural ingredients. We use only real butter and sugar and eggs, fresh and local fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. We don’t use artificial colors or preservatives, hydrogenated fats, or high-fructose corn syrup. We share an enthusiasm for healthy food and try to keep a sense of humor while spreading the word about organic methods and sustainability.

WHY GLUTEN-FREE? Gwynn’s daughter Sarah created a wide range of gluten-free bakery recipes after learning than her son Dylan, now 5, has some serious food allergies. “Everyone around here who has food allergies knows about La Loba’s,” Gwynn says, “and even people without allergies seem to like our gluten-free muffins, cookies, granola, and cakes.”

Arrows lead to La Loba's, hidden behind a bike shop.

LOCATION 2217 West County Hwy 30-A, Blue Mountain Beach, FL 32459.  It’s on Scenic Highway 30-A, a brief and beautiful offshoot of U.S. 98 about midway between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City Beach in Florida’s northwestern panhandle.

HOURS Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

INFO www.lalobasbakery.com or 850-267-0400