The process of making bread might seem mysterious to someone who's not a baker. Waiting for the dough to rise. Punching it back down. Waiting for the yeast to expand again — it's a laborious process. Bread-making is much more science than art. Altitude, humidity and temperature all play a role in the loaf's outcome. While a cook can throw random ingredients of varying measurements into a pot to make a good soup, a baker must be more exact. So it's not surprising that more people don't engage in the bread-making process.
Most restaurants in Charlotte purchase their bread from distributors and bakeries, but a small number are taking the challenge of bread-making to a whole other level by becoming masters of both the science and art of cooking. Heist Brewery and The King's Kitchen serve their own made-from-scratch bread alongside a full menu.
The restaurant concept at Heist Brewery is centered around "twisted eats," and that's also reflected in its bread. Sous chef Adam Spears, who is also tasked with baking, often recycles leftovers from the cooking process to turn out uniquely flavored breads. Take, for example, the black and tan loaf, made with a black beer, tan beer and blue cheese combination. The final product tastes like French onion soup. Other examples include the brioche, flavored with braising liquid from their pork belly corn dogs, and the lemon poppy seed muffins, sprinkled with orange coriander sugar that is infused in house.
According to Spears, Heist uses different mediums from other bread makers, like root beer or balsamic fig reductions. "I noticed the reconstituted fig water from our bruschetta pizza was being wasted, so I used it to start flavoring bread," says Spears.
To make these one-of-a-kind breads, Heist uses a wood-fired oven — something you don't see in many bread-making kitchens. Unlike a conventional oven, a wood-fired oven is more challenging. It's primitive. The baker is at the fire's mercy. "We have a temperature gun, but after time, you just know when it's the right temperature for the bread," explains Spears. Also, the type of wood can subtly flavor the breads. Heist uses a specific balance of 80 percent oak and 20 percent cherry from a local farm.
While Spears experiments with flavors in Heist's kitchen, chef Sam Stachon of The King's Kitchen Bakery uses a more traditional approach. All of their breads are made from a sourdough starter, rather than commercial yeast. The sourdough starter is fed and cared for, almost like a pet.
Sourdough starters are made from water and flour. When the mixture sits for a period of time, it ferments, creating yeast and lactobacillus bacteria, the same kind of "good" bacteria found in yogurt. The yeast causes the bread to rise, while the bacteria gives sourdough its distinctive, subtly sour taste. Starters are "fed" by adding more dough and water. Just like bread rises when it is placed in a warm environment, starters that are properly fed will grow, which makes it possible to make an infinite number of loaves from the same starter.
The bakery's main sourdough starter is affectionately named Peter — after Peter, "The Rock," in the Bible — because it is considered "the rock" of the bakery. Likewise, all the smaller starters are named after the yeast from which they were created. Helga, the rye starter dough, and Hank Bobby, an American IPA's leftover yeast, are just a few examples.
Stachon's favorite bread right now is the rye-batta, which is 100 percent rye but made in the ciabatta style. "[This bread] has more water in the mixture, so it's more hydrated. People who like pumpernickel and other dark breads will like this," Stachon remarks. Besides the traditional breads such as baguettes, ciabatta, country and potato, the bakery also turns out specialty loaves, including cranberry walnut, ancient grain and honey oat IPA. Each specialty loaf is only offered one day a week. In addition, the bakery makes sandwiches, pastries, cookies and scones.
The traditional-style bread has a crusty exterior with a soft inside, which is popular with European customers. However, Stachon explains, not all customers are used to traditional European breads. "Some people have even thought our bread was stale," he says as he chuckles. However, it's fresher than the packaged white bread found in grocery stores, to which Americans are so accustomed.
To purchase bread from Heist Brewery, check out its stand at Atherton Mill Market (2104 South Blvd.) on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Its bread can also be enjoyed at the restaurant (2909 N Davidson St., Suite 200; 704-375-8260), along with menu items, but not purchased in whole loaves.
The Kings Kitchen Bakery sells its goods at the front of the Kings Kitchen restaurant (129 W. Trade St.; 704-375-1990), and all bread served at the restaurant comes from the bakery, which is located directly behind it. Inquire at the hostess stand to purchase any of its products.