Sound the trumpets—a parade is in order. The celebrated breads from Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans have arrived in Baton Rouge. They are on display in crisp brown bags at Calandro’s, Robért Fresh Market and Rouses Village Market, and behind the bakery case at Whole Foods. Your avocado toast and your BLTs are about to get elevated, and you don’t even have to hit the highway in pursuit of the perfect bread.
All gratitude goes to Graison Gill, a millennial baker and Bellegarde’s owner who puts wheat, the foundation food of faith, under a glowing spotlight. “Fresh, wholesome, alive” is how he describes the artful loaves he and his choreographed team of bakers sculpt from the wheat that is milled each day at the bakery in Central City. Gill purchases organic and identity-preserved grains directly from farmers in Oklahoma, Alabama and Kansas, noting the exact mileage the whole grains travel from these farms to his bakery’s door. He sources salt from Avery Island and extra-virgin olive oil from Texas, again being attentive to nearby producers who provide premium ingredients. One taste of this bread and you’ll know why Bellegarde was named one of the best bread bakeries in the South.
Gill’s unique business model is shaping the way we eat. “Everything about fresh, whole-grain flour is different—price, use, storage,” he says. “There’s an educational component of teaching people about it.” He offers monthly classes in his bakery where students can experience the difference of freshly milled flour and learn to bake bread with great ingredients and simple equipment at home. He travels abroad to study and network with farmers, millers and bakers to gain and share inspiration with an international community, and he ultimately hopes to see a growing crop of organic wheat in his adopted home state of Louisiana.
How did these loaves find their way from New Orleans to the Capital Region? Saskia Spanhoff, chef/owner of Cocha in downtown Baton Rouge, explains: “One of our employees had taken a class at Bellegarde and made the introduction. It fits into our concept because we are all about local. Sixty miles is local. More importantly, they are sourcing and grinding heirloom grains and are truly artisanal in their process.”
Cocha’s lunch and weekend brunch menus feature lots of sandwiches, and the arrival of Bellegarde bread has been a welcome addition. “The delivery guy is the sweetest and feels like part of our extended family,” says Spanhoff. “We’re looking for relationships with our purveyors. It’s a synergy.”
Cocha’s commitment, coupled with a growing number of requests from bread-hungry Baton Rougeans, validated the addition of local grocers to the delivery roster.
Slice into a loaf of ciabatta, cracking through the dark crust with your bread knife. Then pop it into your toaster to caramelize the surface. Your summer tomatoes now have an edible canvas, rich with flavor and nutrients. Or peel off one crisp, chewy point of an epi baguette to enjoy on your commute home from the store and forget about the traffic. The late American author Henry Miller wrote, “You can travel 50,000 miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread.” He would surely eat those words today if he happened upon Bellegarde Bakery.
FRESH BREAD 101
A kitchen essential for meatballs, hand-breaded fish fillets and pork cutlets, and chicken and eggplant parmesan, breadcrumbs are a cinch to make using the tail end of your good loaves of bread. Add the seasonings to harmonize with the recipe. Garlic, herbs, lemon zest and parmesan cheese are popular, but sometimes you simply need plain breadcrumbs. Just “purée” fresh bread for soft crumbs, the perfect addition to give moisture to your meatballs.
For dry breadcrumbs, toast some day-old bread and let it get very dry (you can put the bread on a cookie sheet in a hot oven that has been turned off; just don’t forget it’s in there). When the bread is very dry and crisp—it will snap when you break it in half—it is ready to be made into crumbs. You can put a few broken slices into the food processor and let the machine purée it into fine crumbs, or you can use the fine holes of a grater to scrape it into crumbs. Work on a large cutting mat so the crumbs don’t go all over the kitchen!
Now that you have these wonderful crumbs, you can keep them in the freezer so you will have lots of delicious breadcrumbs for future recipes. And you’ll be able to savor literally every last crumb of your good loaf of bread.
What’s better than ripping a fresh baguette apart and enjoying it caveman style? Crostini—essentially crunchy homemade crackers that you can easily bake if you have any baguette remaining the day after it was baked. Call it bread management—farmers have harvested, bakers have toiled, and you have invested your hard-earned cash on good bread. Grab your bread knife (an absolute kitchen essential!), slice, brush and bake.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice baguette into 1/-inch slices; slice them straight across for small crostini or at long angles for longer slices. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with a little bit of olive oil on the top side. Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning over after 10 minutes. Timing will depend on how thin and how crunchy you like your crostini.
Recipes from the Pantry chapter of Counter Intelligence: The Best of April’s Kitchen.