Breaking Bread: Explore Pittsburgh Bakers' Artisanal Offerings
Combine. Refrigerate. Mix. Cover. Let rise. Knead. Press. Let rise. Bake. Slice!
There are few things as delicious as that first piece of freshly baked bread. Smeared with rich, creamy butter, its golden crust complements its soft, fragile center. One of my fondest memories, and a continued tradition, in the kitchen with my mom is our annual egg bread baking on Good Friday. The braided beauties are hardly cooled when we carve into one of the 24 loaves — peppered with anise seed — to then top with Kerrygold butter and take the inaugural bite. Like our family’s 100-year-old recipe, the practice of bread baking has a dense history in Pittsburgh.
Bakeries like Allegro Hearth Bakery, Breadworks, Eleven, La Gourmandine Bakery, Mediterra Bakehouse, and Sunny Bridge Natural Foods have built upon a foundation, producing staple viands with few hours of rest. From brioche to baguette, we explore their flouring uses.
By Andrea Bosco / Photographed by Cayla Zahoran / Styled by Nicole Barley, Andrea Bosco, Jason Solak + Cayla Zahoran
Dough Re Mi
1. Mt. Athos Fire Bread, Mediterra Bakehouse. The bakery’s flagship bread, Mt. Athos weighs nearly five pounds and is made with an organic, germ-restored wheat flour prepared by a seventh-generation miller in North Carolina.
2. Tuscan Bread, Allegro Hearth Bakery.
3. Epi, Breadworks. Developed 22 years ago, Breadworks’ Epi is created naturally without baker’s yeast and is hand-cut with scissors.
4. Rustic Italian Loaf, Mediterra Bakehouse.
5. Rye Bread, Eleven.
6. Allegro Levain, Allegro Hearth Bakery.
7. Onionsticks, Breadworks.
8. Saltsticks, Breadworks. Over 80 years old, this original Pittsburgh staple was first created by Barsotti Brothers Bakery, a few of the partners’ family business.
9. 8-Grain 3-Seed Bread, Mediterra Bakehouse. Nicole Ambeliotis, office manager of Mediterra, suggests giving it a generous frost of almond or peanut butter for a scrumptious serving.
The Knead to Feed
A staple loaf at Mediterra Bakehouse, the farm bread (1) is a wheat-white mix, made with a sourdough starter. Donning a beautiful wheat design, this bread is befitting for hearty sandwiches and delectable, melt-in-your-mouth paninis. In fact, it’s used in many area restaurants and delis for said purpose. Rustic and relic, the farm bread is just one of the bakery’s yields baked on a stone hearth in steam-injected ovens.
Allegro Hearth Bakery’s Kalamata olive bread (2) is fermented for nearly 30 hours. A loaf that speaks for itself, this crusty, European bread is made with unbleached and unbromated flour, and fresh Kalamata olives. “We like to make breads where the yeast is barely discernible,” says owner Omar Abuhejleh. “We inherited our starter from a Philadelphia bakery almost 20 years ago, and it’s probably well over 50 years old.”
The rosemary focaccia bread at Eleven (3) is made with plenty of olive oil, according to baker Glenn Hoover. A table bread, the lightly sea-salted goodness makes for excellent salad croutons, once day-old. Eaten fresh, the solid bread is jam-packed with gusto.
La Gourmandine Bakery’s cereal bread (1) is a luxurious loaf, fitting for a dinner tablescape, and the morning after. It’s made with sesame, flax, and sunflower seeds, giving it a grainy texture and substantial flavor. Pair this pain with your salad before the main course, recommends owner Fabien Moreau.
Through lengthy fermentation and minimal amounts of commercial yeast, flavors are emphasized in Allegro Hearth’s bread, says Abuhejleh. “These loaves achieve fermentation through wild yeasts in our sourdough starter,” he says. Allegro’s honey sesame (2), superior for sandwiches, is made with buttermilk, and has a rich, nutty, and mildly sweet honey flavor. Currently, Café at the Frick uses this loaf for its vegetable panini with mozzarella and mushrooms.
Breadworks’ brioche buns (3) could easily be eaten alone, sans condiments and meats, though those are delicious options. Rich in egg and butter content, the bread is golden, flaky, and fine. Suitable for a delectable pastry or juicy cheeseburger, this bread pulls double duty with its versatility. Partner Fred Hartman says he prefers them for constructing the perfect “holiday leftovers” sandwich.
Used as dinner rolls, Breadworks’ sesame horns (4) complement salads and starter dishes at the fine restaurants, country clubs, and hotels it has served for 34 years, such as LeMont and Duquesne Club. They can be served with knots, twists, soursticks, and whole wheat and potato rolls for an assorted medley.
A classic bread, La Gourmandine Bakery’s baguette sur poolish (5) can be produced in five to six hours, which does not include overnight fermentation of the poolish, a fermentation starter prevalent in French baking. This bread may take a pinch more patience than quick bread, but it’s worth the wait. Moreau says it’s scrumptious with an array of cheeses. We also recommend Dean Jacob’s Sicilian Blend Bread Dipping Seasoning (shown above), available at Merante Brothers Market, for delicious dunking.
Pecan Cranberry bread (1) — enough said, right? Thick and hearty, Mediterra’s sweet and savory breakfast or dessert bread has no added salts or sugars. It makes for divine French toast, and packs a quarter pound of pecans and a quarter pound of cranberries in each loaf!
Highly demanded at Sunny Bridge Natural Foods, the gluten-free cinnamon swirl bread (2) has angelic crumb and texture. Its taste rivals similar gluten breads and is complemented with jams, jellies, butter, and as French toast. Made with brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour, Sunny Bridge chops it up for tasty bread pudding in seasonal varieties, such as pumpkin, shown at left.
Breadworks’ pumpernickel raisin rolls (3) can be served plain, toasted, or among an assortment of small breads for a sweet treat. Hartman says, “It’s a complement to many hard-crusted breads and dinner rolls that we offer. Most of our 170 items are fermented for at least 12 hours. The pumpernickel raisin is a soft, moist, and sweet-in-taste change.”
One of its most popular breads among its wholesale customers is the Challah (4) at Allegro Hearth Bakery. Sweetened with eggs and oil, this traditional Jewish holiday bread is used in many recipes at East End eateries, including Square Café. Many say its bread-baking aromas reign supreme with its glorious scent. Allegro perfects its outer layer with coats of egg wash, creating a laquer-like crust.
Allegro Hearth Bakery, 2034 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412.422.5623. | Breadworks, 2110 Brighton Road, North Side. 412.231.7555. | Eleven, 1150 Smallman St., Strip District. 412.201.5656. | House15143, 439 Beaver St., Sewickley. 412.259.8953. | La Gourmandine Bakery, 4605 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412.682.2210. | Mediterra Bakehouse, 801 Parkway View Drive, Robinson. 412.490.9130. | Merante Brothers Market, 604 W. McMurray Road, Canonsburg. 724.743.5900. | Sunny Bridge Natural Foods, 130 Gallery Drive, McMurray. 724.942.5800. | Whole Foods Market, 5880 Centre Ave., Shadyside. 412.441.7960. 10576 Perry Hwy., Wexford. 724.940.6100.