Growing up in Brooklyn, journalist Samuel Fromartz never had to think much about where to find great bread. It was all around him.
But when he moved to Washington, D.C. in the mid-1990s, Fromartz looked all over for excellent loaves and discovered “little to remark upon.” That’s when he started baking at home and came upon a new passion.
That passion gathered new strength in 2009, when he traveled to Paris on an assignment to learn how to make a “true” baguette in Paris.
The experience inspired him to talk to farmers, bakers, millers and scientists everywhere from California to Berlin to New York to get a better understanding of bread “from seed to table.”
Fromartz’s adventures are detailed in his new book, “In Search of the Perfect Loaf.”
amNewYork spoke with Fromartz in advance of his upcoming reading at BookCourt.
What was the bread in New York like during your childhood?
When I was growing up there were a lot of immigrant bakeries. We used to go to a bakery on Flatbush Avenue on Sundays after ice skating at the Wollman Rink in Prospect Park to buy bagels and then we’d go to the smoked fish store down the street. It was personally sad to see those old bakeries go; especially A. Zito & Sons on Bleeker, which I was really fond of, because it was right near my dad’s place when he moved to the Village.
What’s unique about New York’s bread making culture today?
Bakers like Amy Schreiber of Amy’s Bread and Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery were the early wave of artisans. There’s so much going on right now. I think it’s part of something that’s happening in other cities around the country too, but New York definitely has the mass of people and the taste buds to support it. In some places, artisan bakers could have a hard time finding people who want to buy the bread. In New York, that isn’t the case. People will go out of their way to get a good loaf.
You write about today’s grassroots bread movement. What is it and why is it happening?
People are really interested in having this close connection to their food. The other thing is people are discovering for the first time the true range of breads. It isn’t simply a white baguette or even a sourdough loaf. You can have really marvelous breads made from rye or spelt or buckwheat. Once you taste these breads, you see the possibilities and once you do it’s hard to go back.
For those who are thinking about making bread at home for the first time, what’s important to keep in mind?
The most important thing is they may fail initially, which is hard to accept. You want to follow a recipe and have it come out great the first time. It may; it may not. It’s the kind of craft you have to come back to again and again to really get better at. You have to make some bad bread to make some good bread. The good news is you can always eat your failures.
Your book is called “In Search of the Perfect Loaf.” Is there such a thing?
No, but that’s the fun of it: You’re always on a quest for a better loaf. That said, you can still come pretty close to your ideal bread. It becomes a very personal ideal. I’ve been baking over 15 years, and I’m just trying to make what my idea of bread should be. Often I come close, but often I don’t. That keeps your interest. The funny thing is it often can get better by making mistakes.
IF YOU GO: Samuel Fromartz will be at BookCourt Monday night at 7, 163 Court St., Cobble Hill, 718-875-3677