Breadsmith: Artisan Bread Franchise Makes Good Dough

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I was in Cranford one recent evening, discussing dinner alternatives with my friend Kathy.

When we walked by Breadsmith, the smell of fresh-baked bread hit me so hard, I turned and walked into a shop I'd never heard of. As is so often the case with Taste of NJ finds, I just got lucky; Breadsmith turned out to be delightful -- and a good story.

Owners Kathy Vastola and Paul Cavanaugh, a husband and wife team who spent many years as biochemists, bought New Jersey's first Breadsmith franchise (there are more than 30 nationwide), opening here in 2007.

The corporation's concept is to sell handmade, hearth-baked, artisan breads with no preservatives. Every store makes sweet treats, too, but bread is the basic business, so let's start there.

About 20 varieties are available daily -- most are staples, like Italian and whole wheat. A few specialty items like my favorite so far -- cherry pie bread -- are often on hand. Vastola says she has recipes for 240 products, and can choose whatever moves her on a particular day. Best sellers are French peasant ($4.95), ciabatta ($4.95) and sourdough ($5.25). Each loaf weighs about 2 pounds, and if you don't want to buy that much, you can choose rolls (80 cents - $1 each), instead.

A lot of people claim they bake "artisan" bread these days, but the old-world European craft made popular stateside about a decade ago insists on allowing the dough to rest after mixing, a crunchy crust outside and a soft, moist inside, a slow baking process and all natural ingredients.

If the label lists anything other than flour, yeast, salt, water, butter, cheese, eggs, fruits or nuts, you might as well save your money and buy packaged bread.

Vastola sells more than 200 loaves a day, and there are good reasons why Breadsmith is a hit. The rustic, dense French peasant is an ideal family loaf, with cracked wheat on top. The sourdough -- made from a 1993 starter used when the company was founded -- has a good tang.

There's always a multigrain variety on hand, like honey oat bran with cranberries and the country butter top ($5.95) seems to be a favorite in local lunchboxes. Specialty breads could include honey raisin pecan ($6.95), Swedish limpa rye ($6.75, flavored with anise, orange zest and caraway), rosemary multigrain ($5.95) or Portuguese sweet bread ($6.25) that's so good, it might not make it home.

The cherry pie bread I mentioned ($7.85) is more like a cake, and it also comes in strawberry, apple, blueberry and peach, depending on what's in season. It's topped with streusel and butter and is just delicious.

For small savories, try a really good, triangle-shaped cheese claw ($1.50), made from ciabatta topped with shredded Parmesan. If your sweet tooth is acting up, the claws come in cinnamon, or you can choose fudgy brownies ($2.45); excellent, crunchy cookies -- oatmeal-raisin, sugar, chocolate chip or peanut butter (90 cents each or 6 for $4.95). Scones ($2.25) come in blueberry-lemon, cranberry-orange, apricot-almond, raisin-cinnamon, pecan and chocolate chip.

Nothing's overly sweet at Breadsmith -- you can intensely taste every ingredient. They also make their own granola, coffee cakes, muffins and biscotti.

Even the gourmet extras were out-of-the-ordinary. How about dirty martini dip or a hot pepper peach cheese ball to go with your bread? In case you were wondering, we actually did go out to dinner -- after leaving Breadsmith with our bags filled for family sampling.

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409 E. Silver Spring Dr.
Whitefish Bay, WI

Phone: (414)962-1965
Fax: (414)962-5888

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