Baker’s book guides readers from farm to loaf

CHICAGO – In his new book “Bread Head,” baker Greg Wade, 34, generously provides pages of career advice and trade secrets he’s gathered over the years from working at top Chicago restaurants like Girl and the Goat and Publican Quality Bread, which has added a personal shop For his illustrious production this spring at 1759 W. Grand Ave.

Since 2014, Wade’s Publican-branded merchandise has garnered some of the best restaurant tables in Chicago, helping him win the 2019 James Beard Best Baker Award – one of the most prestigious awards in the restaurant world. The bakery now has its own 4,200-square-foot Westtown home, with expanded offerings such as sandwiches and an exclusive menu of pastries for customers with no prior reservations.

Fortunately, Wade’s book ($45, WW Norton & Co.) trades on a friendly, casual tone. And this title “Bread Head” is more than just a nod to the Grateful Dead fan base. Wade presents a full-page “New Baking Manifesto” that calls out their lyrics to guide the home baker. At the top: “I Need a Miracle Every Day,” the hit song from their 1978 studio album “Shakedown Street.” For Wadi, the phrase is “by far the most appropriate statement about bread making ever.”

The new book, written by Rachel Holtzman (and among previous cookbook collaborators, The Publican Paul Kahan, Stephanie Izard and Shaquille O’Neal), reveals it all. I met up with Wade the day after his shift at Publican Quality Bread and asked him why he shared his secrets.

“This is definitely something I’m going to strive for,” Wade said. “We don’t hide anything,” Wade said. “I try to give people qualitative identifiers like, ‘Your dough should double,’ or ‘Your dough should look like this or look like this.'” But also quantitative metrics like, ‘It should take that much time or the temperature of the dough should be this.”

He shares formulas on how to calculate target water temperature for dough, proportions of ingredients by weight, as well as sources for those exact ingredients, along with help with troubleshooting and scaling recipes up and down.

But bread and pastries aren’t just about recipes and percentages. Much of the craft is done intuitively and through feel, and Wade wants to teach that too. Naturally fermented doughs that have been fermented for a long time can seem rebellious and willful, like a school-aged child finding their way. “Please rise, please be what I want,” Wade pleads in the preface to the book, standing by the oven where the loaf he has nurtured into existence now meets its ultimate destiny in baking.

As he says early in the book, “Bread baking lies at the intersection of science, chemistry, technology, and intuition.” Wade hopes to guide you on the journey from farmer to loaf.

Some of those farmers, in Wade’s world, are Marty Travis and his son Will, of Spence Farm in Fairbury and Harold Wilken of Janie’s Farm & Mill in Ashkom, who have worked to grow organic, hybrid and heirloom grains on their farms in central Illinois, to help traditional farmers transition to organic production.

“It’s the healthiest way to make bread, not just for us, but for the environment,” Wade said.

Along the way, Wade offers a large variety of recipes, not only for tangy, pressed rustic loaves, but also some great (and complex) pastries, quick breads, biscuits, and desserts. I made a great galette with oatmeal pancake batter and some farmers market peaches as soon as they read their recipe.

Of course, he teaches his methods on how to make, preserve, and revive sourdough appetizers. Bread is dealt with live ammunition in a chapter entitled “Fire on the Mountain”, where bread, pastries and pizza are served to the wood-burning oven; He takes us on a global journey (or “long and strange journey”) through traditional bread using lesser known grains from India, North Africa and Mexico.

After all, a book like “Bread Head” exists for many reasons, and not just for sourdough students.

“Bread making is very personal, and it takes a long time to master,” Wade said. “You have to be patient with yourself and patience with the dough. But if you read the book and can research the recipe, you will have a great foundation to be able to express yourself.”

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