Monday, 19 October 2009
A Visit to Haisai Bakery in Singhampton
One of the side-effects of trying to use our car less this summer is that, well, we've been successful. That means I haven't been getting around to check out as many farms, markets and shops as I would have liked. However, with winter starting to look imminent, we decided to go for a short road-trip on Friday. Our first stop was Haisai Bakery, in Singhampton.
Do I even need to tell you about this place? A new restaurant and bakery opened by Michael Stadtländer, in Singhampton, not far from his farm-restaurant Eigensinn Farm which was listed as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world at one point? I'm not reviewing the restaurant - I don't do restaurant reviews, and if I want to eat there in the next 5 years (which admittedly I do, desperately) I need to start saving now. But we figured we could set foot in the bakery without breaking the bank.
After a little trouble finding the place - it's before Mylar & Loretta's, if you are coming from the south, on the other side of the road. The signage is not great, although there is some. There is a small parking lot along the side and back. We were fascinated by these great-looking solar panels in the back yard. Pretty wild; literally. I have to admit that though I like a rustic look in a garden, my hands itched for a spade.
On the other hand the front patio was lovely. It was a small space on the southwest corner, tucked into the "L" shape of the building, with limestone floor and tables, rustic wooden seats and canvas sail awnings.
I asked if I could take pictures inside, and the answer was "no", so you get another picture of the patio instead. The bakery (salesroom) was quite a small room, charmingly decorated with peeled wood poles and mostly brightly coloured china, more or less whole and in bits.
The selection as small but fairly comprehensive. There were three variations on the theme of sour-dough bread, as well as little herb and dried tomato baguette-shaped loaves. There was one each of a poppyseed and hazelnut strudel (not called such) on display, as well as some buns and an assortment of small pastries. There was also a shelf of attractive pickles in quite large jars, but at over $20 each I would not have been buying those even if I didn't make my own pickles. We had heard they took cash and debit, so I didn't worry about going to the bank before we went there. It turned out they don't take debit under $20.00, so I ended up buying more than I intended.
Here's what we bought: a sour-dough rye loaf, a sour-dough whole wheat loaf, the hazelnut strudel, ($8.50) and a prune pastry, ($3.50). Since my total bill was $22, that means I must have been charged $5 each for the loaves of bread, although I'm pretty sure that when I asked, I was told they were $7 each. Oops?
I asked the apprentice who was selling where the flours came from, and he said they were organic from Grain Process, which surprised me a bit. I was expecting something a little more recherché, given Michael Stadtländer's reputation for using local ingredients. Likewise, my over-all impression was that everything was considerably more refined and less whole-grainy than I was expecting, for the same reason.
The best of the lot was the prune pastry. Two of the largest, most succulent prunes we have ever encountered, encased in a pastry that started out firm but flexible on the outside, and ended up rich and almost custardy on the inside. The pastry was not the Danish type I was expecting, but an apparently simpler yeast dough. Not too sweet, not too plain; perfection. Superb. Worth every penny.
The hazelnut strudel was very good, but just not in the same class. It looked beautiful, and of all the things we tried this had the most appealing texture to me, being full of what seemed to be whole grains and ground nuts. At least, it looked nutty, and it crunched like it was full of nuts, but the flavour of the hazelnuts was much weaker than we expected. The pastry was also studded with nice plump raisins, which supplied practically the only sweetness in it, which I found a bit disconcerting and disappointing. I don't like things too sweet, but I admit I was expecting a bit more. There was also a faintly bitter aftertaste; the nuts?
The rye bread was much lighter than I expected, in colour, texture and flavour. The rye was subtle, and the texture was light and chewy (although not excessively so) and the sour dough flavour was intense and sprightly. It would make an excellent sandwich, but it lacked that quality of grain that makes me want to sit down with a knife and some butter, and eat slice after slice after slice; I guess I'm just not very excited by refined flours anymore, no matter how skillfully handled (and this was plainly very skillfully handled.)
The same went for the "whole wheat". I would have to say it wasn't. It was, like the rye bread, a good light bread with a great texture and the same tangy sour-dough flavour (although not as strong as the rye bread), and just the slightest tint of off-white to it. Not a bad bread by any means - in fact a very nice bread - but definitely not what I expect from something sold as whole wheat.
If we're going through Singhampton again - and we're not that far away so we will - we will definitely stop in at the bakery for the pastries. I'm looking forward to trying more of them.
Last year at this time I made Lamb Stew with Shiitakes & Shallots.