Cafe Society

Steve Scott, owner-baker of Babettes: "Our bread is not burnt; it's well caramelized"

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Favorite ingredients to work with: I'm really excited about a whole-wheat flour that we have on order via King Arthur. It's grown in Quebec and milled in North Carolina and creates a notable difference in the fermentation and flavor of the end product. We'll be highlighting this flour in our ferme loaf, which is a mix of spelt and whole-wheat flours that creates a rustic loaf with a touch of sweetness from the spelt.

One ingredient that you won't touch: Bromated flour, a chemical process that uses bleach to bleach out natural pigments present in the grain to appeal to a broader audience, and, in the process, leaves trace amounts of bleach in the saleable product. It's usually made from synthetic wheat. I also won't touch gluten-free products. That stuff is poisoning our society. And we couldn't do gluten-free bread even if we wanted to, because there's wheat everywhere in the bakery.

One ingredient in baking that's way overused: Baking soda or baking powder. So many of the pastries we make at Babettes are leavened with eggs, so we don't have a need for baking soda or powder to make a great-tasting product.

Food trend you'd like to see in 2014: Well-trained bakers. There's a myth that because you love to bake, you have passion, which isn't always the case. I found my passion for baking through a photo in a magazine of a tired baker in a Paris basement, and I haven't looked back since. The power of an image or thought can turn a like into a passion, and that, in turn, will make a great baker. Thinking you can do this in a couple of years will get you into trouble; being a baker is a lifestyle that chooses the person and molds you over the course of years of dedication, hard work and study.

Food trend you'd like to see disappear in 2014: The myth that white flour is poison. The white flour you get on the shelf is garbage. The white flour we use at Babettes, however, is high-extraction flour, meaning that a portion of the germ and bran are not sifted off at the mill, and it's not as white as you'll buy at the grocery store. Our wheat is also non-GMO and not synthetic, which is all you're going to get in the bread aisle at the grocery store. Babettes uses whole grains that are sustainably grown and milled to our specs on stone rollers. The grain won't heat up and the nutrients won't leach out. White flour produced this way is not poison.

There are all sorts of romantic notions about what it's like to bake bread. What's it really like? If you think that baking bread is as romantic as the shiny books make it out to be, then this is the wrong field for you. Baking bread takes a substantial amount of hard work, dedication and passion.

Some people have described your bread as "burnt." How do you respond to that? I'm doing bread the way it was done 200, 300 years ago. Over time, people wanted whiter bread, but white bread lacks flavor, so through fermentation, extreme hydration, proper handling and a full bake, we're able to produce loaves that have great crusts, nice, moist interiors and good keeping qualities. Our bread is not burnt; it's well caramelized because of the sugars that are naturally present in the wheat, which helps with fermentation and caramelization during the baking process -- and it creates flavor.

What's the best part of being in the bakery business? The ability to learn and evolve every day and to pass on what I know through mentoring other passionate bakers.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson