Village Baker Downtown

I was excited when I saw that the Village Baker was moving into the main floor of the new 111 Main building in downtown Salt Lake City. I’ve been a fan of Village Baker since I lived down in Draper and frequented their West Jordan location. The new downtown shop opened a couple months ago, and has had a brisk business ever since, without a doubt helped by the continued growth of the downtown workforce and the accompanying strain this growth has placed on downtown lunch spots. I rarely venture out for lunch past about 11:45 because lines at almost every downtown dining spot will be 10-15 people deep. Maybe I’ll develop a new measure of downtown economic growth and base it on the line length at 12pm at sandwich shops.

Breakfast sandwiches, coffee, soups, salads, pizza, sandwiches, a variety of sweets and pastries–you name it, and this place will likely have it. As opposed to Kneaders, Village Baker’s bread selection is less rustic and artisan and centers more squarely on traditional American bread pan breads: honey wheat, honey white, French, and sourdough, with other specialty breads such as sunflower whole wheat, raisin, multigrains, and cinnaburst loaves produced on a rotating weekly schedule.

One popular sandwich is the turkey cranberry ($3.74 for half, about $7 for whole). The turkey, which was somewhat clumsily and unevenly placed in the sandwich, mayonnaise and cranberry sauce were contained by two thick slices of honey wheat bread. This sandwich is one of their more popular menu items, and I can see why: it’s delicious. I wasn’t initially sold on cranberry on my sandwiches, but once I tried it, there was no going back. For an extra $2.50 you can make your sandwich a combo and get a beverage and your choice of either chips or a large cookie. Sorry Lays, but I’m going for the homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookie every time.

On another visit I tried the turkey, provolone, and avocado sandwich ($4.32 for a half sandwich and I think around $7 for the whole). This one came served with thin slices of bread despite my request for the thicker slices, and was, simply put, anemic and a little bit sad. It lacked the filling robustness I’m accustomed to at Village Baker. This sandwich was a boring dud.

The pizza is delicious, and extremely well priced at about $2 per slice. At that price I have to imagine they will give some other downtown pizza places a run for their money. The slices are generous, sauce well balanced, cheese is perfectly stretchy and gooey, and the thicker crust has the perfect chew. I’m a fan.

Their cookies are good, but sadly not as good as those that I remember from the West Jordan location. At West Jordan, the cookies are thick and chewy, whereas at the downtown spot they are much thinner. This results in a crisper, drier cookie that makes me yearn for their more robust southern brethren.

For breakfast, I was impressed by their savory breakfast roll ($3.59), which features hash browns, red and green peppers, mozzarella and bacon. The rolls are packaged for a quick to-go option, but the kitchen is more than happy to warm it up for you, which I would highly recommend if you have the time.

The space itself is bright, cheery, and well decorated. During the warmer months, patio tables are placed outside on the sidewalk, greatly expanding their capacity. During the colder times, diners are restricted to limited seating on the main floor, but Village Baker anticipated this and came up with a brilliant solution: they build a mezzanine floor above the kitchen, where I imagine 30+ hungry diners can fit at any given time.

Service is of the “order at the counter and take a number to your table” variety. I’ve always been helped by cheerful people at the order counter as well as those delivering my food. I’ve had them ask me how things are as they walk by delivering orders to other tables, which is greatly appreciated and shows me they care.

Does downtown seriously need another soup and sandwich place? Yes. While I’d love to see a bit more variety hit downtown dining spots, demand for noontime noshing continues to strain eateries, so it’s nice to have another sandwich spot to help relieve some of the lunch rush pressure. Village Baker is a top-notch addition, and I’m glad they chose to come downtown. Judging by their crowds, I think they’ll do just fine.

Light Wheat Bread

This recipe has been adapted from Luv To Cook’s wheat bread recipe. I’ve lightened it up a bit using some bleached flour to give it a bit better texture and lightness. Also, the Luv To Cook’s recipe calls for gluten, but I’ve found that as long as you use King Arthur flour, there’s no need for additional gluten as King Arthur is already very high gluten.

Also, one other recommendation: if you don’t have an instant read probe-style thermometer, I highly recommend you get one. It makes cooking much more enjoyable as it eliminates much of the guess work in cooking and baking. My favorite is the thermometer made by Thermapen. I’m not sponsored by Thermapen and I don’t have anything to do with them. I just think they’re the absolute best instant-read out there. And they’re local, which is a huge plus for me.

I have halved the recipe from the original simply because two loaves at a time is plenty for our little family. I will make two and wrap and freeze one.

Light Whole Wheat Bread

2.5 cups warm water (between 110 and 120 degrees)
2 tablespoon oil
1.5 tablespoon dough enhancer
2 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour
3 cups King Arthur bleached bread flour

Mix yeast and warm water until bubbles start forming on the surface. Combine in large mixing bowl with oil, dough enhancer, honey, yeast, and 3 cups of the flour (doesn’t matter if it’s the whole wheat or bread flour). Mix on low speed in a Kitchenaid or a Bosch mixer for 1 minute. Add salt and remaining flour slowly until fully incorporated. Adjust the flour so that the dough is tacky, but not too sticky. Turn mixer to high and knead for another 8 minutes. 

Divide dough in two, then shape and place in greased bread pans. Let rise until the dough has doubled in size. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees for at least 20 minutes prior to putting loaves in. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread is 190 degrees F. Then remove, let cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove loaves and allow to fully cool on a cooling rack. 

Easiest Bread Recipe Ever

I am a nut for crusty bread. I love the crunch that the caramelized brown crust provides. I found a super easy recipe that involves absolutely no kneading. Total prep time for this bread was around ten minutes.

Recipe:
3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water 

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the water, thenquickly mix the ingredients with your hand, just long enough to incorporate everything into a mass. It shouldn’t take longer than ten seconds to mix it. If you’re taking longer than that, you’re working the dough too much. I had to add a bit more water (maybe ¼ cup) to get the dough sticky enough.

Once incorporated, add a tablespoon of oil to the bowl (or spray the sides of the bowl with nonstick spray). Seal the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least twelve hours. Seems like a lot, but you need to give the dough enough time for the yeast to work its magic and for the gluten to develop.

Once the twelve hours are up, lightly pat the dough down, then fold the dough in no more than four times (see the video link at the bottom of the post to see what I’m talking about). Cover the bottom of the dough with corn meal and the top of the dough with a light coating of flour. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees. Yes, 500. It needs to be blazing hot to make sure the dough develops a caramelized crust. If you have a cast iron enamel pot, like a Le Creuset, place it in the oven and allow it to pre-heat as well. Now, a word of caution: my Le Creuset discolored on the outside as it reached about 425 degrees. I’ve been told that they can comfortably go up to over 500 degrees, but you may want to do a little research to find out for yourself. I also covered my lifting knob with aluminum foil to prevent damage.

Once everything is preheated, throw the dough in, corn meal side down, immediately cover, and put it in the oven. The beauty of using the Le Creuset is this: the pot traps in the escaping moisture from the dough, which then circulates around the dough in the pot. This is what develops the beautiful crust on the bread. As the starches heat, they turn into both a gum and sugar, which then caramelizes. This is what gives bread crust texture, color, and wonderful flavor.

If you don’t have an enamel pot, another technique is to get a pizza/bread stone, place it in the oven to preheat up to 500 degrees, and place a pyrex pan filled with water either beneath the stone or to the side. Throw the dough on the pizza stone, and the evaporating moisture from the pan will help increase the humidity in the oven. I’ve done both methods, and the Le Creuset method is much superior, but you can still get decent results with the stone.

Bake until the crust is a very dark golden brown. It’s recommended to cook the bread for about 2/3 of the time with the lid on, and 1/3 of the time with the lid off. My small loaves only took about thirty minutes to bake, so doing the math gives me twenty minutes with lid on and ten with lid off. Ovens vary, so just make sure you start checking on it about fifteen minutes in. But don’t open the oven for at least the first ten minutes as the crust develops. You need to keep every last bit of moisture in the oven that you can.

Once baked, pull out and allow the bread to cool down. This is important and the crust will continue to harden and develop as it cools.

Get some bread and jam or some oil and vinegar, and you’re ready for a treat! Experiment with different additions like garlic, onions, cherries, etc. I think I’m going to try a cranberry white chocolate loaf next.

Check out this video which shows the above process. Especially take note of how little time he spends mixing the dough.