Good Bread: Scratch Bread
The goods that come out of the Scratch Bread ovens are the baked equivalent of one of those Robert Rauschenberg paintings that combines found objects with carefully haphazard splashes of color. Bite into one of their sweet and greasy plantain bread cakes, and you could discover surprises like a whole dried chili pepper or a coffee bean. (Luckily, they haven't yet sourced Angora goat heads a la Rauschenberg.) Or consider my favorite, the Bourbon Wheat, a heavy, gnarly loaf that's crusted with oats, bran, and who knows what else. It's made from Cayuga Pure Organics whole wheat and a few other flours. Inside, you find a dense, flavorful crumb spotted with bourbon-soaked raisins and some kind of nut—pecan or hazelnut, depending on the whim of the baker. The loaf is designed to accompany a stinky cheese plate, but I think it's so satisfying, and filling, that I'd forget the cheese and just eat the bread.
Scratch Bread was launched by Matthew Tilden, a disillusioned chef who wanted to play with a very different model for a food business. Almost all the workers are volunteer apprentices eager to learn the trade, support Scratch Bread, and have fun. Tilden set the bakery's goal as producing food that's "delicious, awesome, and not pretentious." After tasting a bunch of their breads, I'd also say that they believe more is definitely better. Tilden guides the process, but everyone contributes ideas for the finished products. You won't find simple, refined French baguettes at Scratch Breads; they make delicious flavor bombs that give your jaws a workout and stuff your stomach. There's no other bakery like it in the city.
The Scratch loaves are developed from three basic doughs: whole wheat, sourdough, and focaccia. The Bourbon Wheat obviously grows out of the whole wheat. The Stuyvesant Sour is Scratch's rock-like sourdough loaf, made from seven (!) different flours, including Cayuga rye. It's about the size of a flattened softball with a big smile-shaped score mark across the top. I've never chewed a denser sourdough, but I think the great rye flavor and slight tang of sour make it worth the effort.
The Scratch team lets their creativity go to town with the foccaccia dough. The Mud loaf is a big, off-white boule frosted with burnt caraway seeds, crushed black peppercorns, wheat bran, and flax seed, giving a spicy crunch to your sandwich. The Parma Country Loaf is your basic olive oil-infused Pullman, until you look more closely. On top it has a "mohawk" of crushed fennel seeds, black pepper, and sea salt, while the bottom rests on a crust of melted parmigiano cheese. You'll spend more time pondering the crust of your sandwich than whatever you put inside. Finally, the focaccia itself is a thick square slick with olive oil and topped with rosemary, sea salt, chili flakes, and whatever the baker desires--black olives, tomato, whole heads of garlic sliced in half, fresh oregano or basil, and on and on.
For customers, the real challenge of Scratch Bread is finding the loaves. They recently pulled out of the local flea market scene to concentrate on retail in-store and wholesale to various groceries and restaurants. Right now, you can buy breads at their Bed-Stuy walk-up window Wednesdays 4 to 8, Saturdays 10 to 6, and Sundays 9 to 2. They're also sold at local provisioners like Bklyn Larder, Greene Grape, and Blue Apron Foods.