How do you invent a new loaf? Grandaisy Bakery is known for its white, Italian-style breads. But after they opened a store on the Upper West Side, they sensed a demand for a "health" loaf. Julio Guarchaj, Grandaisy's head baker, started playing around with 100% whole wheat flour, and the bakery's head pastry chef suggested they throw in some toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Soon they had a loaf that everyone loved and dubbed it sette grani, "seven grains," in keeping with the bakery's Italian sensibilities. The bread slowly built up a following, but they didn't know they had a hit until they ran out. "When customers started getting angry it wasn't there," says Grandaisy owner Monica Von Thun Calderon, "we knew it was a success."
Grandaisy Bakery was founded in 2006 but actually has roots at least a decade older. Monica, the bakery's owner, was the longtime business manager of Sullivan Street Bakery and also Jim Lahey's partner in that operation. In 2006, the partners decided to go their separate ways, with Jim taking the Sullivan Street name and Monica holding on to the Sullivan Street address. They shared the breads because, well, you can't copyright a loaf. (Look at all the sub-par copies of Sullivan Street Breads being made by bakeries around the city.) Since 2006, Grandaisy has continued to make consistently excellent, Italian-style breads while also experimenting with new products like the sette grani and a light and delicious brioche roll.
The most spectacular of Grandaisy's traditional loaves is its filone. The length of two footballs placed end-to-end, the filone is sprinkled with a thick coating of wheat bran flakes and then baked until almost black. When you slice into it, the crust is so crisp that blackened crumbs seem to explode from the bread and spray all over the table. All of the filone's weight is concentrated in the crunchy, slightly bitter crust; the crumb is an ethereal, faintly tangy cloud with a loose hole structure perfect for sopping up olive oil.
The stirato is Grandaisy's Italianate take on the baguette. The crust has the familiar baguette crunch, while the crumb is slightly denser and more flavorful (thanks to the leavening and unbleached wheat flour). The best baguettes only have a shelf life of four hours or so before turning stale; this stirato is a 12-hour loaf with the substance to stand up to salumi or even an all-American hot dog.
Grandaisy's pizza bianca comes out of the oven the size of a small canoe. Remarkably for something this huge, what makes the pizza so good is the baker's light touch. It's simply made from flour, salt, yeast, a few sprigs of rosemary, and a drizzle of olive oil. Sliced, it's the most addictive part of a restaurant breadbasket; at home, it makes a perfect base for a sheet or two of prosciutto di Parma.
There are at least a dozen versions of raisin walnut bread floating around town. Most are mediocre, largely due to lack of balance: not enough raisins and walnuts, too much cinnamon, a crumb that's too fluffy and light, and so on. Grandaisy's pane noci ed uve rises above the rest with a dense loaf that's stuffed with juicy raisins and fat walnuts and spiced with just a touch of cinnamon. It's the perfect breakfast bread, the one that you dream about for lunch and dinner.
Finally, we come back to the sette grani, which comes from the opposite side of the bread baking universe as the filone. A loaf weighs in at three pounds, and while the crust is nice and chewy, you don't really notice it because all your attention is on the moist, dense crumb. It gets its lovely nutty-wheat-y aroma from 100% whole wheat flour, the toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and flaked rye, wheat berries, oats, sesame, millet, flax seed, and spelt. Actually, if you add those ingredients up, you come up with nine grains. But I won't quibble, because I'm too busy chewing.
73 Sullivan Street, New York NY 10012 (map)
250 West Broadway, New York NY 10013 (map)
About the author: Andrew Coe wonders if there's anywhere you can get an old-style Jewish rye corn bread.