As followers of this column know, I'm a big fan of dense, dark East European breads. However, the bakeries that produce them have a hard time gaining traction outside their ethnic communities. The city's best Russian bakery, Coney Island's New York Bread, sells in the outer boroughs, and ships all around the country, but hasn't found one retail outlet in Manhattan. So it's interesting to follow the story of an East European bakery that's trying to crack the wider gourmet market.
Latvians love their dense, dark rye bread. Latvian-Americans love it so much that they have it shipped over from the old country in loaves weighing over 17 pounds. It goes fast, because it's their staff of life, a necessary accompaniment to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A number of mail order businesses have sprung up to cater to this community. Last year, Baltic Shop teamed up with the famous Laci bakery in Riga to sell their top quality breads in the United States under the Storye ("stor-eye") brand name. They're so good they might even wean Manhattanites from their baguettes.
Storye is the Cadillac of Latvian breads. The Laci bakery is one of the largest but also most traditional of Riga bread makers. Everything is done by hand; the only metal that touches the loaves is the blade of the slicer. They're made from locally grown rye that's given an extra-long fermentation in wooden vats so the dough can develop its complex flavors. Then the loaves are hand-formed and baked in wood-fired brick ovens. Laci makes 16 varieties of rye bread, including something called "The Rye Bread of Strong People," but only four are available in this country.
The basic Storye bread is their Classic Rye, made from whole-grain rye flour, sugar, rye malt, ground caraway seeds, and salt. Like all the Storye loaves, it's fermented naturally from a culture handed down from the bakery founder's grandmother. Even though it's shipped all the way from the old country, a slice of Classic Rye straight out of the bag is moist and rich with a slight sour tang. Latvians like it for their open-faced sandwiches topped with a simple smear of butter, slices of smoked ham, or covered in layers of cheese, cucumbers, dill, and fresh tomatoes. For a slightly moister, slightly sweeter bread, try the Classic Rye with carrots, which is saturated tiny carrot shreds that lend it an orange hue.
Storye's Fine Rye is made from regular (not whole-grain) rye flour, sugar, rye malt, salt, and caraway seeds. It's a bit softer than the Classic Rye and comes with the extra zing from the whole caraways. Biting into reminds me how bad the city's Jewish deli rye is these days, and how the good the bread really can be.
From the same dough, but without the caraway, comes the Fine Rye with fruits and nuts. A package only comes with four slices, but these are so dense and moist that it almost makes up the difference. Each slice is stuffed with hazelnuts, dried apricots, plums, and raisins. Your first notion is to cover it with jam or cheese, but really it's so rich that it stands up to any topping.
Right now, Storye breads are only carried by Greene Grape Provisions and Depanneur, both in Brooklyn. However, Storye is now in discussion with some of the bigger Manhattan gourmet stores to carry their line. Check the Storye website for an updated retailer list.