An empty oven is a baker's opportunity. Four years ago, the owners of Roman's in Fort Greene decided that they wanted to use their wood-fired oven to bake bread in the hours that it wasn't pushing out pizzas. Austin Hall was a baker who had first learned the trade at Hi-Rise up in Cambridge and then came to New York to work under Peter Endriss at Bouchon and Sullivan Street's Jim Lahey.
Austin connected with the Roman's team and the baker soon found himself showing up at 3 a.m. to take advantage of the oven's residual heat.
Today, Austin presides over She Wolf Bakery (named after the symbol of Rome's founding), which produces all the bread used by Brooklyn's Diner empire, including Diner itself, Roman's, Marlow & Sons, Reynard, and Marlow & Daughters. Due to its growing production, She Wolf now operates out of a rented commissary space in Long Island City. The bakers only have eight hours a day to mix, shape, and bake; because of constraints on their lease, they're locked into a 16-hour fermentation period. (They're looking for a permanent baking and retail space.)
She Wolf's flagship loaf is its Sourdough Regular ($6), the first bread Austin produced in the Roman's pizza oven. It's an orange-brown batard in the classic football shape with one big slash down the back. As a loaf, it's the total package, with a great interplay between texture and flavor. The crust is both crispy—shards fly all over when you cut into it—and chewy, with a slight caramelized flavor. Inside the crumb is moist, only slightly sour, with a subtle but fine aroma.
For more highly developed browning, try the Sourdough Pullman (half loaf, $4). This is the same dough as the batard but baked in a pullman pan. It emerges from the oven with its crust looking as if it had been passed under a flamethrower, but this effect actually demonstrates a well-browned crust. When you bite into it, it has a bitter, slightly sweet and slighty sticky flavor and texture that makes a nice contrast to the mild sourdough crumb. It makes a perfect sandwich bread for children with refined tastes.
The She Wolf Miche (quarter, $5) is a puffy discus of a loaf. It's made from Farmer Ground whole wheat flour and natural leavening. Austin thinks of it as "pre-industrial" bread, crafted using ingredients and techniques similar to those used by bakers before industrial facilities and refrigeration. It has nice chewy crust and relatively dense crumb with a mild nutty aroma from the whole wheat flour.
The bakery's Pizza Bianca (one-third, $3.00) is another of those breads that were first cooked in the Roman's oven. Austin developed it to take advantage of the high heat left over from the pizza-making hours. Depending on where you draw the line, it's either a puffy pizza or a skinny focaccia. Either way, it's a delicious, chewy loaf, made from King Arthur white flour, drizzled in oil, and sprinkled with sea salt. I like to split a section and stuff it with sweet prosciutto.
Beyond these choices, She Wolf also makes a wide range of loaves, including baguettes, walnut loaves, hamburger buns, and pullmans made from baguette, whole wheat, and rye doughs. They're available daily after 4 p.m at Marlow & Daughters and also at Roman's and Dandelion Wine in Greenpoint.
About the author: Andrew Coe is the only reporter covering the city's bread beat.