Empty kitchen space is the chef's bane. The owners of Ditmas Park's Farm on Adderley rented a space on nearby Church Avenue to use as commissary for their role as food purveyors for the Propect Park Celebrate Brooklyn! events. However, that only lasted three months of the year. What to do with the space for the other nine months? Open a bakery.
Next they had to figure out what breads to bake. Farm chef Tom Kearney and commissary chef Matt Amberg didn't have a whole lot of bread experience, so they cracked open cookbooks by Tartine's Chad Robertson and Sullivan Street's Jim Lahey. Their goal was to make loaves that were simple, healthy, and natural, and also could be made without a professional baking oven.
They perfected a method that mixed Robertson's natural leaven with Lahey's no-knead, Dutch oven baking method and from there developed a line of loaves. Last month, they opened Nine Chains (named after Buckminster Fuller's book "Nine Chains to the Moon"), which is already a hit in their good bread-deprived region of South Brooklyn.
My favorites of the Nine Chains loaves are the sour boules, which come in four flavors, each with a pleasant sourdough bite. They're all made from natural leavening and mostly New York State and Pennsylvania organic flours that are given a 12 to 16 hour ferment. I'd start with the White Boule ($6.50), made from just flour, water, salt, and natural leavening. It has a crisp crust, dense, nicely chewy crumb, and warm sourdough aroma.
For a more complex flavor experience, try the Whiskey Raisin Boule ($7.50) made from whiskey-soaked raisins, buckwheat groats, flax and chia seeds, white pepper, and fennel seeds. The raisins could possibly use more whiskey, but the groats, pepper, and fennel combine to make a broad taste profile that seems to hit all areas of your palate.
I'm always a fan of any buckwheat bread, and I was not disappointed by the bakery's Buckwheat Boule ($6.50). It's essentially a whole wheat loaf with 11% buckwheat flour added, giving it lots of nutty buckwheat flavor but also a soft, slightly crunchy texture.
For a much lighter bread, try the Nine Chains Pulled-Milk Roll ($2.25). It looks like a ciabatta, but they slightly tweaked the recipe by adding a bit of milk powder the dough. Made from a poolish starter, it has a delicately crisp crust and a fluffy crumb with a light flour aroma. It makes an ethereal roll for high quality salumi.
Finally, the Potato and Nigella Focaccia ($8) is a meal unto itself. This big, irregularly-shaped slab comes out of the oven trailing a fine sheen of oil. The delicate focaccia dough is sprinkled with crunchy sea salt. Inside your teeth bit into soft chunks of Yukon Gold potatoes and a judicious sprinkling of nigella seeds, which impart a faint, onion-like flavor to the bread.
Chefs Amberg and Kearney are to some extent bread-baking beginners, but they're also chefs with sophisticated palates and the desire to constantly improve their loaves. Right now, they can only make 50 loaves a day—not even enough to supply the Farm on Adderley—but they're planning to buy a professional bread oven to expand their production, and the idea of a second location glimmers on the horizon. It's great to see an empty space on the city's map being filled with great fresh bread.