Friday is Oat Groat Bread Day

Yes, when most customers think of Friday at Bakery Normand they think of Challah. But did you know that we make another exceptional bread on Fridays? It's called Oat Groat Bread, and it is very much one of our best, most complex breads. Made from a medium rye sourdough base, we add organic steel cut oat groats, buttermilk, a touch of coriander and moist currants. For starters, a medium rye sourdough bread contains 40% rye flour and 60% white, wheat flour. The higher the percentage of rye flour in a bread, the more rye sourdough must be used for proper fermentation. While this extra rye sourdough would add a greater tanginess to the taste of the bread, the method we use to ferment the sourdough promotes more lactic acid over acetic acid; this gives the sourdough less bite without sacrificing flavor. The oat groats are the actual oat grain or berries. (Oat flakes, which are more familiar to most people, are oat berries that have been flattened.) The oat berries are cut into smaller pieces and we soak them in water overnight to soften them before baking. The result is a finished bread with a nutty brown crumb, deep mahogany colored crust, rich, chewy texture, and natural sweetness from the currants. We use no added fats or sugars.

The crumb is moist and you will notice the even pore distribution. The oat groats provide texture and a slow, satisfying release of flavor. There is something both filling and calming about using oats in baked goods. It is an excellent source of protein and carbohydrates, but because it is absorbed more slowly by the body, there is no spike in blood glucose levels. We let the natural sugars of the currants provide the sweet boost. Try this bread with a sharp cheddar cheese or with butter and your favorite jam (I like my wife's peach jam the best.)

More than most of our breads, Oat Groat Bread has a very strong personality and complexity. But, while some bakeries offer a three-ring circus of bread varieties like Fig-Anise Bread, Chocolate-Cherry Bread, Parmesan-Onion-Olive Fougasse, or Red Pepper-Scallion-Onion-Cheddar Loaf, at Bakery Normand we mostly keep it simple and adaptable. While other bakeries try to hide the poor quality of their breads with gadgets and gimmicks, we sell you quality, serviceable  breads that are ready to take on whatever topping or filling YOU care to add. Don't be fooled by trendy bread varieties; bread is baked nature, not a food court at the mall.

Dessert Ideas for Rosh Hashanah

Apple/ Quark Mousse.

May we suggest three new ideas from our kitchen for your Rosh Hashanah celebrations.

The first is an Apple/Quark Mousse. Pictured above in the individual serving size, it is also available as a small 5-6" diameter torte, which should serve six nicely. Build on a thin cookie base and a single layer of yellow cake, the mousse filling is made with heavy cream and quark (also known as curd or frommage blanc). Blended through the mousse are tender apple chunks that have been first sauteed with honey, lemon juice, cinnamon and ginger; raisins macerated in Triple Sec join the mix for a pleasantly sweet and spirited accent. Each individual dessert is topped with a thin slice of Cortland Apple, a rosette of cream and a lemon wedge. The sides are dressed with toasted, thinly sliced almond.

Our second suggestion appeared in an earlier post and also features apples and honey.

Cream Puffs with Apple/Ginger/Honey Filling
Our second new offering is a tart yet sweet, fresh apple,ginger and honey filling in a cream puff (pâte à choux) shell. The shell top is dipped in a caramel brittle coating, which lends a bitter/sweet snap not unlike biting into a candy apple.This pastry is a symphony of contrasting textures and decidedly messy to eat-it's best to have a plate and a fork handy.

A third sessonal dessert is our Pear Almond Cream Tarte.

Pear Almond Cream Tarte

Baked in a fluted tarte tin, the local pears, from Dwight Miller Farm in Dummerston, Vermont, are set atop a frangipan cream and a thin layer of yellow cake. Glazed to perfection with a sweet apricot jam, this dessert is sure to recall life's sweetest moments.

And finally, don't forget to stop by tomorrow for your Spiral Challah.

Ordering Spiral Challah for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Customer have begun to ask, so we thought it would be useful to post the dates of production and varieties of challah we will offer for the coming Jewish High Holy Days.

We will be taking orders for Spiral Challah for Rosh Hashanah on Wednesday, September 28th.
Customers may order Plain or Raisin Spiral Challah. The Plain Challah may be order with poppy seeds, with sesame seeds, or without seeds on the top. We use golden raisins in the Raisin Challah and do not put any seeds on this variety.
We will not be making any Challah on Thursday, September 29th. A few customers have often felt that we should make them for that day, but, quite frankly, over the years so few people actually order them for that specific date that it really isn't worth making such a small quantity of dough. Sorry.

  • Plain Challah    $6.00
  • Raisin Challah  $7.00

Orders may be placed for Challah for Yom Kippur on Friday, October 7th. We will not make Raisin Challah for that day unless there are enough requests for it. We'll keep you posted on the status of that as the orders come in.

Please place you orders early so that we can guaranty the type and quantities that you need

Less is More

Walking down Main Street in Northampton recently, I noticed several people passing by carrying white handled shopping bags. A woman walking a few steps in front of me, apparently also noticing the white shopping bags, said to her friend, "Oh, that reminds me; I need to stop at Bakery Normand for a few things." The noteworthy thing about this story is that our white handled shopping bags are not printed with our company name or marked in any way with our company logo or colors. We use a plain, no frills, white, handled, shopping bag for customers who need a convenient way to carry their purchases. Since we've used these bags for over 30 years, they have become, in and of themselves, the default, walking advertisement for our bakery. It was not planned that way, and, in fact, when we first opened our business, we spent a lot of money having all of our white bags, from the smallest to the largest shopping bag, printed with our logo in blue ink. I remember that we had to order so many tens of thousands of the bags that we had to store them in our home garage on wooden palettes. We simply didn't have the room for them at our small location at 44 Main Street.

The lesson is that less is often more, and that simple communications can actually speak volumes. It's a lesson that spending more on packaging does not make the product better, it just makes the product more seductive. And, of course, all that makes the product more expensive.

In a CBS Sunday Morning piece called "The Science Behind Pleasure Seeking", Yale psychologist Paul Bloom says that our brains can add layers of value to the things that give us pleasure, like food or drink, that go beyond the actual physical attributes of those things.  He recalls a Stanford and Cal Tech experiment with wine drinkers. "Half the people are told they're drinking cheap plunk, the other half are told they're drinking something out of $100-$150 bottle," Bloom said. "It tastes better to them, if they THINK they're drinking from an expensive bottle. And it turns out that if they think they're drinking expensive wine, parts of the brain that are associated with pleasure and reward light up like a Christmas tree." The associations of values like higher price or fancy packaging or some nostalgic notion are a "sort of trick that only works on human beings." "Both my dog and me enjoy drinking water when we're thirsty, but I'm the one who cares about where the water came from - whether it's bottled water, or from the tap," Bloom said. "My dog doesn't care."

Ultimately, it does matter what's inside the bag. In the case of the Bakery, the bread should be wholesome, nutritious and of good value.

Is it important that the bread was baked using organic flour? One can debate its value to human health, and argue the notion that its exclusive use may not be scalable to feed a populous and hungry world. In fact, in an excellent article in the September/October 2011 issue of Orion Magazine titled "Evolve-a case for modernization as the road to salvation," authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus identify the ecotheology of Western elites in the developed North, who enjoy a privileged position in the modern world and make a fetish of green products and services (such as organic and local produce).  They write: " The contradictions between the world as it is- filled with the unintended consequences of our actions- and the world as so many of us would like it to be results in a pseudorejection of modernity, a kind of postmaterialist nihilism. Empty gestures are the defining sacraments of this ecotheology".

In this same vein, does it matter that bread is baked in wood fired brick ovens? The application of heat to leavened dough represents historically the advancement of thermal technology to the baking process. In addition to the economy of any given heat source, its efficiency and environmental impact are of equally valid importance. The emissions of a wood fired oven is significant. It would be interesting to know what the environmental cost per loaf of bread is when wood fired brick ovens are used compared to the use of natural gas or electricity. And yet, ecotheology preaches that somehow the pre-industrial use of wood must be better. Like the higher priced bottle of wine in the Stanford experiment, the pleasure center of our brains is activated by the nostalgia, the anti-modern logic of wood fired, brick oven bread. To quote Shellenberger and Nordhaus again, "That the ecological elites hold themselves to a different standard while insisting that all are equal is yet another demonstration of their higher status, for they are thus unaccountable to reality."

So the next time you are shopping for bread, ask yourself if you are buying the product or the narrative surrounding, and perhaps masking, the product. Keep it simple and try putting the product in a plain, white, handled bag, both in your mind and in your hand.

Pumpkin Madelines

Fall is here and it's time for a seasonal Bakery Normand original. I know that you've been waiting for them all year; well, the wait's over. The Pumpkin Madelines are back. Unlike our other variations of the Madeline, the Pumpkin Madeline is especially moist and cakey, sweet yet savory, pumpkin pie spicy, yet delicately subtle. And on top of that, there dipped in dark chocolate.

So for a taste of France with a twist of New England, try our Pumpkin Madelines with a spot of tea or a pot of coffee.

Two New Ideas for Fall

Fall is knocking on the door here in the Valley, so let's open it and welcome in two new items to our cookie and pastry selection.

The first new product is an out sized sheet cookie, so called because it is a fairly large thin cookie that is meant to be broken up into irregular pieces and shared. We are already imagining several variations on this concept which explore other flavors and textures. But for now, our introductory variety is a Lemon-Anise Cornmeal Sheet Cookie topped with sliced almonds.

This cookie is packed with flavor and has a delightful crunch and gritty tooth. Great for sharing or to keep all to yourself.

Our second new offering is a tart yet sweet, fresh apple and ginger filling in a cream puff (pâte à choux) shell. The shell top is dipped in a caramel brittle coating, which lends a bitter/sweet snap not unlike biting into a candy apple.

This pastry is a symphony of contrasting textures and decidedly messy to eat-it's best to have a plate and a fork handy.

We hope you'll come in and try one or both of these treats. And be sure to watch for future postings of some new and some familiar seasonal offerings.

New and Fresh for Late Summer

It's late Summer and we're taking advantage of some fresh, local fruit for two new additions to our pastry line-up.

The first is a fresh peach sour cream coffee cake with pecan crumble filling. We serve single slices from a large 28 cm diameter cake or single serving mini-cakes (shown in photo) baked in decorative Euro-cups. Either way, these pastries make great snacks for breakfast or mid-afternoon. As always, this pastry is not too sweet, but packed with flavor.

Our second addition is an Italian plum crostata. The rustic crust is made with butter, cream, eggs and whole wheat flour. The filling features sliced Italian plums tossed with sugar, butter, lemon zest and fresh thyme. Baked to a deep, hearty finish, the crostata is packed with flavor. The addition of thyme lends an unusual and earthy note. Though rough in appearance, these pastries make an excellent and fancy dessert to end a fine home-cooked meal. Just add a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for a really grand finale.

The Good, the Bad, and the Delicious

There was an article a few years back in the New York Times Sunday Magazine by renowned food writer Michael Pollan that illustrated a curious contrast. The article relates how, when shown a luscious piece of chocolate cake on a plate, the word that comes to mind for Americans first is 'guilt.' The word that comes to mind first to the French, when shown the same cake on a plate, is 'pleasure.' The article ended with photos of the same piece of cake on a dessert plate after being eaten by an American and by a Frenchman. The Frenchman's plate, when done,  still had half the cake still on it; the American's plate, when done, was empty except for a few crumbs.

Apple Strudel Time

As Fall approaches and the apple harvest starts in earnest, it's time to think about Apple Strudel. Genuine Strudel is a Central European specialty introduced into the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Turks. The strudel dough itself is basically a noodle dough made from flour, water, oil and salt. The magic of the dough is that, once rested, it allows itself to be stretched out gossamer thin, so thin that you could read a newspaper through it. Once extended to its proper size, any number of fillings, both sweet and savory, are possible. In Germany, apples, cherries or cheese (quark) are the most popular fillings. For a savory treat assorted wild mushrooms can be rolled into a strudel, creating a wonderful side dish to pork or wild game.

Store Information

Bakery Normand
192 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060

Tuesday to Saturday, 7:30am-5:30pm

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