Daniel Leader wants to make one thing clear: He may have just bought a home in Maine, but he is not opening a bakery here.

That’s the most frequent question the legendary 65-year-old baker gets since he snapped up a cozy Cape Cod in the idyllic town of Castine just a few months ago. Leader, founder of the iconic artisanal bakery Bread Alone in New York’s Catskill Mountains, has poignant, long-time ties to Maine that drew him back here, and he envisions baking occasionally with his friend Tim Semler at Tinder Hearth Bakery in Brooksville. But he doesn’t plan to plunge back into running a bakery full time. He turned over the reins of Bread Alone to his son in October, and says he isn’t sure what comes next.

He does promise this: “Once the book tour is over, I will visit every good bakery from the tip of Maine up to Castine. All the bakers should be prepared for my visit, because this is what I do in life.”

Leader will be in Maine this month, making appearances in York and Castine to promote his new book, “Living Bread” (Penguin Random House, $40), written with Lauren Chattman. The book, his fifth, covers the evolution of artisan bread baking and pays tribute to the European bakers who have influenced him by sharing their stories, philosophies and recipes. (The photography by Joerg Lehmann is stunning.)

Amber Lambke, president of Maine Grains in Skowhegan and founding director of the Maine Grain Alliance, which puts on the annual Kneading Conference, calls Bread Alone “one of the most influential bakeries in the Northeast.” Leader, she added, can be credited with inspiring an entire generation of artisan bakers in America.

“Bread Alone has been a bakery that incorporated artisanal techniques and crusty loaves before those were a thing,” she said. Leader’s first book, also called Bread Alone, is consistently one of the top-selling books at the Kneading Conference, she said.

Lambke recently gave Leader some Maine flours, which he’ll bake with for the first time during his Maine book tour.

Leader recently spoke with us about his new book and the state of bread in America, and shared the fascinating story of how he fell in love with Maine. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo by Joerg Lehmann

Q: What was your goal with this book?

A: In the last 20 years, there’s been a lot of bread books, so there’s a lot of great information out there. I wanted to offer my readers a perspective on bakers’ lives, and a review of traditions and discussion of innovations in the industry. I also wanted to include the wonderful stories of the bakers, and I picked recipes that I thought were not on the well-worn path of bread books and bread recipes. So the recipes are really interesting, and I approached baking science in a way that’s very accessible.

Q: Are the recipes for the serious baker, or could anyone tackle them?

A: Anyone could tackle them. I did a straight dough section at the beginning for people that were less experienced.

Q: When I was growing up, most people ate mass-produced white bread, and you could only get artisanal loaves at health food stores. A lot has changed. Where do you see bread in America today?

A: It’s interesting what this book has done for me personally, because I’ve primarily run my bakery for 36 years. I would say I was a little tunnel-visioned. I have a lot of European context, but I didn’t realize what was going on in this country so much. I knew there were bakeries that came and went over the last 30 years, and there’s been moments where artisan bread kind of percolated up. But there’s something more substantial happening right now. There are a lot of small bakeries opening up, a lot of people making serious artisan breads. I’m in Chicago right now, and I visited this bakery yesterday called Floriole. It’s a beautiful little bakery making, like, four types of delicious sourdough bread, but really, really wonderful. And I’m friends with Tim up at Tinder Hearth, up in Brooksville. It seems that all over the country there’s this gentle percolation of small bakers trying to use local grains when they can, people who are making long-fermented doughs, people who are baking in hearth ovens. It’s not as common as in Europe, but I’ve been traveling with this book and there were some wonderful bakeries in Los Angeles. I was up in Marin County and Napa Valley, and each little town has a couple of little bakers. Wherever you go, there’s good bread in farmers markets, and there’s good bread in health food stores and specialty supermarkets in a way that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago, and certainly that didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago.

Q: What is driving that? Is it part of the country’s general food renaissance?

A: You may not see it at Stop ‘n Shop or the big supermarkets, but certainly in specialty stores all over the country you have a real food revolution, whether it’s vinegars, cheese, beer, wine, spirits, bread, pasture-raised animals. I could go on and on. Bread is simply a piece of this movement. Social media – Instagram – has been very good for bread because there are so many good bakers posting pictures from all over the world. There’s something that’s almost magnetic about it. People want to bake bread, and they start baking in their back yard, and they build a little bakery.

Q: Is the same true for home bakers?

A: Oh, for sure. There’s this woman I met in Chicago. I’ve been her following on Instagram. It’s called Foolproof Baking, and she has 100,000 followers. I’m thinking, what did this woman do to get 100,000 followers? She came to this presentation I made. Maybe she’s 30, and she has a PhD in biology, and she became a very passionate bread baker. I said “Kristen, how did you do this? When did you start?” She said three years ago. “In three years you have 100,000 followers all over the world, and a YouTube channel. How did you do it?” She said, ‘Just one bread at a time.'” So here’s this woman who’s baking bread for her husband and her son, and she’s reaching 100,000-plus people every time she puts a picture up. That’s powerful. This isn’t a Food Network star. This is somebody in their home making a difference and influencing good bakers.

Chocolate Sourdough Babka from “Living Bread” by Daniel Leader Photo by Joerg Lehmann

Q: I hear you have a house in Castine. Have you been coming to Maine for a long time?

A: I was a devotee of the Living the Good Life books of Helen and Scott Nearing when I was in college. I had first editions of all of those books. I read about them in my teens and my 20s. In 1987, the New York Times did a big article about me, and I get a phone call from this guy who said his name is Stan Joseph. And he said, “Can I come and learn to bake bread with you?” And I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “Oh, I’m calling from Harborside, Maine.” “Harborside, Maine? Do you live near the Nearings?” He said “Well, actually, I bought their original farm.” So Stan comes to the bakery to spend a week at Bread Alone, and then he says “Why don’t I invite you and your family to come up and visit?” So we drive up to Harborside, and we camp out on the original Nearing farm. I’m walking through where the Nearings had their garden — Stan had expanded the garden — and we go over and meet Helen. It was a big thing in my life.

We did that for two or three summers. Stan ended up getting divorced from Lynn (Karlin), who he wrote “Maine Farm” with, and then he killed himself. At that point, Steve Lanzalotta, the (baker at) Slab (in Portland), had built a homestead on Stan’s property. Then he built a little bakery in Bucks Harbor – a wood-fired bakery where he mixed the bread by hand. When Stan died, Steve called me up, and we went for the funeral. I was really heartbroken. I didn’t go up to Maine for 20 or 25 years.

I’m friends with Melissa Kelly because she used to live in the Hudson Valley before she moved up to Maine. Three years ago, Melissa sends me a message on Facebook: “I haven’t seen you for a long time. Why don’t you come up and visit?” And so I visit Melissa at Primo – I hadn’t seen her in 20 years or something like that, and we had a nice time – and I said, “Melissa, I have this long relationship with Penobscot Bay and Harborside, and I’m going to go up to Stan’s farm.”

The farm is still owned by Stan’s brother, Jay. I drive up to the farm for the first time in 25 years, and I make peace with it. Jay says “Maybe you want to rent the farm sometime?” It had none of the life. Literally, the gardens hadn’t been touched in 25 years, and the sauna had burned down. It would be too painful. I said “No, I don’t want to rent the house, but I do want to start coming up.” So I called up (a realtor Jay recommended) and she goes, “Well, if you want to be near Harborside but you don’t want to be close to the sad memories, why don’t you go to Castine?” I rented this house in Castine for two summers, and I kind of fell in love. It’s such a stunningly beautiful little town. I start looking at houses, and I found this beautiful Cape Cod. Now I have this house directly in front of the water, and everyone knows me as the famous baker who moved to town. I had no idea that I was going to move into such an interesting community. Not only did I reconnect with people who knew Stan, I’ve been so warmly embraced by the Castine community. It’s a little shocking how lovely everybody has been.

Q: Do you do a lot of baking there?

A: I’ve only had the house a few months, so I’m figuring it out. The first thing I have to tell everyone is I am not opening a bakery in Castine. But I’m happy to go over to Tim’s at Tinder Hearth and bake sometimes. I’m thrilled to death to have this new chapter of my life, and this connection with my old friend, and it’s kind of with the Nearings in some crazy way. I’m close to that tradition, and I’m meeting all these people who were influenced by the Nearings, but it’s three generations later, and I think people are doing it in a much more sustainable way. I went to the Common Ground Fair this year and saw all the cool stuff there. I became friends with the people at Maine Grains. I’m slowly making my way into the food community in Maine, and I just have to find my place.

Panepepato Photo by Joerg Lehmann

PANEPEPATO

Makes 6 disks, about 170 grams each

Ready in 35 minutes, these dense, Italian fruitcake-like patties are extremely easy to make, according to Leader, require no fermentation time, and keep for days.

147g whole toasted, skinned hazelnuts

152g whole blanched almonds

38g toasted pine nuts

59g golden raisins

41g dried figs, stemmed and chopped

121g bittersweet chocolate, chopped

75g candied orange peel, chopped

5g grated orange zest

0.5g nutmeg

1.5g salt

0.5g ground black pepper

70g strong brewed coffee

130g honey

163g Tipo 00 or equivalent flour (10 to 11 percent protein)

16g confectioners’ sugar

MAKE THE DOUGH: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, raisins, figs, chocolate, orange peel, orange zest, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and 25g of the coffee. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the honey and remaining 45g coffee and heat until the honey is just liquefied. Stir into the nut mixture to coat. Sprinkle 115g of the flour over the mixture and stir to incorporate, adding more as necessary, 10g at a time, until the dough holds together.

BAKE: Divide the dough into six equal pieces, about 170g each. With damp hands, form the dough into six patties, 4 inches across and 1 inch thick. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheet and bake until firm, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Heavily dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving. Panepepato will keep in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

 


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