Gemma: Medici Bakery

This Sunday morning John and I met Harold at the Medici Bakery in our neighborhood of Hyde Park, Chicago. (See Harold’s review below)

The Medici Bakery is located next to the Medici Restaurant and the University Market, all owned by the same family. Interestingly, Lauren Bushnell the Medici’s head baker, once worked at the Red Hen which we reviewed the other week. *(UPDATE: I have learned that Ms. Bushnell left the Medici Bakery this past spring and is currently working towards opening her own bakery at 61st and Dorchester.  This excites me!)*

This attractive and modern neighborhood bakery is frequented by neighborhood families as well as University of Chicago students. Besides breads, they serve coffees, teas, ice cream, and pastries. We purchased the lovely things you see below:

beginning at the top left, two small whole wheat and walnut rolls, our Morbier du haut L’ibradois cheese from University Market, a soft pretzel, (and on the lower cutting board from top to bottom) a semolina sesame loaf, a seeded baguette, a small ciabatta, and a small olive ciabatta.

We began with the pretzel. I was more interested than usual in ordering a soft pretzel because I recently made my own pretzels at home with some success. The Medici’s had a thin, chewy, glossy, and golden ‘traditional’ crust with nice salt distribution and a moist, silky crumb. Harold remarked and I agreed that it had the consistency of a sourdough. Overall enjoyable.

Next we tried the semolina sesame. This was heavily seeded with a thin crust and a glossy and erractically holed crumb. It tasted heavily of the toasted sesame with almost a smokey flavor. The crumb was moist and soft with a light semolina flavor. There was a smooth nut butter flavor suggested by the aroma, which we decided could be described as a ‘creaminess.’ It went fantastically with a bit of irish butter as well. A good bread.

Next we started on the plain ciabatta. Perhaps it was an off day or perhaps it was due to not purchasing the full sized loaf, but this was not a strong example of a ciabatta (and unfortunately this trend continued for the rest of the breads we sampled). The flavor was nice; salt and oil (though a little heavy on the oil). It had a thin chewy crust with very odd and atypical holes. Did it not rise well, did something strange happen during kneading? It had a shiny, glossy crust and crumb. An aromatic and yeasty flavor–a little too close to pizza dough. See the interior below:

From left to right: plain ciabatta, olive ciabatta, semolina sesame, and seeded baguette.

Next we moved to the olive ciabatta. This had many of the characteristics that the plain ciabatta had. Strange holes, one huge air pocket in the top mid-crust, the same very chewy, glossy crust, salty, oily. For both of these ciabattas, the chewiness was almost plastic-y and they were not very true to what I normally expect in a ciabatta.

We then tried the seeded baguette. This was also a very odd version of a standard bread. The crumb was overly soft and glossy, completely uncomplex. It was seeded with sesame, fennel, and poppy seeds. I think Harold put it best when he described this as a ‘limp-wristed baguette.’

Lastly, we sampled the two small whole wheat and walnut rolls. They were suprisingly sweet, had a dense crumb, a soft crust, and a savory-walnut flavor. As a roll, I thought these were quite good. They would go particularly well with a pasta with a tomato-based sauce.

The cheese was quite nice. It had a subtle, chalky and sharp flavor that was pungent yet not over-powering. It went best with the semolina sesame, seeded baguette, and the olive baguette.

Harold lives nearby the Medici Bakery and was shocked at the poor quality of things he normally enjoys from them. Since they are a neighborhood bakery we decided we could give them a second chance. Check back for an update when that occurs. Hopefully the Medici Bakery was simply having an off day.

The Medici
1327 E 57th St.
Chicago, IL 60637

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Harold: Medici Bakery

located firmly in the orbit of the university of chicago, hyde park’s
medici bakery has the pleasant feel of a neighborhood place.  most
customers arrive on foot–some seem to be grabbing something (coffees
and pastries in the morning but breads in the evening), whereas others
dally somewhat longer with a newspaper, homework, a book, or
(occasionally) a stack of papers.  however it is hardly an indictment
that much of the clientèle seem either to live or to work within a few
blocks: one can hardly get a cup of coffee without overhearing a
conversation along the lines of

–are you in line?

–oh, no.  go ahead!  i’m still looking…

while i have taken great pleasure in eating bread from the medici
bakery on many occasions, i was disappointed on the day that we
visited to do a more studied if not a more scientific tasting.  my
reason for this qualifying what is to follow is to expose my own bias,
in virtue of having approached the tasting with elevated (in lieu of
neutral) expectations.  be that as it may, i shall attempt to
accurately describe our experience.

first, some items of general interest:

– the coffee at the medici bakery is fair trade, rather strong, and
almost always fresh

– the pastries at the medici bakery are made by a different baker than
the breads

– the medici bakery also handles takeout orders for the medici
restaurant, which is next door

– we purchased a piece of morbier in the market (with the same owner)
two doors down from the medici bakery that was tasty but not unusual

the soft pretzel with which we began our tasting was quite good,
although it was nothing to write home about.  setting it apart from
your standard junk-food soft pretzel was its vaguely bagel-like crust
and its more substantial texture that was somewhere between that of a
bagel and that of a san fransisco sourdough with rather well developed
glutens.  were one to desire a soft pretzel this would satisfy, but it
is otherwise unremarkable.

we progressed to the sesame semolina loaf, which turned out to be the
star of the lot.  the flavor of the sesame seeds (some of which were
toasted by the baking process) was nicely offset by the flavor of the
semolina flour that is in this bread.  the density of this bread’s
crust is quite pleasing, making for a crust that is neither overly
crumbly nor overly chewy; while this bread has a fairly dense texture
inside, it is not at all heavy in the way that some multi-grain breads
can be.  all that said, the favor of this bread is mild, making it
acceptable for "normal" bread purposes.

we subsequently tried both a mini ciabatta and a mini olive ciabatta.
both had a pleasant flavor but both were impressively oily, reminding
me more of pizza dough than of bread.

my expectations were probably too high for the seeded baguette because
i was so disappointed when i tried it that i wrote nothing but "dull,
average" in my notes.  working from memory, i will say that the crust
was flimsy and the texture was dry, if not lifeless.  for what aspires
to be a serious bakery for serious bread lovers, this baguette was
impressively mediocre.

we concluded with a whole wheat walnut roll which was rather
inoffensive, if a touch too sweet for my taste.  ostensibly the vision
was of a dense, crumbly, and slightly sweet roll, in which the nuts
and whole wheat flour were balanced by the sweetness; unfortunately
the execution was strikingly average.  while this is not normally one
of my favorite styles, this did not rank particularly favorably among
breads of this style that i have tasted.

as i have enjoyed the medici bakery in the past (and as it is by far
the closest "serious" bakery to where i live) i can only hope that our
experience was an anomaly: it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to speak
ill of their products.

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Originally uploaded by dumin.

This morning for breakfast I made souffles with sauteed pears for Molly, John, and I.

I used this recipe from Epicurious and followed it fairly exactly. I had never made a souffle before and I have to admit I was always super intimidated by the prospect. These ‘puffed’ up nicely. They may have been a little over-cooked (as they would not budge from their containers after baking, so I served them from their cups), but I don’t think this affected the taste.

They were fairly sweet and would do well as a dessert because of this. Overall I sometimes find souffles a little too dry, so eating the pears with the souffle was a nice match in texture.

Now that I have had success with my first souffle experience, I look forward to playing around with different recipes and modifications. I will have to buy myself a large souffle pan and try my hand at the large and decadent variety. Though, I suppose it would be good to hold off on that just a bit and perfect my skills on the smaller scale.

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Gemma: Chiu Quon

The other weekend a few friends from Reed and I attended an alumni event in Chinatown. We ate dim sum and then wandered around through some stores afterwards. We came upon a bakery called Chiu Quon. The bakery was bustling with shouting customers trying to make their way to an employee behind the counter.

We were eventually helped by a sweet young woman who was patient with us as John and I made our selections. Of the handful of things we purchased, here is the first of the three we will highlight:

moon cakes

These tiny little cakes had gorgeous patterns imprinted on their dough encasings. Inside, the cakes were filled with a thick, golden jelly. They tasted pleasantly of sweet musk and jasmine, however the texture was so thick and overwhelming that they were difficult and ultimately unenjoyable to eat.

Second, we tried a coconut puff:

These delightful puffs shared many characteristics with the common danish. They were soft, glazed, sugary, and airy. The cocount flavor worked well and did not seem overly sweetened. The puff was not necessarily remarkable, but it did have a much subtler taste than a normal doughnut or danish might and was considerably less sweet, which I enjoyed. As such things go, I was impressed with this version.

Lastly, we tried a creme puff:

The creme puff was soft, airy, and golden. It was sprinkled with coconut shavings and stuffed with a light creme frosting. It was quite sugary and would have been impossible to eat entirely on my own, but sharing it with John and Molly for dessert worked well (we could have used a fourth person in the end). The creme puff was good, but also irremarkable. The coconut was a nice touch, but overall I would not order a second one.

Chiu Quon bakery is a nice, quaint, and popular destination in Chinatown. They do things well, but not spectacularly. The coconut puff was the standout of our selection due to the subtle flavors. I would not make a special trip to Chiu Quon, however If I were hungry for a sweet and in the area, I would duck in for a coconut puff.

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Vegetable Paella

A few nights ago I made the ‘Chunky Vegetable Paella’ from Christine Ingram’s Vegetarian and Vegetable Cooking.

I made a few substitutions in the kinds of vegetables (we didn’t have any eggplant), but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly. It was amazingly easy to make and it was quite good. (I’m finishing off the leftovers now).

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