Gemma: Red Hen


We began our bakery tour last weekend with Red Hen. (See Harold’s review below). We went to the Milwaukee Ave. location.

This cute, small store front filled to the brim with delicious looking baked goods, wooden shelves, and bright sunlight made for a perfect early Saturday morning excursion. The two nice young women presiding over the store were patient with our indecisivness and helpful when answering our questions.

After the intoxicating selection process we retired back to Hyde Park to enjoy our goods.

We began (in the car, I admit) with a focaccia. The thing that stood out to me most was the soft texture achieved without an overwhelming oily-ness. The seasoning was delicate and savory witout being over-powering. A very nice way to start the day.

We then began on the lovely things you see here:

On the left you see two asiago cheese and black pepper mini brioches on either side of a mid-sized regular brioche. Up above you see our cheese selection, Stinking Bishop, and below that in the center we have our olive rosemary boule, to the right– a Milwaukee sour, and of course, a seeded baguette.

The asiago cheese and black pepper mini brioche was delicious. They were true to their title and the black pepper was the stand-out flavor, the sharpness of which was nicely rounded out by the asiago cheese. These were not greasy and only had a hint of cheese, which worked well. The crumb was not as delicate as a typical brioche.

The regular brioche was airy and delicate with a golden flakey crust and a soft crumb. This was a well-crafted version of the standard brioche and Red Hen will certainly be my default brioche vendor from now on.

We then moved to the olive rosemary boule. When we sliced into the interior we were greated by large kalamata olives, fresh rosemary, and a mouth-watering aroma. The olives and rosemary were evenly distributed throughout the bread and there was a moist and shiny crumb. The crust was dark and thick. This was an amazing bread with a pungent but never overwhelming taste. You can see the interior in the picture below. The olive rosemary boule is on the right and the Milwaukee sour is on the left.

We next sampled the Milwaukee sour which had a beautiful golden crust. One thing I noticed right away as the bread was being cut was the very resilient crumb. Upon further experimentation we found the bread could be fully compressed between your fingers and immediately bounce back to it’s original stature. This sour was denser than others I have had, while also being perfectly moist. The crust was thin and hard and the crumb was chewy (in the good way). The bread had flecks of whole wheat. This was a far more substantial bread than most sourdough and was not as aromatic or as pungent in taste. This was a delicous bread, though quite a bit different than other sourdoughs I have had. I will have to learn more about the Milwaukee sourdough tradition in order to see if this was a typical offering or not.

Lastly, we tried the seeded baguette. I found this baguette to be very unique. It was encrusted in fennel, sesame, poppy, and caraway seeds. The unique flavor could be traced to the number of fennel seeds, making it a powerful flavor. The scent of the crumb was almost rye and was moist and nicely holed. The crust was hard, thick, and did not flake. Overall a very enjoyable bread.

The Stinking Bishop is a very pungent cheese. We asked Whole Foods for a soft and pungent cheese that would be ready to enjoy in about an hour, and this is exactly what we got. The Bishop was silky, but not melty, and had a nice sponge to it. The rind was soft, light, and golden. It worked well with the baguette and even better with the sourdough–to our suprise. The cheese brought out more of the sour aroma.

Over-all I highly recommend the Red Hen.

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Mike Hoppa - Hey guys, nice site! I may give the naan a try. I recently made some ethiopian bread from a recipe that was surprisingly good if you would like to give it a try I can pass on the recipe but it takes 3 days, so you really have to be in the mood. Are either/both of you coming to RF this year?

gemma - Hi Mike,
Good to hear from you. I would love to try your ethiopian bread recipe.
I am definitely coming to RF (I already have my plane tickets). I know there is a lot interest around here, but to my knowledge no one else has gotten a ticket yet.

Harold: Red Hen


located in an area of wicker park that the relentless march of
gentrification has only recently reached, the boutique-like decor and
atmosphere of the _red_hen_bakery_  belie the humble character of its
breads: they are straight-up good.  and by good i mean yummy.

i began with a basic focaccia the mere sight of which made me drool at
half-past nine on the saturday we visited.  the bread had a quite
chewy crust without being particularly crunchy or excessively oily and
the tomatoes were quite flavorful, especially considering it was
februrary.  it was very nicely sized for a light breakfast or snack
and fairly priced at just under two dollars.

the coffee was hot, fresh, and made from beans of an italian brand,
but was otherwise unremarkable.  it showed no signs of being
politically correct: viz. it was labeled neither organic nor

we continued our adventure with a mini asiago-black-pepper brioche (a
full-sized cousin with the same flavorings was also available).  the
asiago cheese had been employed with a pleasantly light touch and the
black pepper served as a nice counterpoint.  while the flavors were
nicely balanced, one who was not terribly fond of black pepper might
not enjoy this brioche.  we also tried a full-sized plain brioche
which was not as moist as some brioche but had pleasing saltiness and
a slightly challah-like texture.

the next bread we tried was a full sized loaf called a milwaukee sour.
 this sourdough seemed to have some whole wheat flour in it and was
both dense and fine textured.  interestingly, the glutens in this
bread seemed less developed than i would expect for a sourdough and it
was also more lightly salted than i would have expected.  nonetheless,
the subtle crust and divine aroma made this bread a real winner.

the olive rosemary bread was unusually well crafted: an intensely
flavored and very chewy crust served to balance the powerful flavors
of the kalamata olives and fresh rosemary.  the bread has a nice
saltiness to it and is my favorite example of this style that i have

the seeded baguette was not your average baguette: while most of the
good baguettes one finds in this country tend to have quite crunchy
crusts, this baguette had a wonderful chewy crust that retained hints
of crispiness.  moreover, the inside of this loaf was unusually
aromatic for a baguette, without seeming at all out of place.

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Originally uploaded by dumin.

I have decided to get a few friends on board and tour Chicago bakeries. We will post reviews of the bakeries and their individual products, as well as perhaps the occasional attempt at an in-home recreation of breads we have sampled.

My main partner in consumption and critique at the moment is Harold. With his discerning eye, delicate palate, and witty enthusiasm– Harold will offer his reviews along side of mine.

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New Book

I ordered a new cookbook that adds to my previous list Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. I have only made one thing from it thus far and it wasn’t very good (Mac and Cheese Florentine, made without cheese but rather with a cashew paste). Next time I will make a soup, chowder, or stew from it and stick to slow cooker basics. I think the main course section will be hit or miss.

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On super bowl Sunday we had a number of friends over to watch the game. As football is not a sport I generally follow and sitting space in our living room was limited, I decided I would make pretzels.

I followed the pretzel recipe from Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno’s Ultimate Bread. I had made pretzels before with semi-success. They always came out too dense and chewy. These turned out fantastically. I doubled the recipe and followed it almost exactly. I topped them with coarse sea salt and served them warm with the two mustards John and I made over the last week:

On the left is our horseradish and vermouth mustard and on the right is our malt vinegar and stout mustard.

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Gale - GEMMA! Great idea, loved the information! (Your mom forwarded this to me.) G. Trausch

gemma - Thanks Gale, I’m glad you like it.