For a better rye bread, you’d have to go to New York City…
I grew up in New York City, surrounded by some of the best bakeries outside of Europe. Every neighborhood had multiple bakeries, each a little piece of the old country. We were all from immigrant families, almost nobody was more than second generation American. The bakeries were thus held to very high standards.
One of the biggest treats for me was whenever my dad would say “Let’s go to the bakery and get some chleba”. Chleba is the Slovak word for bread, but to me it meant New York bakery rye. Even as a child, I could eat a whole loaf at one time.
I left New York after college and moved to South Carolina. There is no bread there. Nothing I would call bread anyway. All you can find are soft white breads, sealed in plastic. Not a decent European bread with a real crust to be found. I came to the realization that there just was no good bread outside of New York. Especially rye.
We moved to El Paso about a year ago I went in search of real bread. I wasn’t expecting to find any, but I had to look. And I discovered Belle Sucre Bakery.
Belle Sucre makes the most authentic New York Bakery Rye bread I’ve ever had outside of New York. A two pound loaf, 40% rye, caraway seeds throughout, high gluten and a perfect crust that shatters! Actually, it is indistinguishable from the best I ever had in New York.
I am in heaven. I go to Belle Sucre every Friday to pick up my rye. It is always gone by Saturday. Sometimes I make salami or pastrami sandwiches on it, but more often I just eat it plain. It is seriously the most perfect bread I may have ever had.
Now that I think about it, you won’t get a better rye by going to New York. The best rye in the country may be right here in El Paso. The only thing that would be better by going to New York would be a ride on the 4 or 5 train to 86 Street for the world’s best hot dog lunch at Papaya King. But I think I might be disappointed in the bread up there now. BTW – I still call bread chleba.
If you are a bread or pastry fanatic, go to Belle Sucre. If you’re not, go anyway. If you haven’t been, you are seriously missing out.
Belle Sucre is located on the west side at:
7500 N. Mesa St., #307 El Paso, Texas 79912
Scroll down for more below the pictures…
I had to find out more about Belle Sucre so I had a chat with its baker/owner Jon Bowden. If he makes a rye that good, the rest of Belle Sucre’s products must also be fabulous.
Interview with Jon Bowden
What inspired you to seek out culinary training and, in particular, to become a professional baker?
“I was good at it and it wasn’t illegal. I wasn’t a very good kid. When I got into baking, I found I really enjoyed. it. It didn’t require a whole lot of college (which I didn’t want to do). It didn’t require me to learn a whole lot of things except how to bake. I really wanted a career where I wouldn’t have to go to school for a very long time and I wouldn’t get into trouble”.
Where did you obtain your culinary training?
“I started in high school. I went to the culinary vocational program for the Ysleta school district. There are a lot of notable guys around town and the world who went to the same program. It was a 2 year program and that’s where I got my start. After that, I attended the Culinary Insititue of America – I went there because it was the most expensive school and I figured that made it the best.”
What types of flours do you use?
“We get our many flours from General Mills, in particular Harvest King flour for our breads. This is an unbleached, unbromated flour that is both high quality and easily available. That is important in a commercial baking operation. We’ve used it for the last year, so I’m not about to switch. Switching flours can result in wild unpredictibility in the end product. Actually all our other flours (for cakes and other products) are also all unbleached and unbromated.
What is the most challenging product for you to make as a baker?
“The croissants. They’re almost a combination of pastry and bread. You need good attention to detail and it is a challenge to make these consistently well every day of the week. You really have to know what you’re doing and the only way to know is to have experience in doing it. Small changes in the temperature of the bakery from day to day or even hour to hour affect bread. Water temperature, mixing times all change so you just can’t follow a rigid set of rules and expect consistency. There *are* rules you have to follow, but it requires much more technique and adaptation on a daily basis. With breads it is an every single day thing that you have to know just what you’re doing.
What factors are the most critical for successful yeast breads?
“The temperature of the dough. If it is too hot, it ferments very quickly. If it is too cold, it ferments very slowly. You need a good knowledge of how to properly mix your dough. Actually, every part of the process is pretty much critical. If you mess up any one part, you can take a potentially great product and end up ruining it. You can have awesome bread as a dough, it is fermented… it has developed very well, then you go to shape it and, if you don’t know how to shape bread properly, you get a terrible product. A well-shaped loaf may look more attractive, but it also has more volume… it expands better… there are all kinds of things it will do that a poorly shaped loaf just will not do.
How do you decide what products to offer?
“I expected a big demand for breads and baguettes and the demand is pretty much turning out that way. Another really big seller is our chocolate cream cake. People seem to really like our cakes.”
Do you use already developed recipes?
“Sometimes I’ll just go and look in one of my books for a recipe if I don’t already have one that is a go-to. Some people may just bang out recipes for everything under the sun, but I’m more comfortable with starting with a known-good recipe and then customizing it. Some things we don’t really get recipes for at all such as mousses and custards. We just make them up as we go based upon known ratios. For some of the breads, it is just kind of a make it up aas you go. Once you have a basic understanding of how breads work, it is easy to just try stuff. It may not always work out but that’s ok.
Do you have any new products you’re thinking of adding?
“We’re going to add some more breads probably after Valentine’s day. I’d like to do a sourdough. Scheduling is going to be the biggest issue as it takes a good bit of time to learn how the sourdough responds. We are probably going to start doing some new muffins soon. Not necessarily adding items, but replacing some existing ones. I’m certainly not interested in making the very same things every day of my life. We’ll always have carrot cakes and lemon cakes – they’re real staples. We may do special things for holidays that we haven’t done before. I don’t think anyone will ever get tired of eating our croissants.