IS NIGHT OWL BAKER’S SOURDOUGH BREAD WORTH $12 A LOAF?
Before we answer that question, let’s indulge in a hypothetical: You have twelve dollars. Which of the following two items would you rather spend it on: a glass of middling wine or a spectacular loaf of bread, made entirely by hand from just-milled New York State grains that were fermented for up to four days and transformed into a dough that is teeming with beneficial bacteria? Many on the East End are willing to pay over the odds for the second one because not only is it well-tolerated by people sensitive to gluten (celiacs excepted), but it’s delicious. Which is to say this bread has followers. They congregate outside TIINA the STORE, in Amagansett, one afternoon a week – awaiting the arrival of baker Tracy Stoloff, who makes deliveries in her white Prius. And then there are the invisible devotees, the ones who go elsewhere for the winter. These people are so dependent – there is no other word for it – on Stoloff’s bread that they arrange to have her send it to them via overnight mail (she has a four-loaf minimum).
When Stoloff, who works out of the kitchen at Gosman’s Market in Montauk, has time, she’ll let the loaves cool in their vintage steel Pullman pans before she packages them. But if it’s late, she’ll deliver the loaves while they’re still warm. If you’re lucky enough to get a warm loaf, you’ll notice that it tastes pleasantly sour, has a dense crumb, and a hard crust. If you can manage to keep yourself from ripping into it on the spot, it’s best to go home at once, cut yourself a slice, and slather one side with a generous quantity of salted butter.
A delicate-looking woman who seems to have both feet on the ground, Stoloff makes no apologies for the price of her bread, given the amount of time it takes to produce a loaf and haul four hundred-pound sacks of flour from Brooklyn to Montauk. Anyone who has ever done small-scale organic farming or cooking knows that such endeavors are so labor-intensive that the money is rarely adequate compensation for the hours spent making or growing something. Stoloff, who cooked in fine dining restaurants on the West Coast before she migrated to Montauk, first tried her hand at baking bread five years ago. She was inspired to do so by a cult loaf that was sold at the Santa Monica Farmers Market by a local named Jack Bezian of Bezian Bakery. This loaf, like the one she eventually produced, was fermented for an unusually long time and owed its popularity to the fact that people who were sensitive to gluten could eat it without gastric distress. Stoloff, who used to run a vintage furniture shop in California, says she subsisted on this bread, and credits it with helping her to drop five pounds. So when she moved to Montauk, she tried to reverse-engineer it. Her levain, or starter, was made from grapes that grew at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton. Her first attempts, she says, were “inedible little bricks.” (Unlike Bezian, Stoloff was committed to baking with whole grains.) Eventually she got the hang of it, and the resulting loaf is all her own.
This year she started selling her bread at Provisions, in Sag Harbor, and plans are afoot to expand the operation. “I have customers who hadn’t eaten bread in five or six years,” she says. “Once you try a true fermented sourdough bread, it’s hard to eat any other kind,” she says. Her fans would agree.
For stockists or mail order inquiries, contact Tracy Stoloff at tracy@nightowlbaker. com