No matter what the gray, lashing skies of winter portend, opening the door to the Nine Bean Rows bakery and cafe on Front Street in Traverse City offers the warm, essential comfort of baking. The simple trinity of yeast, flour and salt is naturally leavened and transformed into crackling rustic loaves that effuse their vapor into the intimate space. Nine Bean Rows owners Jen and Nic Welty run their bakery with the humility of farmers and the souls of artists, using a wood-fired oven to forge the perfect texture into the crusts of their rustic baguettes, airy ciabatta and cultish sea salt and fennel bread. Beyond her much-loved loaves, Jen Welty crafts some of the finest croissants this side of the Seine, working a private magic to render flaky layers of buttery pastry sprinkled with almonds and stuffed with marzipan or chocolate; a perfect complement to a cup of coffee on a chill and blustery morning. 439 E. Front st., Traverse City, 231.271.1175
Bonus Interview with Jen Welty, Owner/Baker Nine Bean Rows
Born with a love of food and farming, Jen Welty fell in love with Northern Michigan during an internship at Black Star Farms while pursuing a degree in crop science. Jen and her husband, Nic, returned to pilot the CSA and baking programs at Black Star before launching Nine Bean Rows in 2008. On a cold fall afternoon we sit down with Jen to talk leavening science and the best use for day old bread.
You and other artisan bakers tout the natural leaven; what’s up with that?
Natural leavening is at the core of good bread baking. We start by crushing whole rye berries in a grain grinder and adding a little water. After three days it’s bubbling and frothing with yeasts and bacteria and smells exactly like unoaked chardonnay. We then feed the starter wheat, rye or semolina flour, and it becomes one of the 250 loaves we bake every day.
What does your baking regimen look like?
We typically start at 9:30 in the evening, organize the bread schedule, fire the ovens and get down to baking 250 loaves and 700 croissants for the 6 a.m. truck.
The best use for old bread?
I love to make pain perdu (French toast) with brioche or baguette. Older drier bread will have more developed flavors and be better for soaking up the egg mixture. Beat up a few fresh farm eggs infused with cinnamon, rosewater or fresh herbs, and let the bread soak until it’s completely saturated, then cook in butter over medium heat until it turns golden brown. We like to top it with fresh cream or yogurt.