Babettes Artisan Bread: A Mecca for Bread Lovers in Denver

Babettes Artisan Bread is a proud user of King Arthur Flour.This story was originally featured in the Holiday 2015 issue of Sift Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

The first batch of sourdough loaves go into the oven at 5 a.m. Steve Scott, owner of Babettes Artisan Bakery in Denver Colorado, has been on his feet since well before 3 a.m. He moves around his tiny bakery/storefront with purpose, no motion made without intent.

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

He opens the oven deck and rotates the loaves inside 180°, then turns and walks four paces to the left, inspecting a rising tub of pain levain and confirming it’s ready for a stretch and fold. Without missing a beat he’s back at the ovens, opening the decks and rotating the next round of breads. Four steps to the right and he’s standing by his pastry chef Ezmirelda, examining today’s viennoiserie.

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

Satisfied, he turns his attention to shaping an impossibly wet batch of whole wheat, breaking every few minutes to open and close the oven doors, carefully turning and tending each loaf of bread until it’s baked to caramel perfection.

Babette's Artisan-28

“We’re not doing things the easy way,” he says with a mischievous smile. “Everything here is super finicky, and that’s kind of the way I like it. It keeps it exciting – keeps it fresh.”

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

He plunges his hands into a batch of slowly fermenting poolish, which will become tomorrow morning’s baguettes.

“What we do right here determines the rest of our day. You have to feel the product to truly know what it’s doing. That’s why we do so much of our mixing by hand. When you stick something in a machine and push a button, you lose control over the process. Every batch is different; you have to be in tune with it.”

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

For the initiated, Babettes is church. Customers travel from all over the country just to buy bread. Co-owners Katherine and Steve Scott know all of their regular patrons by name, and purchase most of their ingredients from businesses and farmers nearby. The sense of community is real.

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

Doors open at 8 a.m., and customers eagerly accept samples and explanations of today’s offerings. The Kamut Wheat is a hit – its burgundy red crust, open and tender crumb, and flavorful complexity wows the people in line. Loaves fly out the door and by 10 a.m., he’s sold out.

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

“I like to tell people I have French technique with Italian sensibility – Italians don’t really have sensibility. Most people use an 85% to 90% baker’s percentage (the ratio of water to flour by weight) – we’re consistently at 100% or more. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose – but people know that whatever we put on the counter is guaranteed.”

For the unfamiliar, Babettes’ trademark dark loaves can cause objections. Steve often hears complaints about his “burnt bread.”

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

“Most of the flour we bake with is ground just before we’re ready to use it, for maximum flavor and nutrition – when it first comes out of the mill it drinks up a lot of water, and we capitalize on that. But if you’re going to use higher hydration, you have to bake it dark, otherwise you’re going to get a gummy crumb.”

What about those who say his bread is overdone?

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

“The customer isn’t always right – sometimes you have to educate them. Bakers need to speak up for themselves about how they do things and the reasons why. That’s the only way that we can advance our craft.”

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

It’s not just the bread that Steve likes dark – the entire bakery counter reflects his fascination with pushing the limits and breaking established norms. You can understand why some people are skeptical – but tear into a warm croissant and prepare to have everything you thought you knew about pastry fly straight out the window.

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

The flavor is involved and nuanced; rich, but so clean you can taste the characteristics of the grain. The exterior is flaky and sweet from the caramelization of a hotter bake; the interior so airy and moist you won’t believe you were ever satisfied with less.

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

“Most people bake croissants at 385°F; we’re baking them at over 500°F. The oven spring from the hearth gives it that lift – we use frozen butter, frozen milk, sometimes frozen flour as well. We’re able to bake them for shorter times, which increases the flavor and retains the moisture.”

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

Steve’s ingenuity and ambition is limited only by his physical ability to keep running. He is proud, almost boastful about the toll his work has taken on him.

“When I was getting started, I remember seeing this photo of a baker at Poilâne in Paris. He looked so destroyed. That image really struck a chord for me. He had this look of exhaustion – uncompromised determination. It’s a tradition. That’s what it takes…”

Babette's Artisan via @kingarthurflour

Risk, experimentation, and a militant adherence to producing the highest quality products possible is what keeps Steve moving forward. He’s never satisfied. It isn’t enough to have some of the best bread in the country – for him, it’s all about pushing the envelope, and finding out what might be hiding around the corner, what great breakthrough is just over the next horizon.

“I want to be the first baker to win a Michelin star.” He says. A lofty goal, but not out of the realm of possibility. He’s really that good.

Julia Reed
About

Julia Reed is a New England-based food and lifestyle writer/photographer, and Multimedia Producer at King Arthur Flour. Educated at Emerson College in Boston, she spent 5 years in Los Angeles before returning East, leaving behind food trucks, secret dinners, and year-round farmers' markets to pursue ...

comments

  1. Laura Fischer

    Awesome article! I’m in the ‘dark camp’, too…bold bakes, all that extra flavor brought out. Their croissants look amazing, as well as everything else!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Many artisan bread bakers believe that the darker the crust, the richer the flavor (inside and out). Also, Steve says, “Most of the flour we bake with is ground just before we’re ready to use it, for maximum flavor and nutrition – when it first comes out of the mill it drinks up a lot of water, and we capitalize on that. But if you’re going to use higher hydration, you have to bake it dark, otherwise you’re going to get a gummy crumb.” Barb@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel

      Well, luckily there are no baking police, right? We each get to make our own judgement as to crumb, crust, flavor, and everything else. There’s no “right” and “wrong” when you’re baking; just different choices that will yield different results. Think of it as existentialism in the kitchen… 🙂 PJH

    2. Elaine

      To PJ: I agree there should be no baking police. What tastes good is a matter of personal taste, with no right or wrong. Whether you like dark or light crust is your business, and it’s wonderful that we can make or buy bread that meets our own taste.

      But that is exactly NOT what Steve said. He said that the customer is not always right and needs to be educated, with the very clear implication that people who don’t agree with him are wrong. I am surprised and disappointed that KAF didn’t call him out on that.

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Elaine, thanks for writing. Steve’s reasons for baking the loaves very dark are included in the post itself (to avoid a gummy interior crumb), so we didn’t feel it was necessary to reiterate this lesson. We encourage readers to share their thoughts and opinions in the comment section, all of which we respect. Kye@KAF

  2. Libby Dodd

    I enjoyed this article in Sift and was delighted to re-read it here.
    I’ve been experimenting with a wetter dough. It can be challenging to handle, but lovely to eat.
    I’m also allowing the mix to mellow in the ‘frig for 2 days before shaping and baking.
    Water, flour, yeast, and salt can produce some amazing stuff!

    Reply
  3. Maria

    I like the dark crunchy crum
    I wish I could make great fool proof bread all the time
    Sometimes my bread is soggy inside can someone tell me what I am doing wrong ?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Maria, without a little more information it’s hard to say what’s going wrong with your bread. We’d love to talk to you about your soggy crumb structure. Please give us a call at the Baker’s Hotline (855-371-2253). Barb@KAF

    2. Bob

      I bought a Thermapen classic instant read thermometer. I check my loaves and bake them till I get an internal temp of about 195 to 200 degrees. That gives a normal brown crumb and a properly baked inside. Maybe to get a dark crumb, try upping the temp of the oven by maybe 10 degrees or so. That would over-bake the outside while keeping the inside at proper temp of the 195 to 200? I’m somewhat guessing because I never really tried it. I like the golden crust.

    3. Susan Reid

      Bob, you can certainly bake the bread longer for a darker crust; don’t get too hung up on the internal temperature. That’s most accurate for sandwich loaves, which have some fat and sometimes eggs in them. For artisan doughs, you can get a reading of 205 or more with no loss of interior moisture. Susan

  4. Eddie the home baker

    The dark crust is a real must for getting the most out of sourdough bread. Bite into a slice of fresh bread and you get that nice texture of the crumb with subtle sourness and then the crust gives you that pop of tanginess. It’s addictive!!!

    Reply
  5. Lorena

    Wonderful story. So glad to read about someone working with passion to point of exhaustion. I love the dark color. 2015 I took a bread baking class with a local bread maker- she spoke of reason for a darker crust. We got to taste the difference and now as I bake my own bread, I too, let it get dark.
    I just took out of the oven 2 loafs of Fresh Dill Rye Bread- can’t wait to give it a try. Yep, I cooked it dark. 🙂
    I’ve learned so much from the KAF website and really love the products. More articles such as this would be welcomed.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We are happy to hear you are eager to give this bakery a try! Babbettes is located in The Source Building; for full directions and a map, check out the Visit Us section of their website. Enjoy your visit! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Donna, most yeasted breads are going to be done when the internal temperature is between about 200 and 205 degrees. Bryanna@KAF

  6. Lorraine Fina Stevenski

    I would LOVE one of those croissants right now. We also like our pizza crust extra crispy just on the border of burnt! More flavor and crunch.

    Reply
  7. L

    Had to adjust the contrast on my screen to lighten the crust to my preference. I do like a little char on my BBQ, not so much my bread. Which works best to get the burn off, a serrated knife or straight edge? Do like those croissants..

    Reply
  8. Amy

    Hooray for dark bread! Color = flavor, and I’ll honestly just never understand folk who prefer to stay within the pale. This gent’s whole wheat loaves must be a thing of beauty.

    Reply
  9. Emily

    I am a huge fan of King Arthur and an equally matched fan of Babette’s. Lucky to live 2 miles away and frequent often. The Oatmeal loaf is a personal favorite.

    Reply
  10. Alex H

    Wonderful article! And just a quick note to say the photography is stunning– well composed and beautiful images! Why aren’t I baking right this minute? 🙂 Thanks, KAF and Julia!

    Reply
  11. Jim Brich

    The “burnt parts” is the best part, next to the soft interior. What am I saying, the thing is the best part. I could easily eat the whole thing!

    Reply
  12. BJ

    I don’t care for burnt breads…not appetizing at all. I also don’t appreciate knowing that there are no gloves (sanitizing) while working with the dough. If I go to a deli and they don’t wear plastic gloves while preparing my order, I do not order and leave.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      BJ, because all the breads are baked, wearing gloves is not a food safety requirement when handling the dough. Gloves should be worn when handling items that are not going to be cooked or baked, or when handling the finished baked goods. Barb@KAF

  13. Beth

    Thanks for telling us about Babbettes. I happened to be in Denver over the weekend and I made a special trip to buy their bread. The olive bread is really good and I had a slice for lunch. The taste lingered with me (in a really good way!) and I had to have another slice at dinner. Please keep sharing these local gems with us!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Martin, we’re not sure if you’re talking about a loaf of bread you’ve purchased or you’ve made yourself — if you’re looking to troubleshoot, our bakers on the hotline would be happy to help! Give them a ring at 855-371-BAKE(2253) to help come up with some ways to give your loaves an additional boost. Kye@KAF

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