It was almost my birthday and the rain was bouncing against cement sidewalks in waves, as it does in the dead of winter in Portland. Barrett and I were reclined in the seats of our car meditating – yes, meditating – passing the minutes til it reached 7pm with cold nostril inhales and be-just-as-you-are exhales. I’m pretty sure Dr. Seuss would call our pre-dinner-get-in-the-mother-fucking-date-zone-via-meditation “weird love.” It totally is.
When we stumbled out of our car, lighter than we were just twenty minutes prior and with the ho hum of work far behind us, we ran towards the nearest door marked 537 SE Ash. “It’s locked!” I turned and shouted at him probably too loudly, rain falling on my mascara’d eyelashes and for-once-in-my-life blow-dried hair. (Bourré and I share a mutual hate for the blow dryer.) But before I could turn back around to peer inside, I felt the door push back against me and the next thing I knew we were being ushered into a cavern of indoor warmth by a bearded man in a seriously beautiful jean and leather apron, who said with a smile, “I always check the back door around this time…you’re not the first. Come on in.”
His name was Will Preisch. And we’d later learn he wasn’t just our savior from rain and wind and general outfit destruction; he was one of our two chefs for the night, along with Joel Stocks, at the Portland modernist fine dining hotspot that is Holdfast. His gesture to check the back door, just minutes before service began, should have tipped me off for the kind of experience that we were in for. Not one that hinges only on bellies full of delicately plated dishes. (It did that too.) But one where the service is warm and thoughtful. Where you’re not mere dinner patrons waiting to be served; you’re like the neighbor from down the street, eating and drinking and laughing amongst friends who just so happen to be insanely good at cooking and wine selection.
We spent the next three hours cozied up at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, eating course after course — nine to be exact — polished and plated right in front of us. Melt-in-your-mouth wagyu steak with whipped potatoes and marrow butter; sticky honey cornmeal madeleines with a dusting of freshly shaved parmesan; a bowl of black garlic custard served alongside soft steamed, seed-speckled brown bread, a bread for which Holdfast is quickly becoming known. With each plate that arrived, the two chefs paused prep and offered a brief explanation for the dish’s concept and technique, along with words on how the wine, chosen by bar manager Jeff Vejr, came to couple with the dishes.
At the end of the meal, Will, Joel, and Jeff came out with several silver tins, each small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and wrapped in a piece of white paper with text on it. “We want you to take these home with you, small bites of our brown bread to remember tonight, along with the recipe, so you can make it yourselves.” I could hardly believe my ears and hands – there had been a lot of wine – but were they seriously sending us home with a present? One that included carbs for tomorrow’s inevitable hangover and a recipe for the bread that made me actually swoon? This is the best day of my life.
As we left and waved our goodbyes to our new neighbor-like-fine-dining-friends, Jeff said to us, “Don’t be shy about reaching out if you have any questions about the recipe!” Because I’m shameless, I did. And they responded. And that right there, that’s taking service to a whole new level.
Many thanks to the trio at Holdfast for giving me permission to share the recipe for this beautiful bread with you lovely readers and for answering all the questions I had while sourcing ingredients and testing the bread. (What? They said I could email!) I’ve never steamed bread before, never even heard of this method, but the technique of cooking it in a bain marie tented with tin foil yielded a bread that was evenly baked and incredibly moist. The bread itself is intensely flavorful thanks to the addition of various seeds (caraway and dill) as well as several different flours and meals. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to have trouble waiting for it to cool down enough before diving in. Enjoy, y’all, and thanks again to Holdfast! See y’all soon, I’m sure. xx
- 1 tablespoon, or 7 grams, of caraway seed
- 1 teaspoon, or 2 grams, of dill seed
- 1-1/4 cups, or 150 grams, of rye flour
- ¾ cups, or 85 grams, of graham flour
- ½ cup, or 75 grams, of pumpernickel meal*
- 1 heaping cup, or 80 grams, of cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons, or 6 grams, of kosher salt, or 1 teaspoon of regular table or sea salt
- 1 teaspoon, or 10 grams, of baking soda
- 2-1/2 cups, or 520 grams, of buttermilk
- ¾ cups, or 240 grams, of molasses
- 4 ounces of unsalted butter, softened
- ⅛th cup of honey
- kosher salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl until blended. Add the buttermilk and molasses to the dry ingredients. It should be a fairly wet bread dough, almost more like a thick batter, really.
- Grease loaf pans with butter and pour batter into the loaf pans, stopping ⅔ of the way up the sides. If you don’t have mini loaf pans, you can also use regular loaf pans or even ramekins, just be sure to divide evenly and monitor throughout the baking process as the cooking times may vary depending on the size of your pan. Cover each loaf pan loosely with tin foil and place in a large, tall-rimmed (at least 1-inch rims) baking sheet.
- Place the baking sheet with the loaf pans in the oven and pour water into the baking pan, creating a bain marie, until it reaches halfway up the sides of the loaf pans. Allow the bread to steam in the oven for 4 hours, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven, discard the tin foil and allow to cool for 25 minutes.
- To remove the bread from the loaf pans, bang each pan on the countertop once cooled and then invert. If you’re having trouble, running a butter knife along the edges of the pan might help. Serve with regular butter, or, if you prefer, with the salted honey butter recipe provided here.
- Whip butter at medium speed for 1 minute. Add honey and continue whipping until soft and fluffy. Add salt, a little bit at a time, until it reaches your desired salt preferences.