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Where are the best places to find finely-made artisan loaves in St. Louis?

Artisan bread crafted by Union Loafers, located in the Botanical Heights neighborhood of St. Louis.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Artisan bread crafted by Union Loafers, located in the Botanical Heights neighborhood of St. Louis.

“Bread is the staff of life,” or so the Biblical saying goes, and St. Louis has a lot of restaurants and bakeries working (literally) around the clock to produce some fine loaves for locals to munch on.  Artisanal bread is considered au courant across the country right now, and Sauce Magazine recently profiled five establishments that are producing such bread in “Loaves We Love.”

In “St. Louis on the Air’s” monthly “Sound Bites” segment in partnership with Sauce Magazine, contributor Steve Potter spoke with managing editor Heather Hughes about the trend. Joining Hughes were Ted Wilson, founder and baker at Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery, and Brian Lagerstrom, chef and assistant baker, who discussed how they make bread and how they founded Union Loafers.

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Heather Hughes, managing editor, Sauce Magazine.

What is artisanal bread exactly?

“I think it is more specialized,” said Hughes. “It has a greater focus on using traditional methods and better ingredients to create bread. It is a bit slower process, fewer ingredients.”

“The bread scene has been focused more on sourcing local grains and changing from mass-produced to smaller quantities,” she continued. “People want better product.”

How much can an artisanal loaf of bread cost?

Locally, about $8, said Hughes. “It’s worth it.”

Who is doing this locally?

Sauce focused on Union Loafers, J. Devoti Grocer, Truffles Butchery, Winslow’s Home  and 4 Seasons Bakery. Read more here.

What techniques are used in baking the bread?

“The fundamentals of baking bread by natural leavening are old-world, but we choose to avoid using our mixer more than we need to,” said Wilson. “… We use our mixer to pull ingredients together but then we let time and our occasional hand on the dough build the strength of the gluten to be able to rise this stuff.”

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Ted Wilson, founder and baker, Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery

  What does fermentation have to do with it?

“Fermentation is…beer and bread, as the Germans would say,” Wilson said. “As I built this bakery, I worked at Urban Chestnut and the cross-over between beer and bread is enormous. The relationship between beer and bread is fundamental.”

“What varies is the grain, the type of fermentation and length of time and just adjusting those is like the entire world of bread and beer,” said Lagerstrom.

Can you bake artisanal bread at home?

“It is far less complicated that anyone might assume,” said Wilson. “If you have a crockpot, you’re fine. Creating an environment that allows moisture to be retained during the first part of the bake is what gives you crusty bread. You could make anything short of a baguette.”

Lagerstrom recommends reading “Tartine Bread,” which goes into excruciating detail about how to make good bread.

“The first ten times I baked a loaf of bread, it seemed impossible for it to hold itself up,” said Lagerstrom. “I hadn’t built enough strength into it, hadn’t fermented it enough. It seemed like magic that I just wasn’t capturing. After many failures in a row, I figured it out and now there is no mysterious force driving it.”

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Brian Lagerstrom, chef and assistant baker, Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery.

What makes Union Loafers bread unique?

“Ted and me for a lot of the day are just two dudes in a room fully focused on making bread, a relatively small amount of bread,” Lagerstrom said. “Each one of us touches every loaf from start to finish. I think that’s unique. There aren’t a lot of places in the country where that is happening.”

“On paper what we do may seem basic, but it is one hundred percent of our focus every single day and that’s what allows us to figure out the nuances of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a loaf of bread that takes 40 hours to rise,” said Wilson.

Favored condiments?

“Ted and I are very fond of mayonnaise, we make several varieties,” said Lagerstrom.

“It is America’s and my favorite condiment,” said Wilson. “It is important to sandwich construction. Bread alone is nice but without butter (which we’ve made but don’t currently make), without mayonnaise, without mustard, without good olive oil, it can become a little boring.”

Bonus question: When was the last time you had Wonderbread?

“I keep some stashed in the freezer, just in case,” Lagerstrom said. “I don’t even know [what I use it for], I just have it. The other day I made Indian food and I didn’t have naan, so I toasted up a piece of Wonderbread. It was really good and really sweet.”

“This summer with some ham that I had stolen from my parents’ house and some yellow mustard,” said Wilson.

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Union Loafers' cheesy bread.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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