April 1, 2019 | Posted by Christie Bok
“What’s your favorite restaurant in New York?”
This is without a doubt the most frequent question that I’m asked by my family and friends.
Contemplating between three (okay, maybe a dozen) restaurants to recommend was always a struggle until I stumbled upon High Street on Hudson. Situated on the boarder of the West Village and Meatpacking District, High Street is a cozy all-day restaurant and café founded by Eli Kulp and Ellen Yin around their love of bread. Their causal menu offers exactly what I want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and after just a few bites of the trio of homemade loafs – sourdough, Anadama, and a baguette – I finally had a surefire answer for anyone looking for a dining rec. But with that answer came a burning question for me: what is the secret behind the bread?
Eager to learn more about the deliciousness that is baked in-house daily, Steph and I were lucky enough to sit down with Melissa Weller, the Head Baker at High Street who recently joined Ellen and Eli as an operating partner after previously leading the baking programs at Sadelle’s, Roberta’s and Per Se. Melissa is a leader in the industry and in my opinion, makes some of the best bread and pastries in New York.
Melissa scores the dough right before baking to help it open up and become less dense.
Think sourdough with a deep-golden crackly exterior encasing a soft, chewy and slightly tangy interior. Melissa's snickerdoodle cookies are laced with smoked cinnamon and her spelt scones feature a filling of smooth rhubarb-raspberry jam. The Anadama bread, which is a traditional yeast bread from New England, is made with a variety of locally sourced grains, molasses and visible pieces of cracked corn. A thick slice of it serves as the base of High Street’s Avocado Tartine, which is easily my favorite item on the breakfast and brunch menu.
High Street on Hudson is unique in that it has a bread oven on-site. Here, the sourdough has just finished baking at 550 F.
To say that Steph and I were excited to spend a morning with Melissa and hear about her story and the bread program at High Street was an understatement. Over an array of pastries, we jumped right into and talked all-things bread.
On our pastry board: Pistachio Croissant, Cinnamon Cardamom Roll, Spelt Scone, Orange Almond Poppy Cake, Kouign Amann & Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodle
CB: You were previously an engineer turned pastry chef. What’s a day in the life like for you as a baker?
MW: I am up by 4am and get to the restaurant between 5:30 and 6:00am. First I check on the bakers and I check to see how the day’s bake is going. We bake off everything in the morning and I want to make sure it’s all going smoothly. By 8am I have a necessary cup of coffee. Then I start to look at our daily production – we mix and ferment our breads and doughs in the morning and are shaping by noon. When the production is heavy, I help divide and shape our breads or pitch in and do anything else that will help the team. Throughout the day I work with Mary on new dishes and recipe test. I also check in with the front of house and check to see how the retail display is selling for the day. I head home around 6pm. I help my son with his homework and get him to bed and then I will get back on my laptop and finish emails. I try to go to sleep around 9.
CB: You mention that finding the right balance between bacteria and yeast is the way you added more “oomph” to the bread at High Street on Hudson. Can you tell us more about your sourdough starter and striking that perfect balance?
MW: Sourdough starter is a natural yeast culture made from water, flour and the natural yeasts in the air. There is also bacteria that perpetuate themselves in the starter. The more frequently you ‘feed’ you starter, the happier the natural yeasts will be and they will grow, flourish and help to raise your bread. If you slow down your feeding, the bacteria will take over and the natural yeasts wont be able to raise the dough quite as high.
CB: The Anadama Bread has gorgeous pieces of corn throughout. That’s not something we see every day in bread and we love that! How do you incorporate the corn?
MW: Our Anadama is made with a cracked corn porridge. We cook the cracked corn in advance of making the dough. Then we fold in the porridge after we have mixed the dough, just as you would when folding nuts or dried fruit into bread dough.
CB: We’re very into experimenting with different flours and were thrilled the learn of that variety you use – from organic stone ground rye flour to whole wheat to sprouted Einkorn flour – in your breads. What flour would you recommend for someone just starting out with homemade bread?
MW: If you are just starting out making bread, I would start with 50% stone ground bread flour and 50% flour of your choice. It really depends on what is available to you. I love that GrowNYC Grains has such a large variety of different flours and so I would go with stone ground rye or emmer or einkorn.
CB: We love your Orange Almond Poppy Cake and were surprised to learn that it happens to be gluten and dairy free. Why is that?
MW: It’s richness comes from the almond flour, which also makes it gluten free. I add shredded coconut and a whole orange, which has been cooked and pureed, to the cake.
CB: If you could only make or eat one type of bread or pastry every day for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
MW: It would be a bagel, of course. They are fun to make and can be eaten with eggs, fish, cheese, bacon – all of my favorite things.