It was a pilgrimage I had long wanted to make, but the timing was never right: Saturday mornings at Born and Bread Bakehouse in Lakeland.
I had tried Born and Breadís bread once before, slathered in some house-made ricotta cheese that sent me on a ricotta toast kick for a while. But I had never made the journey to wait in line at the bakehouse, 1113 S Florida Ave., between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon on a Saturday.
Itís the only time Jenn Smurr, the owner and baking brains behind the company, opens the doors to the public. The rest of the week is spent perfecting sourdough loaves and croissant dough. And they donít just do bread: There are biscuits and chocolate croissants, cruffins and brioche.
But Lakeland is a solid hour from my house, and I could never work it in. Until an early morning drive from Tampa Bay to Orlando put me square in Born and Bread territory around 9 a.m. one recent Saturday.
I pulled up along Florida Avenue and found a spot in the small parking lot next to the bakery, which recently expanded into the space next door, so itís now home to a large kitchen on one side and a rustic/chic seating area on the other, the words American Dream hanging in neon red lights on one wall.
The line of hungry bread lovers waiting to get in extended out the doors and down the sidewalk, but it wasnít until I was 30 minutes into my wait that I realized just how long the line was going to be.
Some people were regulars; others like the family in front of me were first-timers, clearly very excited to be here after hearing so much buzz.
I waited for an hour, the hot sun beating down on us as we approached the doors, and the long list of items available that morning, written on a scroll of brown paper and affixed to a baking rack.
Once inside, I was almost too distracted by the dozens of pastries and other sweets, one of each laid out in a display case, their names handwritten in front of them, to remember to grab a loaf of bread. But soon, I was walking out with a hefty bag of pastries and a large loaf of multigrain.
Born and Breadís specialty is these loaves, which are made from a dough that has been carefully cultivated and nurtured over time to let bacteria develop naturally and create the yeast that makes bread rise.
I ate some as soon as I got home, then sliced half of the rest and froze those slices, using them here and there for avocado toast and such. The other half went in the freezer too, and I took it out this week to serve as the base for a panzanella salad.
Panzanella is an Italian dish typically composed of day-old bread, tomatoes, herbs and a simple dressing. Itís a smart way to use up bread thatís about to go bad because the juice from the tomatoes and dressing gets soaked up, reinvigorating your bread a bit.
You donít need a super high-quality bread for this recipe, which is kind of the beauty of it. But it certainly helps. I figured the nutty, yeasty flavor of the multigrain bread and the toothsome texture would pair nicely with my other salad ingredients, mainly tomatoes and fresh herbs. Plus, since itís summer, peaches. And cucumber and pine nuts for crunch.
It was a fine way to put to use the last remnants of my bread journey.
Peach and Mozzarella Panzanella Salad
1 loaf of your favorite bread, preferably a day or two old
Salt and pepper
2 medium peaches, quartered, pits removed
3 medium heirloom tomatoes, sliced and gently deseeded
1 medium cucumber, cut into Ĺ-inch cubes
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed
ľ cup pine nuts, or walnuts
Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
Handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons minced shallot or red onion
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Arugula, for serving, optional
Cut bread into 1-inch cubes, and add to a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat bread.
Cook peaches in a cast-iron skillet heated over medium-high heat, or on a grill, for about 5 minutes until peaches are browned and sort of charred. Remove from heat and set aside.
To the bowl with the bread, add tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella, pine nuts and herbs. Toss well.
Make the dressing: Whisk together the minced shallot, mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Put on a lid and shake or whisk to combine.
Once peaches are cooled, add to bowl with bread mixture. Pour the dressing over the salad mixture and gently toss once again to coat all ingredients.
Let salad sit 10 minutes or so for the flavors to mingle. Serve as is or over a bed of arugula for a more salad-y feel.
Serves 2 to 4.
Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times