Gemma: Bennison's Bakery


This past Saturday Harold and I ventured to the outskirts of Chicago where lies Evanston, an off-shoot of the city that is neither truly Chicago nor quite a suburb. The purpose of this trek was to visit Jory Downer's  Bennison's Bakery who, along with two other bakers from the U.S., just won the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (The World Cup of Baking). How lucky we are to have such a notable baker in our own backyard.


We purchased four items from the busy store: a seeded baguette, a strawberry rhubarb brioche, an S.O.P. round loaf, and a raisin bread loaf. In addition, we ordered coffee and tea and a croissant. We sat on a park bench outside the store and enjoyed our warm beverages while I munched on the croissant. This was a superb croissant, very rich and soft with an incredible flakiness. My all-black attire was covered in greasy-golden specks when I was through.


We drove back down to Hyde Park, and as usual, planted ourselves hungrily at my dining room table. We began with this beautiful and intriguing strawberry rhubarb brioche. This tasted very much like a danish, which are delicious. This was a very wonderful pastry, but I must say the virtues of the brioche were lost underneath the other ingredients. I love brioche however, so perhaps this would not be as heart-breaking to another. In the end the brioche tasted a bit dry when I didn't have a mouthful of jam to accompany it. The toppings were sweet, but not over the top. All in all, I would have loved to try a plain brioche, which they may in fact sell some days.


We then moved on to the breads. Clockwise from the top we have the seeded baguette, the S.O.P. round, and the raisin loaf. The seeded baguette was in short one of the best I have had. It was seeded with sesame, black sesame, poppy, and sunflower seeds. It had a perfect crust: not to thick, not to thin, and very crispy. The crumb had great integrity, soft yet strong, well-holed, moist and resilient. The flavor goes great with butter, but is not needed to improve the taste in the least. This was a great, no-nonsense, well-built baguette. My only complaint was that it was perhaps overly seeded. The seed flavors were nice, but it could have been toned down a bit so as not to overpower the breads real flavor. I imagine they also make unseeded baguettes some days as well.


Next we tried the S.O.P. round. You are probably wondering what such an acronym means and I unfortunately have to admit that we are too. I will have to give the bakery a call in the next few days to figure it out, as the ideas that Harold and I came up with are surely not correct. It is the 'S' that keeps throwing me off. I am fairly confident that the 'O' stands for olives and the 'P' for peppers. This was a very soft and egg-y bread, with a moist crumb and a thin crust (much like a. . . hamburger bun. . .). The bread had very few diced olive pieces and many large yellow, green, and red bell pepper pieces. I do not understand the choice of bell peppers. Their use created wet pockets that were cold, flavorless, and slimy. This bread was unique, but uninspiring. The flavors were strange, bland, and begging for salt. This could make a good garlic bread, perhaps. If cut into thin slices and topped with butter, herbs, and lots of garlic then broiled. Perhaps then the flavors would improve/be covered up and the hamburger bun softness would crisp up as would the slimy bell peppers. This was a strange bread.


Finally, we moved on to the raisin bread (the interior shot above shows this on the left and the seeded baguette on the right). This was a heavy and dense bread, with a soft and strong crust dusted with cornmeal, and a soft and springy crumb. It was packed with yellow raisins (which are called sultanas, yes?) and fennel seeds which creates a very interesting taste combination that I grew to be quite pleased with. This is a delicious and well-constructed bread which keeps well (I have been enjoying slices for breakfast the past few days).


Above you can see the interior of the S.O.P. round. Below you can see Harold passed out in my living room after too much bread.


Bennison's is a lovely bakery. They specialize in pastries and cakes, but their baguettes and croissants were superb. Stay away from the S.O.P. though. I hope to go back to find a plain brioche one day.