Gemma: Red Hen


We began our bakery tour last weekend with Red Hen. (See Harold's review below). We went to the Milwaukee Ave. location.

This cute, small store front filled to the brim with delicious looking baked goods, wooden shelves, and bright sunlight made for a perfect early Saturday morning excursion. The two nice young women presiding over the store were patient with our indecisivness and helpful when answering our questions.

After the intoxicating selection process we retired back to Hyde Park to enjoy our goods.

We began (in the car, I admit) with a focaccia. The thing that stood out to me most was the soft texture achieved without an overwhelming oily-ness. The seasoning was delicate and savory witout being over-powering. A very nice way to start the day.

We then began on the lovely things you see here:

Red Hen Breads

On the left you see two asiago cheese and black pepper mini brioches on either side of a mid-sized regular brioche. Up above you see our cheese selection, Stinking Bishop, and below that in the center we have our olive rosemary boule, to the right-- a Milwaukee sour, and of course, a seeded baguette.

The asiago cheese and black pepper mini brioche was delicious. They were true to their title and the black pepper was the stand-out flavor, the sharpness of which was nicely rounded out by the asiago cheese. These were not greasy and only had a hint of cheese, which worked well. The crumb was not as delicate as a typical brioche.

The regular brioche was airy and delicate with a golden flakey crust and a soft crumb. This was a well-crafted version of the standard brioche and Red Hen will certainly be my default brioche vendor from now on.

We then moved to the olive rosemary boule. When we sliced into the interior we were greated by large kalamata olives, fresh rosemary, and a mouth-watering aroma. The olives and rosemary were evenly distributed throughout the bread and there was a moist and shiny crumb. The crust was dark and thick. This was an amazing bread with a pungent but never overwhelming taste. You can see the interior in the picture below. The olive rosemary boule is on the right and the Milwaukee sour is on the left.

Red Hen Texture

We next sampled the Milwaukee sour which had a beautiful golden crust. One thing I noticed right away as the bread was being cut was the very resilient crumb. Upon further experimentation we found the bread could be fully compressed between your fingers and immediately bounce back to it's original stature. This sour was denser than others I have had, while also being perfectly moist. The crust was thin and hard and the crumb was chewy (in the good way). The bread had flecks of whole wheat. This was a far more substantial bread than most sourdough and was not as aromatic or as pungent in taste. This was a delicous bread, though quite a bit different than other sourdoughs I have had. I will have to learn more about the Milwaukee sourdough tradition in order to see if this was a typical offering or not.

Lastly, we tried the seeded baguette. I found this baguette to be very unique. It was encrusted in fennel, sesame, poppy, and caraway seeds. The unique flavor could be traced to the number of fennel seeds, making it a powerful flavor. The scent of the crumb was almost rye and was moist and nicely holed. The crust was hard, thick, and did not flake. Overall a very enjoyable bread.

The Stinking Bishop is a very pungent cheese. We asked Whole Foods for a soft and pungent cheese that would be ready to enjoy in about an hour, and this is exactly what we got. The Bishop was silky, but not melty, and had a nice sponge to it. The rind was soft, light, and golden. It worked well with the baguette and even better with the sourdough--to our suprise. The cheese brought out more of the sour aroma.

Over-all I highly recommend the Red Hen.