More than a dozen retail bakeries across the country are joining a bold new initiative to offer unique versions of soft sandwich breads that are made with simple — and fewer — ingredients including 50% to 100% whole grain flour. Branded as the Bread Lab Collective and organized by top bakers working with Washington State University’s prestigious Bread Lab, this initiative involves a national group of craft bakers, millers, teachers, students and wheat breeders who joined forces to create pure and simple whole wheat sandwich bread that appeals to all.
“There’s much greater interest across the country today in clean food, healthy food,” says Amy Emberling, co-managing partner of Zingerman’s Bakehouse, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “By returning to artisan techniques, intentional ingredient choices and including freshly milled whole grains, we’re able to connect to our communities, our land and our traditions in a meaningful, nourishing way.”
In late 2019, Zingerman’s Bakehouse introduced State St. Wheat, a five-ingredient sandwich loaf created to bring the nutrition and flavor of artisan baking to the sandwich bread aisle. Though State St. Wheat looks and tastes familiar, the way it’s made — with only natural ingredients and no added preservatives — is quite different than a typical sandwich loaf. The 1½-pound loaf sells for $5.99.
“We talk about this as a more familiar bread, which is naturally leavened with no additives,” Emberling says. “It has a mellow flavor, not too sour, and the color is not off-putting. With this project, we are really emphasizing flavor first. If we tell people, it tastes really good, people will try it. We started selling it in our stores in August. It has been really well received.”
Others involved in the Bread Lab Collective’s sandwich loaf program include King Arthur Flour Bakery in Vermont, Barrio Bread in Arizona, Seven Stars Bakery in Rhode Island), Breadfarm in Washington state, Prager Brothers in California, and Elmore Mountain Bread in Vermont. Each bakery’s recipe is different, in keeping with local taste and ingredients and with each bakeries flavor and process preferences.
Ten cents of every Bread Lab Collective loaf sold will benefit the Bread Lab’s efforts in support of appreciating the cultures and traditions that define what we eat, and to continue its role in moving food systems forward in more meaningful and just directions.
Another prominent baker who is part of the movement is San Francisco three-store retailer Jane the Bakery, which features a 900-gram whole grain sandwich bread for under $6.
“It’s a soft, sourdough bread that is perfect to get to more people,” says Amanda Michael, owner of Jane the Bakery, who points that out that scores of parents are buying this sandwich bread for their families with children. “We’ve seen a huge increase in that: high quality comfort food.”
The Bread Lab Collective features soft, sliced loaves that are made with seven or fewer ingredients in formulas developed by King Arthur Flour’s Jeff Yankellow, making them a good source of both whole grains and fiber. It is a long-fermented bread with none of the “non-food” items commonly found in this type of soft bread, such as dough conditioners, vital wheat gluten, flavorings, colors and preservatives. The shelf life is five days, after which it should be frozen.
The Bread Lab Collective’s sandwich loaf program aims to improve access to nourishing bread, crafted by artisan techniques, made of seven or fewer ingredients, with at least 50% whole grain flour.
“We hope the launch of State St. Wheat inspires other artisan bakers to join us, so Bread Lab Collective sandwich bread is available in every state,” Emberling says.