Sort-of Secret: Breadhead, a one-woman bakery selling sourdough bread, croissants, cinnamon buns and doughnuts
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The sort-of secret: Breadhead, a one-woman bakery with a strong sourdough lean
You may have heard of it if: You came across the account searching for starter tips on Instagram
But you probably haven’t tried it because: The bakery just moved into its first retail location, operating out of the Vatican Gift Shop on Gerrard East
Mid-pandemic, when pastry chef Lucy Kirby was gearing up to launch a delivery service for baked goods, she ran into a problem: yeast was nowhere to be found. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Kirby opted to use sourdough starter to leaven her cinnamon buns and doughnuts instead, which made them the teeniest bit tart—a flavour further enhanced by substituting buttermilk for regular. (Now that yeast is easier to come by, she adds a pinch of it, too). “Everything I make that requires gluten is at least 50 per cent starter to yeast,” she says. “I always have excess starter, and waste drives me nuts.”
Kirby initially moved to Toronto from Vancouver to take a pastry job in a kitchen that ended up closing near the beginning of the pandemic. “To be honest, I was sort of excited to be in lockdown,” she says. “After years of working gruelling 15-hour days, I was burnt out. My entire life revolved around the kitchen.”
She spent a month trying to take it easy, but old habits die hard. “I’m the kind of person who can’t sit still,” she says. “I was losing my mind, so I started baking for my family and my neighbours. And during a weekend getaway with my boyfriend, we came up with the idea to launch a delivery service.”
Breadhead—a nod to Deadhead, fans of the Grateful Dead, of which Kirby is one—was born. She spent five days a week delivering small-batch goods, baked in her apartment, around Toronto. The menu was small at first: a round loaf of sourdough, cinnamon buns, crullers and chocolate chip cookies. “Driving around making deliveries all day meant visiting neighbourhoods I’d never really seen or spent time in before,” she says. “I fell in love with the city.”
Before long, her tiny apartment kitchen couldn’t keep up with the demand. For a time, she moved the business into her parents’ place, but as of this week, Breadhead is offering pre-orders for pickup out of a makeshift bakery housed in the Vatican Gift Shop, a closed-for-now bar in the east end.
Kirby makes a deceptively simple (read: perfect) loaf of sourdough, with white and rye flour sourced from an Amish farm. “Good flour has wild yeast in it,” she says. “So you get a much better flavour, texture and rise.” Her heavenly sourdough cinnamon buns are a menu mainstay. Chocolate chip cookies, with a gorgeous crackly top, are made with a hint of miso. The caramel apple fritters, filled with more apple compote than you might expect, have a welcome bite because the apples are cut into tiny cubes rather than disappearing into a paste.
Breadhead’s ultra-crispy croissants—a four-day labour of love—are also made with a hint of sourdough for depth of flavour. Same goes for the baguettes. The croissants and baguettes are only available in the Vatican’s recently opened bottle shop, open Thursdays to Mondays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. For all the joys we lost to the pandemic, we’ve gained the ability to walk (or skip) out of one store with both a croissant and a bottle of wine (or beer or bourbon or sake).
Breadhead’s selection of doughnuts, sold in a rotating “party box,” is a must-buy. House-made fillings—from summery strawberry jam to autumn-inspired pumpkin spice—are the secret ingredient (along with their sourdough base, of course). And if savoury flavours are more your speed, try the cheese and caramelized onion scone—it’s like mac and cheese dressed up in a fancy bread tuxedo.
“I think the industry is moving towards more sustainable business models,” says Kirby. “Small businesses are promoting each other and creating communities. I’m seeing all of these people–many of them women—leave typical kitchen culture behind to start their own businesses.” As for the future of Breadhead, Kirby wants to expand, but only to a point. Breadhead isn’t going to turn into a factory, she says. “I want to keep getting my chef’s coat dirty.”