“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
For lovers of good bread, the words of 19th-century English poet, Robert Browning, resonate. Whether one is a regular at local farmers’ markets or has yet to make a trip, bread lovers might want to check out a new baker on the scene. Dennis Clarkson, recently resettled in Evanston and owner of Crust and Crumb, has turned a longstanding hobby of baking into a business venture and is currently making and selling artisan breads at local farmers’ markets. With an inventory of eight breads representing bread traditions from many parts of the world – all of them available for tasting – Mr. Clarkson is currently a vendor at the Central Street Farmers’ Market in Evanston and the Northbrook Farmers’ Market.
Although Mr. Clarkson and his wife, Frannie, are new to the bakery business, they were former restaurant owners and are fully at ease around an oven. For nine years they lived on Beaver Island in Michigan, 36 miles from Charlevoix, and operated a café in the small community that expanded seasonally to tourists.
“We live in Evanston now, and currently I’m working on building a brand here, by being visible in several North Shore communities. But my goal is to have a brick and mortar business soon. Eventually we plan on opening a café in Evanston,” said Mr. Clarkson. “I want to build a wood-fire oven, because the moisture of the brick and the intense heat produce the best products.” At present, several days a week he uses the commercial baking space at Flourish Bakery and Café, in the Chicago Edgewater neighborhood, to make his breads. When he is not crafting his breads or selling at farmers’ markets, Mr. Clarkson is teaching others the craft of artisanal bread making.
One of his signature breads is the Struan, a hearty Scottish harvest bread made with organic flour and containing polenta, rolled oats, cracked wheat, bran, and rice. “This is one of my most popular breads,” said Mr. Clarkson, “and I make it with a wild yeast that gives it a distinctive taste.” Other top sellers are his wild rice and onion bread and his Pugliese. The wild rice and onion bread uses a natural cane, hand-woven, bread-rising basket called a Banneton that helps to hold the shape of the rising loaf. It produces a round loaf of bread with an attractive floury spiral design at the top.
Pugliese bread, originally from Puglia, Italy’s boot heel and most southeastern part of the country, starts from a moist dough that creates holes in the nutty-flavored bread that characteristically has a crunchy crust. Mr. Clarkson noted that making his medium and dark rye breads is the most labor-intensive because it’s a three-day process.
Each of the breads from Crust and Crumb sells for $5 a loaf and can be purchased at various farmers’ markets. More information about Crust and Bread is available by calling 847-372-8184.