Richmond, VA knows good bread. We have great bakeries here and have had the standard, European style Billy Bread at hand in many stores for years. But, our everyday bakeries have been very American. The breads are soft and smooth and while delicious, they often lack the complexity of other worldly breads. But, as Richmond becomes more and more of a food mecca, our bread options are expanding too.
I stumbled upon Idle Hands bread at Outpost when procuring dinner items with a friend a year ago. Their everyday loaf is Tartine worthy. It’s complex, chewy, densely flavorful, and I knew this bread replaced anything I’d had in RVA.
I’m a sucker for sourdough having created my own via The Bread Bible’s method years ago. Tartine taught me how to make toothsome bread that felt like I was breaking bread with my 15th century ancestors and having Idle Hands means that I don’t always have to spend 5 days of my own time creating it (though in honesty, I love doing that).
They’ve opened a second bakery and storefront in The Fan on Strawberry St. and with Sunday hours, my sins are gonna need to be forgiven. Today I ordered a blueberry tart and plain croissant.
Croissants are a downfall for me. My love of the whole city of Montreal is in part because even their most basic, gas station croissants far exceed what we American’s eat. So, when a bakery offers a croissant, I consider it a litmus test. Idle’s doesn’t disappoint. First, they are impossibly big and perfectly shaped. They are layered, flaky, and soft in the exact right places, but what sets them apart is the hint of sourdough. I’d even venture to say that the sourdough’s need for time makes the dough a bit denser than yeast risen croissants, but this idea is from an amateur baker. These croissants would be perfect for sandwiches, but when don’t fool yourself in thinking that plain, plain, plain is anything but. Eat them. Often.
The blueberry tart was a dream too; the crust buttery, the cream layer smooth and delicate, and the blueberries sweet and flavorful. What I appreciated was that none of the individual components outshine the others yet I want that crust for everything. Burgers- give me that crust. Pizza- give me that crust. Chocolate pie- give me that crust. Creamed spinach- give me that crust. It’s crumbly flakiness is perfection, but I don’t want to know the amount of butter or even the butter’s fat content that makes that possible. I have a feeling they use Plugra or better.
The baguette. When learning to make bread, I started with baguette. Like the croissant, it’s a downfall/ litmus tester for me. In my own baking I came to understand that there are many variations of baguette. I’ve made many traditional version which use yeast and all purpose flour, but my favorite was the one Tartine taught me which uses sourdough and bit of whole wheat flour and lots and lots of time. What Idle Hands has given me, much like they have with their boule, is the same bread without taking away my own time.
In essence Richmond, we have the closest thing to a Tartine Bakery and Cafe in RVA. If you don’t know what this means, study up and thank your lucky stars. This is bread unlike what our American palettes can comprehend. This is a labor of love where flour, water, and salt meld together and speak to us a language that our we haven’t heard for generations. Go, devour, and love life.