Old World Breads more than a bakery

December 14, 2015

I’m not sure whether to suggest you arrive hungry or wait until after you’ve recently eaten before opening the door to Keith Irwin’s Old World Breads bakery on Nassau Road in Lewes. The yeasty aromas of freshly baked bread mingle with hints of butter and sugar from pastries and croissants, then you catch the scent of savory chicken and leeks. This is clearly more than a bread bakery.

The main glass-shelved showcase in front of you is filled with loaves of raisin, sourdough, orange-cardamom and rustic ancient-grain breads as well as an array of rolls, cookies, scones and sweet treats. Next to the cash register is a tray of hot-from-the-oven chicken pot pies, fragrant steam wafting from the flaky top crust. To your right is the selection of artisanal cheeses, homemade soups, local milk and naturally sweetened sodas.

On the morning we stopped by the bakery for our weekly sourdough purchase, owner and baker Keith Irwin was waiting on customers. His name may be familiar to those of you who remember him as the pastry chef at Nage, and his face may be familiar to those who frequent the local farmers markets where he and his team regularly appear at 10 different locations.

Irwin is passionate about the relationships he has cultivated with local producers. He listed the ingredients in the still-warm chicken pot pies, naming each of the farmers he turned to for chicken legs, carrots, leeks and mushrooms. From Washington, D.C., to Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, the offerings at Old World Breads have a very nearby farm-to-table provenance.

During our conversation he mentioned dozens of places from T.S. Smith for a surprise supply of quinces to Backyard Jams & Jellies on the store’s shelves to Notting Hill Coffee for a special blend he sells by the cup. Award-winning Blue Vein Goat Cheese comes from FireFly Farms Creamery, fresh milk is sourced from Rustic Acres Farm in Rehoboth and red corn grits are supplied by Castle Valley Mills.

Irwin described his original objective for the bakery as the goal every baker shares: to bring out the best flavor of the grains. He wants to create better bread with the highest-quality nutritional profile. His loaves are made by hand, some taking up to four days to finish, all without any preservatives, dough conditioners or artificial enhancers.

During the past two years Irwin has owned the bakery, we’ve had the chance to try a wide variety of the products he offers. We haven’t yet decided which of the two types of raisin bread we prefer - the lighter one, topped with a glistening sugar glaze, or the denser loaf made with whole wheat. For an unusual piece of toast, the orange cardamom is a lovely combination of chewy texture with sweet hints of orange.

His soups are thick and hearty, with combinations ranging from vegan vegetable to split pea and smoked ham. I’ve used the mushroom soup as a hearty sauce for ravioli and received rave reviews. Quiches are creamy and flavorful, and the brown butter sandwich cookie is impossibly sweet and rich. Croissants are made from scratch, as are the unique whole wheat pastry tarts.

The next time you have guests coming for the weekend, stop by for a breakfast pastry platter. Or, treat your office-mates to the perfect coffee break with a bakers basket. On your way home from a busy day, pick up some pot pies and brioche rolls for an easy meal. From holiday specialities to seasonal treats, you’ll find what you need to either round out a menu or take center stage.

For me, the best of the bakery’s offerings are the breads, which can elevate a humble sandwich or transform an ordinary dish into something special. I’ve included recipes that feature a sourdough loaf in savory mushroom stuffing and an orange cardamom loaf in bread pudding. As for the original question, we usually arrive at the shop hungry and come home happy with a full shopping bag.

Orange Cardamom Bread Pudding

1/4 C melted butter
1/2 loaf orange cardamom bread
1 1/2 C cream
3 beaten eggs
1/2 C brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of an 8-inch-square baking pan with melted butter; set aside. Pour cream into a large mixing bowl. Cut bread into thick slices, then break into one-inch cubes and add to the cream, mixing to combine. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Pour egg mixture over bread, stirring to combine. Transfer bread into prepared pan, spreading to form an even layer.  Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream.

Sourdough Mushroom Stuffing

2 T butter
1 lb sliced cremini mushrooms
6 diced celery stalks
1 diced onion
1 diced shallot
2 minced garlic cloves
1 loaf sourdough bread
1/2 C chopped fresh parsley
1 t dried thyme or 1 T fresh
1 t dried sage or 1 T fresh
1 t dried rosemary or 1 T fresh
1 1/2 C vegetable stock
2 beaten eggs
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a 9-by-12 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium. Add vegetables and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Slice bread and break into one-inch cubes; add to skillet and toss to combine. Remove skillet from heat and stir in herbs. Pour in stock, eggs salt and pepper; stir to thoroughly combine. Transfer bread mixture to prepared pan and cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes; remove foil and bake another 20 minutes.

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