Hi-Rise Bread Company: A Corner Bakery That is the Real Deal

14 Oct

Last night, I got off the train at Porter Square to do a few errands, and on my way back home, I stopped in my tracks. It was getting dark, but the light behind a storefront’s papered-over windows attracted my attention. And then I saw the letters that spelled out “Hi-Rise.” Could it be related to Hi-Rise Bread Company, I thought (rather excitedly)?

I inched closer, trying to read the writing on the wall (or rather, the windows) without looking like a stalker. I saw a figure or two exit a door to my right, and then, as I was lurking, I noticed someone start to tear down some of the butcher paper from one of the inside windows. Yep, this was definitely a bakery. The bakery.

The very first day I arrived in Cambridge, I took a walk in Harvard Square to see what had changed since my college years. (A lot, I might add. Although a few things, for better or worse, remain the same). Cruising Brattle Street and moving past the (huge) Anthropologie and Burdick Chocolate, I noticed a sign. For Hi-Rise Bread Company. But there was no bread or bakery in sight. Eagerness quickly wilted into disappointed.

But I wouldn’t be disappointed for long. My second Sunday in Cambridge, I trotted down to the farmers market in front of the Charles Hotel. Another sign for Hi-Rise Bread Company greeted me. And this time, there was bread. Beautiful bread. Artisan loaves crusty and brown and beckoning: boules (round breads), batards (football-shaped) and sandwich loaves. Not to mention honey cakes and babka.

I had a difficult time making my first pick, although I (rightly) suspected that there was no “wrong” choice in this scenario.

Sourdough Boule, Hi-Rise (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

For my introductory loaves, I chose a sourdough boule and a baby ciabatta. I am always partial to the tang of a good sourdough; and an unadorned ciabatta (which is made from a very hydrated dough without the distractions of fruit, nuts or other fillers) is a good indicator of a baker’s skill.

This bread was the bread I had learned to appreciate in school. It wasn’t wimpy and wan and colorless like the Wonder Bread of my youth (a bread that I used to slip into the microwave and eat piping hot just so that I could give it some aroma–some life). This bread had a wonderful yeasty odor; it crackled rather than collapsed as I took a bite; and the bakers weren’t afraid to give it a little color. (I don’t know how many times in school I have heard our European chef instructors complaining about how Americans too readily equate dark bread with burned bread. If only we would take the attitude toward bread that we take toward tanning. It would be healthier, to say the least.)

I particularly enjoyed my baby ciabatta, with its open crumb and creamy interior, perfect by itself, soaked in olive oil, or sliced open for a sandwich.

Baby Ciabatta, Hi-Rise (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

The next week, I was preparing a roasted squash salad. While shopping for the ingredients at the market, I stopped by the Hi-Rise table again to try something new. This time a “corn bread” called to me.

This isn’t cornbread in the usual sense. Rather, this is yeasted bread that incorporates a coarse cornmeal (you’ll see individual specs of the meal, as well as larger kernels); the interior of the bread is stunningly yolk-hued.

Cornbread, Hi-Rise (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

This context will help you understand why I was so taken with the prospect of Hi-Rise as my new (albeit temporary, since I’m moving to Brookline next week) corner bakery (not to be confused with the dreaded Corner Bakery). Hi-Rise harkens back to a time when you earned bread the honest way–by making it with your own two hands.

I popped in slyly and shyly today to get a first glimpse of the interior of the new location. It is a small warm space with seating for about ten. Sandwiches are advertised behind the counter on wipeboards. I immediately thought, what about the loaves? Not to worry. There are shelves on the back left-hand side showcasing your daily bread. Sweets lovers should not despair. They aren’t visible until you are directly in front of the counter ordering, but there are a variety of both burly and child-sized cookies, brioches, scones, and more. I just couldn’t focus on these offerings today because my mind was on one thing. Bread.

I selected a batard-shaped semolina bread. Semolina flour is made from durum wheat and is commonly used in pasta-making. It sounded like just the thing for a rainy night. I paid under $5 for this large loaf. Now, I’ve heard some people grumble about the prices of artisan bread, but if you consider the rising costs of flour and other key bakery ingredients, especially in this last year, the price is fair in my book.

As I bundled my bread in the crook of my arm, I remembered that I had just the thing in my refrigerator to further heighten the experience: namely, Vermont Creamery’s Vermont Cultured Butter with Sea Salt Crystals.

My usual take on bread and butter is this: good bread can stand alone. Having said this, I am also willing to acknowledge that there is almost nothing better than a fine bread married to a stellar butter.

I tore off (who needs a knife in times like this–formalities be damned) a corner of the batard, and right away observed the hallmarks of a promising bread. The interior was the palest of yellow, meaning that the dough had not lost flavor by being overmixed and oxidized (a stark white color is a dead giveaway). Here again, the crumb structure was open and embracing, not tight and dense like a pound cake. The alternately sweet and slightly acidic hunk of bread topped off with a bit of the Vermont butter (its cultured flavor, deep marigold hue, and higher fat content render it a closer relative to gourmet cheese than a stick of Land O’Lakes) was a perfectly pleasurable mouthful.

Vermont Creamery Can Butter My Bread Any Time (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

I hope to work my way through Hi-Rise’s breads in the coming months, and won’t let the distance deter me. If you live in the Porter or Harvard Square neighborhoods, you have no excuse. Hurry down to the corner and give Hi-Rise a try.

Hi-Rise on Mass. Ave.

1663 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge (on the corner of Wendell and Mass Ave.)

(617) 492.3003

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