October 19, 2018

“Howard’s Bread,” always a big hit at the Sunday Chester Market

Howard Kaplan at the Sunday Chester Market

Baking is “not what I do for a living,” says Chester resident Howard Kaplan. Still, he admits, that baking bread “is a passion.” Kaplan satisfies this passion by baking, and offering for sale, a wide selection of homemade breads, which he sells under the label of “Howard’s Bread.”

The best and easiest place to buy “Howard’s Bread” is at the Sunday Chester Market, which takes place on a “car free” Main Street in the center of town. Hours for the Sunday market are from ten in the morning until one in the afternoon, and the season lasts from May to October.

Kaplan sells a wide variety of breads at the market from a comfortably shaded, one man stall. On display beside him are more than a dozen kinds of bread to choose from. While selling his bread Kaplan keeps up a steady conversation with his customers. 

Picking out just the right kind of of bread

In fact, buying “Howard’s Bread” at the Chester Market is a bread making tutorial, as the bread maker carefully explains to his customers the differing tasting qualities of his breads.  

One particular favorite of “Howard’s Bread” is the “bialy,” which he says is often called the Jewish English Muffin.  According to Kaplan, “bialys” were created in the Polish town of Bialystok, which before World War II had a large Jewish population. “Some of them managed to escape,” Kaplan says, which means that the popular “bialy” lives on.   

As for his “bialys,” Kaplan notes that Chester’s popular River Tavern caries them, serving them only with smoked salmon. Kaplan also says with a twinkle that he has “turned on” many, many “non-Jews” to learn to love the bialy.

However, Kaplan has far more than just bialys to offer his customers. At a recent Sunday Chester Market his hand-printed menu sign read, “Baguette, Epi, Rye Raisin Walnut, Multigrain, Multigrain with Cranberries, Date-Oat, Rosette, Olive Boule, French Sourdough, Honey Whole Wheat, Fougasse (Olive & Blue Cheese Walnut), Bialys, and Rye.”  Typical prices are five dollars for a loaf of French Sourdough and six-fifty, for six of his bialys.

Another major event at which “Howard’s Bread” is sold, takes place at the annual Market  en Pleine Aire of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. The market is held on the museum grounds the last Saturday of July (July 30 this year) and it attracts some 8,000 people.

In the basement bakery of Howard Kaplan

Kaplan does an exceptionally good business at the museum’s annual market. According to him, he opens for business at nine o’clock, “and I am sold out by eleven.” Also, he says that at times there is a line of 30 people waiting to buy his bread selections.

When dealing with this jostle of bread buyers Kaplan says that he tries “to ration the number of breads that people can buy.” There is a back up for those who miss the boat in buying “Howard’s Bread” at the open markets. Selections are also available at Fromage in Old Saybrook and the Cheese Shop in Centerbrook.  

Kaplan makes all of the many varieties of “Howard’s Bread” in his 1,000 square foot basement at his home on a hilltop in Chester.  Using every square inch of the floor space, his baking operation has almost an industrial feel. On hand are numerous racks yawning for finished bread, large ovens, huge freezers and giant mixing machines, all in a space brightly lit by bare light bulbs.

Sometimes Kaplan’s Ireland-born wife, Pauline, who he met at a baking class at the local Chester synagogue, helps her husband with the baking. However, most of the work of baking the bread is done by Kaplan, working alone. 

Sometimes his output is huge. “I am baking 37 dozen bialys Friday,” Kaplan said recently, “and I can sell them all in one day.” 

The day's memu of "Howard's Bread"

Kaplan is totally professional in the making his bread, which he admits is “hard work.” His bread making tasks include making and mixing of the dough, weighing the dough and forming it by hand, placing the formed dough into ovens, and of course making sure he takes the loaves out on time. Kaplan’s goal is to bake five different kinds of bread each week.

Kaplan avers that he learned many of his bread baking techniques in Paris, and also he was tutored by Master Class bakers from among some of the best bakers in the world. Kaplan is also a member of the prestigious Bread Bakers Guild of America. Also, on occasion Kaplan himself volunteers to give bread baking classes.

 Kaplan even has an instruction sheet, which he gives to customers, on “BRINGING HOWARD’S BREAD BACK TO LIFE. After setting forth the oven temperatures necessary to resuscitate baguettes, fougasses and “other shapes,” he suggests a “TEST FOR DONENESS,” which involves, artfully, tapping the crust with a fingernail.

There is of course another part of Howard Kaplan’s life besides bread making. He is, professionally, a very successful financial advisor with one of the nation’s leading investment firms.

We meant to refrain from saying that in his financial advisor capacity that Kaplan is working with a different kind of “dough,” but the temptation was just too great.

Lining up for "Howard's Bread"

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