Know Your Dough: Breaking Bread with Chef Doug Psaltis
There is nothing quite like the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting from the oven—yeasty, fragrant, comforting. Armed with a couple fool-proof recipes, some pro tips and a little bit of practice, you can achieve the same results in your own kitchen—and your home will never smell better.
We sat down with Chef / Partner Doug Psaltis to talk bread—both baking and breaking it—as well as the bread program at River North’s favorite modern steakhouse, RPM Steak.
When perusing the menu, diners tend to jump right to the impressive Steaks & Chops section, often times skipping past the Housemade Breads. But why is bread crucial to the overall RPM experience?
“Bread is so often overlooked, but it’s the heart and soul of every kitchen. At both RPM Steak and RPM Italian, we want to give the same respect and integrity to our breads as we do with all our other ingredients. And it’s important for each chef to truly understand the fundamentals of making dough and the ingredients, time and technique that go into it.”
What kind of breads can guests expect when dining there?
“RPM Steak, being a modern restaurant with old world traditions, has established a great bread program with items like our housemade ciabatta, Parker House Rolls and special daily popover offerings. The Black Pepper-and-Cheddar Popover with Prosciutto Butter is a total game-changer. We also make a rich brioche dough that is used for our Vanilla-Sugar Doughnuts at RPM Steak and for the Bomboloni at RPM Italian.”
Tell us about the process of making the different doughs.
“We start all our doughs by noon the day before—many of them take at least 24 hours and ferment slowly overnight. This gives our ciabatta, for instance, a sourness that you may find in classic older styles of breadmaking, and we use it as part of our Three Cheese Fondue as well as for our lunchtime sandwiches. The ciabatta bread used for the Prime Steak Sandwich is arguably as delicious as the steak itself!”
What’s unique about the bread program here?
“We’re starting to work with small millers to get in single-grain flours. These flours are less manipulated and use unbleached, unaltered whole grains like red wheat, farro, spelt and more.”
Let’s talk making bread at home. What are some of your favorite ones to make and why?
“The Parker House Rolls are great all-purpose rolls that go with any occasion. They are best baked off right before dinner so they are super hot and fresh. This dough also lends itself well to having different ingredients added in, like chopped herbs, cracked black pepper or roasted garlic.”
Weighing and rolling dough for the Parker House Rolls
“I’m especially fond of our Black Pepper-and-Cheddar Popovers. They’re made from a rich, eggy dough and come out of the oven crisp on the outside and light and airy on the inside. You can add almost any ingredient to these as well, but the cheddar and cracked pepper make for a classic combination.”
Of course you can’t eat bread without a schmear of butter…”
“The Rosemary Nordic Butter pairs best with the Parker House Rolls as does the Prosciutto Butter with the popovers. Since these compound butters are usually three ingredients or less, it’s imperative to use the highest quality butter you can get your hands on.”
What’s the best word of advice to new at-home breadmakers?
“Be patient. Control your variables—like time and temperature—the best you can. And practice, practice, practice. Making bread is a science after all. Also, enjoy! There is nothing better than breaking freshly-made hot bread with friends and family.”