KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
Blue Duck Bakery owner Keith Kouris kneads a loaf of herbed artisan bread in the kitchen of his Southold store.
After a long spell when it was hard to find bread that wasn’t mass produced or, at best, made in a supermarket, bakeries have been springing up all over the North Fork in recent years as the local food trend has taken off.
The Blue Duck Bakery, which opened in Southampton in 1999, expanded to Southold two years ago. Now, all the bread for its two retail shops, as well as 120 wholesale accounts, is baked in a building on Route 25 in Southold.
Keith Kouris, who runs the business with his wife, Nancy, grew up in Lindenhurst, a place noted for having more bakeries per square mile than almost anywhere else in the country.
“When I was growing up in the late ’60s and ’70s, every town had bakeries,” he said. “Every Sunday, you would go to church and then get your Sunday buns and rolls.”
In starting The Blue Duck, he and his wife wanted to recreate “a traditional neighborhood bakery,” he said.
Mr. Kouris began his career at a time the convenience and low cost of supermarket baked goods made opening a neighborhood bakery a risky financial move. He started off delivering bread to supermarkets, then, in the mid-1970s, he and his wife opened a deli with a small bakery in Huntington. They moved that operation to Lindenhurst only to be wiped out by Hurricane Gloria in 1985. He then went to work for King Kullen in Bridgehampton at a time when many old-school bakers were leaving independent shops for supermarkets.
“I trained with excellent bakers,” he said. “When I first went to King Kullen, they made everything from scratch, but that’s not the way it is anymore.” Now they sell breads made from frozen dough, he said.
In the mid-1980s, more and more consumers began to want hometown bakeries and artisan breads. Inspired in part by his wife’s grandfather, who was a baker, Mr. Kouris dreamed of starting his own place and signed up for courses at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and the French Culinary School in New York. Eventually, the couple made the leap.
The Blue Duck Bakery produces a wide range of desserts, pastries and cakes, but the backbone of the business is its artisan breads. Mr. Kouris likens fine bread baking to winemaking, which is equally dependent on fermentation. He believes wild yeast strains in the air from the winemaking business on the North Fork have made breads baked here distinctive.
“We mix our doughs in the morning with starters mixed the previous morning. It takes two days to get ready to make breads,” he said. “We use a very traditional European method. We have a brick oven. An Italian mason built it with over 3,000 bricks and 1,000 pounds of cement. It holds the heat very well. We bake our breads at 500 degrees and it develops a very nice crust.”
After the two-day preparation, baking begins at 10 p.m. for delivery the following morning. Mr. Kouris extended his deliveries as far west as Brooklyn this summer and plans to expand to Manhattan. But first, he’s looking to build a bigger bakery, perhaps in Mattituck.
“You can only bake so much between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.,” he said.
Christopher Junda, who owns Junda’s Bakery in Jamesport, sees baking as an ancestral art that must be preserved.
He was also raised in Long Island bakery country in Uniondale, and learned to bake from his grandparents, who were Polish immigrants. He fondly remembers making chrusciki, a light fried cruller, and babkas with his grandmother when he was a child.
He attended the Newbury Culinary College in Boston and went on to run three bakeries on Long Island before opening his shop in a farmhouse on Route 25 six years ago.
“We base ourselves on quality butter and all-natural local ingredients,” he said. “We wanted to be the local bakery.”
After deciding to move his business east, Mr. Junda started out baking pies for a roadside stand in Jamesport, then added breads, cookies and cakes when he moved into the farmhouse. He now does a brisk wholesale business at farm stands.
“When I had a bakery in Huntington, we had a retired German baker named Alfred who is responsible for the strudel that we do,” he said. “You used to have the old-timers, and you’d just let them bake their way. Don’t question them. That stuff you can’t learn, and when the old people didn’t want to show you something, they wouldn’t.”
In addition to pfeffernÃºsse and stollen at Christmas, Junda’s makes round challah for Rosh Hashanah and a kind of jelly doughnut from Poland called punchki.
Full-service bakeries share at least one thing in common with specialty shops like Butta’Cakes in Greenport: an insistence on fine basic ingredients.
“We specialize in cupcakes. Every one of our cupcakes is made with five ingredients or less,” said shop owner Marc LaMaina, who opened Butta’Cakes last year after escaping a career in information technology in New York City. “I feel like people come in here because it’s an affordable luxury.”
Mr. LaMaina also makes croissants, cinnamon buns and cookies, and began serving breakfast, lunch and fondue this past winter.
“Last December, I realized we weren’t going to make it with just cupcakes — and I had the eggs,” he said.