Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Joanne Woodward: Behold the Bread

In 1993 I became a manager of Ecce Panis (Latin for "behold the bread," the statement that is the preface to Communion), a glorious bakery established and operated by Dr. Joseph Santos and his family, who also gave New York such restaurants as The Sign of the Dove, Contrapunto, and Yellowfingers (how many people told me of breakdowns had in Bloomingdale's, followed by cocktails and attentive service at Yellowfingers?) The vans for Ecce Panis ran all over town advertising itself as "the ovens of Sign of the Dove," and indeed the bakery was opened because so many guests were making inordinate requests for extra bread or they were simply filling their pockets and their purses with rolls and loaves.

I worked at both locations of Ecce Panis: the original right next door to The Sign of the Dove at Third Avenue and 65th Street, and the Carnegie Hill location, at Madison and 90th. While I enjoyed working near the actual ovens of Ecce Panis on Third Avenue, I preferred the tiny, beautiful Carnegie Hill location, so perfectly designed and maintained by the bakery's manager Evelina Emmi Rector. 

The neighborhood was truly a village, with neighbors calling each other by name and area stores checking in on each other. Restaurants offered samples of new dishes; the Corner Bookstore raved about new books and offered discounts to friends; Bistro du Nord seemed offended when I would ask for the check; the gone and missed Canard & Company not only offered terrific prepared foods, but would make things on request. It was a magical time that too many of us (by which I mean myself) took for granted.

I loved most of the friends who came into Ecce Panis, and the store was frequently sold out long before we closed our door, because we would honor those who called and asked us to set aside bread that they had to have, often daily. Some of the breads that were most often asked for included the Double Walnut, so called because it was loaded with walnuts and suffused with walnut oil: When you sliced it, the meat of the boule was lavender and the scent of walnuts filled the store. The Herbed Fougasse, shaped like a small Christmas tree, would be picked up and eaten by schoolchildren, or used as tasty swords; the Neo-Tuscan made the best panzanella and rustic sandwiches; the Chocolate Bread was a hedonistic delight, which I would take in the back of the store and smear with mascarpone and raspberry jam for those who needed that particular fix. During the holidays people would offer good money to buy our pies from those who had thought ahead and ordered them: One woman bought the rights to a pie for five hundred dollars.

We offered bread in three sizes: the boule, the baguette, and the batard, which was invariably requested as the "bastard," which is technically correct, but always amused the children in the shop. (We once received a letter from an irate customer about our "coarse" language. Oh, well.)

While working at Ecce Panis, I met Elia Kazan and his wife Frances, who were frequent friends of the shop. Coming in several times a week were our favorite friends: Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.

Joanne is a true Southern lady, kind and self-effacing and interested in how we were feeling and doing: She doled out advice and vitamins and supplements, as well as chocolates that her daughter Nell was concocting for Newman's Own. Joanne often called and asked that bread be put aside for dinners that arose suddenly, and when I asked her how she served the breads, she came in the next day with a sample of her favorite and most requested dish: Sole Cabernet, along with the recipe. It was remarkable, and easy to make.

Joanne and I were both Southerners, and we had grown up around prodigious bakers. We shared recipes for breads and cakes and pies and cookies, and we had a brief but fervent battle of biscuits. One day she brought me a loaf of bread the size of a love seat and urged me to tell  what I thought: It was the best zucchini bread I had ever tasted. Was it because it came from the kitchen of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward? You be the judge.

The two loaves of brioche that were sold at Ecce Panis (classic and pepper) were never in stock for very long, and they led to an ongoing battle we called the pudding wars, because friends came in with recipes and samples of bread puddings that were desserts or savories. I'll share them in a future post.

The San Francisco-based artist Carol Jessen captured the Carnegie Hall Ecce Panis beautifully on this woodblock. I miss that bakery and those people so much, but this image and these recipes can bring it back quickly and happily.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 fillets of sole (2 to 2.5 pounds)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 shallots, chopped

2 cups good Cabernet Sauvignon

1 cup Joanne's Hollandaise (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put dabs of butter on the fillets of sole and fold them over crosswise. Add the salt, pepper, and shallots. Place in a baking pan and add the Cabernet Sauvignon. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove and place fish on a plate.

Pour the wine sauce into a saucepan and reduce to 1/2 the original amount. Let cool. Add Joanne's Hollandaise sauce to the wine sauce. Return the sole and the sauce to the baking pan. Place in oven for 5 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.


3 egg yolks

3 tablespoons cold water

1 stick (8 tablespoons) lightly salted butter, melted

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Place the egg yolks and water in the top of a double boiler over hot but not boiling water. Whisk rapidly until the mixture thickens and an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees. Remove from heat. Add the butter little by little, while continuing to whisk. Add the pepper and the lemon juice just before using. Makes 2 cups.

Serve with salad and lots of bread, such as sourdough, Neo-Tuscan, Pane Rustico, baguette, or Double Walnut (if you can find versions of these).


3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups zucchini, grated

Mix flour, soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together. Beat eggs until foamy, add sugar, oil, vanilla, and sifted dry ingredients a little at a time. The mixture will be thick. Add the zucchini--the mixture will be gummy. Pour batter into 2 well-greased 8 x 4 x 2 loaf pans and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Check the loaves at 50 minutes, and if a toothpick comes out clean, it is done. These loaves may be frozen.

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