Kathryn Rem: Philosophy major bakes, sells Old World breads

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

European-style breads –– made with a long, slow rise –– are the signature items at Katic Breads, a bakery based in Champaign, Ill., and a new vendor at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield, Ill.

“The product line is Old World, the very old way of doing breads, using pre-World War II techniques,” said owner Dusan Katic. “What’s so special about the bread of the past is the bakers couldn’t mix it fast. It preserves the carotenoid pigments.”

Those pigments, also called beta carotene, are responsible for a creamy crumb color and subtle aromas and flavors developed during fermentation.

“Slow mixing, long fermentation and very wet dough gives a nice chewy texture. Long fermentation allows enzymes to break down proteins and starches so you can evoke all the flavors in the flour,” he said.

Katic, 31, knew nothing about bread making when he joined a private French military company several years ago.

“I wanted to be a bodyguard. I wanted to have an adventure,” said Katic, who lived part of his early life in Serbia. He was stationed in the Central African Republic when someone showed him how to make doughnuts with flour purchased in African villages.

“Everyone there was very depressed. I put doughnuts on their plates, and I saw everyone smiling and laughing.”

The experience started him on a quest to educate himself about baking. He spent time in France learning the craft, and he also sought help from small bakeries in England. He returned to Illinois in 2008 and read every baking book he could find.

“The best way to describe our breads is to say most people are used to eating bologna until they are introduced to prosciutto. Bologna is easy to eat. Prosciutto takes a change in culture.”

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he studied biology as an undergrad and philosophy as a graduate student.

“There are a lot of people studying philosophy in the abstract. But I want to improve the real world,” he said.

While in school, he worked at Pekara Bakery & Bistro, a bakery in Champaign that uses no preservatives or artificial ingredients.

Just under 18 months ago, Katic launched Katic Breads.

The artisanal breads are sold in stores, restaurants and farmers markets in the central Illinois area, but Katic can be reached by email at katicbreads@yahoo.com.

Breads sold at Springfield’s farmers market include French boule, semolina, “baguette de tradition” (made with traditional methods dictated by French laws), “pain de campagne” (country bread), herb focaccia, ciabatta and whole-wheat sourdough. Many of the loaves display a distinctive “K” on the top.

In addition, there are croissants –– some filled with strawberries, almonds, chocolate and cream cheese –– and their more savory cousins filled with mushroom and Swiss cheese and with roasted red peppers.

“Croissants are tough to master,” Katic said. “In France, they say if you can’t make a croissant, you fire the baker.”

Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com. Follow her via twitter.com/KathrynRemSJR.