If you haven’t heard of
Emmer yet, you will soon. Toronto’s buzziest new bakery has foodies swooning, lining up for hours to buy fresh sourdough loaves and double-baked croissants. Since opening in May, the most sought-after items, like the pain au chocolat stuffed with black currant chocolate, sell out within 20 minutes. Dozens of chewy sourdough loaves are baked every hour, the smell of fresh bread constantly wafting out of the sun-filled space in the Annex. Lynda Reeves and her husband are huge fans. “Michel says that Philip’s bread and croissants rival Poilâne in Paris,” says Lynda.
Emmer is the brainchild of Philip Haddad, a self-described food fanatic, sourdough obsessive and prosthodontist by trade, who, you may remember, baked flatbread in his backyard pizza oven for our
May 2018 issue. Emmer is Philip’s first bakery, a decade-in-the-making journey made up of equal parts A-list mentors, worldly travels and dogged dedication.
Scroll down to learn how Toronto ended up with the best croissants and sourdough loaves in the city and discover four must-try recipes from the bakery!
Philip first became obsessed with sourdough 10 years ago, when he watched a video of Nancy Silverton, the American godmother of sourdough and owner of
La Brea Bakery Café in Los Angeles, who created a starter out of grapes. A few years later, by chance, he met Nancy at her Italian restaurant, Osteria Mozza. “I told her I was trying to make her sourdough and it just wasn’t working,” says Philip. “She replied, ‘Then you’re not doing it right,’ and we had a long conversation.” When he got home to Toronto, he followed her advice and his sourdough journey began.
Later, on a trip to Paris, he met the trailblazing baker Véronique Mauclerc, owner of Boulangerie Mauclerc, which had one of the oldest wood-fired ovens in the city. Philip asked if he could shadow her and, much to his surprise, she agreed. He spent several nights working alongside her, getting a behind the scenes look at what it takes to run a bakery. On his last day, Véronique told him to grab some of her starter on the way out. He combined it with another starter, courtesy of a friend in Italy, and has been using it for a decade. “I have one I keep at Emmer and one at home, just in case,” he says. “It’s so strong; I don’t think you can kill it.”
All the while, Philip kept making sourdough in his spare time, serving it at dinner parties, giving away loaves to friends and receiving rave reviews. “People started saying, ‘It’s so good — you should sell this,’ ” says Philip. And the journey began!
The bakery’s name is an ode to Philip’s love of ancient grains, emmer being one of the first wheat grains from the Levant, where Egyptians have milled it for 3,000 years. For the logo, Philip collected old pieces of his aunt’s handwriting. “I kept thinking of people in my life who would have loved the bakery and I thought of my aunt, who was like a mom to us. She passed away 20 years ago,” says Philip. “Now when I walk in, I think about how she would have loved to see this.”
The bakery — housed in a two-storey heritage building — underwent a quick makeover before opening. The walls were painted white, the floors sanded, and new cabinets were installed. The exterior was painted black, inspired by old buildings in Soho. The patio is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner while the pastry team works on the second floor. Philip hopes to start renovating the sit-down restaurant next year.
To help bring his vision to reality, Philip enlisted some of his close Toronto food friends and collaborators. Emmer’s executive chef is Jed Smith, chef and co-owner of the acclaimed restaurant
Donna’s and the former chef de cuisine at Momofuku Shoto.
“I think what makes Emmer stand out is that everything that we possibly can make is made by hand,” says Jed. “We’re curing our own meats, making crème fraîche and every kind of sauce — even the hot sauce that goes into the breakfast sandwiches. We could order in all these things and save time and money, but we want to make sure that everyone is getting the best possible product.”
The sourdough loaves proof in these linen-lined wicker baskets for 18 to 22 hours in special temperature-controlled fridges. The result is an inexplicably crunchy crust with a moist and airy center. The sourdough is sold at the take-out counter and used in Emmer’s sandwiches or as the base for many of the extravagant toasts, which are served for lunch on the patio.
This is Philip’s “secret” croissant dough, right before it goes to ferment for a day and a half. “My idea of a croissant is fried sheets of dough and butter. These thin sheets are really chewy and crispy, almost like phyllo,” says Philip.
Beef Tartare On Toast With Labneh
“We’re a bakery, so we wanted to do a lot of things on toast. This is an untraditional tartare that reflects my Middle Eastern background. The labneh — a super acidic type of yogurt — balances out the Aleppo pepper,” says Philip.
Get the recipe for
Beef Tartare On Toast With Labneh.
Roasted Celery Root Carpaccio
“This is on our menu as a sandwich. Celery root is not the prettiest of vegetables and is typically overlooked. When it’s roasted, it gets a meaty quality and can be easily sliced, almost like a deli meat. This recipe can also be made with carrots, parsnips or golden beets,” says Philip.
Get the recipe for
Roasted Celery Root Carpaccio.
Mafaldine With Spicy Cauliflower Ragù & Guanciale
“My favorite pasta dish is alla gricia, which is typically just cheese and guanciale. We wanted to cut some of the fat by adding a vegetable. The cauliflower is cooked to death and lightens the dish and brings a whole other dimension,” says Philip. Emmer makes its own pastas in-house, including mafaldine.
Get the recipe for
Mafaldine With Spicy Cauliflower Ragù & Guanciale.
Pistachio Olive Oil Cake
“Anyone who’s been to Emmer or seen our
Instagram feed knows that pistachio is probably my favorite thing in the world. We go through hundreds of pounds a month. This cake is a showstopper for its simplicity. It’s decadent, bordering on a custard, and lasts for a good week without changing texture,” says Philip.
Get the recipe for
Pistachio Olive Oil Cake.
Author: Samantha Edwards
House & Home September 2021
Food styling by Miranda Keyes
Produced by Emma Reddington