What is it about the taste of bread that makes it so appealing? For Michael Dolich, owner of Philadelphia’s Four Worlds Bakery, the answer is clear: nothing. Ninety–five percent of bread, in fact, has no taste at all. Even our most beloved carbo–licious indulgences, like asiago bagels and ciabatta, are really blank slates for slices of turkey and slabs of butter or cream cheese. At Four Worlds, however, Michael has created a business that diverges from this all–too–common factory–produced blandness; he is obsessed with flavor. Michael’s interest in baking developed later in his life when, disenchanted with his life as a lawyer, he began a new life journey with a spiritual retreat in the Catskill Mountains. To minimize the cost of the trip, he was assigned to bake for his peers. He ended up falling in love with the kitchen because of its meditative effect and continued cooking as a hobby at home until he decided to turn it into a profession. He began by working for nine dollars an hour at a bread shop in Chestnut Hill, where he learned to move around heavy mounds of dough and use specialized ovens. While the work gave him some foundational knowledge, he soon became disinterested in the shop’s production of nondescript white bread. He started reading books about bread recipes and experimenting at home with his own dough creations. His work eventually culminated in a sourdough process, or levain—a French word for bread leavening—which he brought to the opening of his own bakery on 47th and Woodland in 2006. Michael claims that the base for his bread recipe makes him stand out from a crowd of bakeries that aren’t small enough to produce true sourdough. The modest size of the bakery gives his bakers time to use two grain mills to grind the shop's own flour, allowing full control over the grains’ coarseness and temperature. Most importantly, the machines are kept cool so that the enzymes in the flour stay alive for added flavor. After the dough is assembled, the bakers place it in a walk–in refrigerator where it ferments slowly enough for a rich taste to mature. Once the bread is finished baking (at 5:30 a.m. each day), the sourdough quality has fully developed. Michael describes the result of the hand–milling and slow fermentation as a drug–like experience that heightens senses. The bread opens up the palette, allowing us to taste its flavorings, fillings or toppings with a unique level of depth. Michael acknowledges that Four Worlds isn’t going for a fluffy WonderBread texture. Combined with the effect of the “sourdough process,” his use of coarser grains makes lightness impossible to achieve. The unusual density of his products does, however, have its benefits. The sourdough culture is gentler on our digestive systems than regular white bread, and our bodies absorb the whole grains easily. With a second baby on the way, Michael has put plans for expanding the bakery on hold, but in the meantime we can enjoy his goods at shops including Joe’s Café in Steiny–D, where his famous sourdough bagels are sold, and Lovers and Madmen on 40th between Ludlow and Chestnut.
4634 Woodland Ave. (215) 967-1458 Tuesday–Friday: 6:30 am–1:00 pm Saturday–Sunday: 8:00 am–1:00 pm