For Tim Topi, owner of Wave Hill Breads, the route to the Saturday Greenwich Farmers Market in Horseneck Lot was a long journey.
Originally from Albania, Mr. Topi headed to Italy after high school and worked several unsatisfying jobs before landing a job with a bakery in Rome where he worked for 15 years.
After several visits to the US he and his wife Angela, who co-owns the business with him, moved to Connecticut.
That’s when he began working for the previous owners of Wave Hill Breads. He became head baker and manager, learning the business thoroughly, ultimately purchasing it in 2015. Wave Hill was initially based in Wilton, then moved to Norwalk, where the bakery remains based today.
While Topi gets to Greenwich early on Saturday mornings, his arrival is actually toward the end of his work day. While there are eight bakers in Norwalk, that doesn’t mean more rest for Topi.
“Every Saturday I have two or three hours sleep,” he said, adding that the dough fermentation process requires careful oversight. “I still have to be there. All the doughs are fermented at room temperature.They’re not in coolers that you leave for 6 or 10 hours. You have to wait and see when the dough is ready.”
“Everything is done by hand,” he said, adding that Wave Hill bakes 4,000 to 5,000 loaves of bread every Friday night in anticipation of the weekend farmers market circuit.
“All of them are done about 2:00 or 3:00am. There’s just enough time to cool off,” he said. “All of them are touched five or six times by hand. You do the dividing, rounding, reshaping, final shaping then setting them up on the board. There are so many steps.”
While Monday Wave Hill doesn’t bake, that’s inventory day for Mr. Topi.
Last Saturday, when the farmers market opened at 9:30am, a line of a dozen people formed instantly at the Wave Hill tent.
Prior to Wave Hill Breads joining the Greenwich Farmers market (They’re also a presence at the Historical Society’s Wednesday market), Topi said customers have been able to find some of his breads at Whole Foods, but not the full array available at the Greenwich Farmers Market. Alternately, fans can travel to the Norwalk bakery.
What sets Wave Hill apart is that the bread is hand shaped. They use no preservatives, and only natural ingredients.
In 2013 Topi began making pizza on the side. He said he thought about starting a pizza business, but there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. Instead, he makes the pizza, freezes it, and sells it out of a cooler at the farmers market.
Topi said the fact that a pizza is frozen is not a strike against it. Rather, he said, what is important is the quality that goes into its preparation before the pizza is frozen that counts.
“The dough is 100% hydration,” he said, explaining that most bakers make dough that is 60-70% hydration.
“The dough is really sticky. It’s really hard to work with,” he added. “It’s all about the touch. It doesn’t come from a book. You have to experience it.”
The array of Wave Hill’s breads is more than first meets the eye.
For example, there is multi-grain boule with 14 different grains. At least 11 of them are certified organic.
“We are not certified organic – only because we use olive oil,” he said, adding that it is a challenge to find cheese that is certified organic.
He said the sourdough is popular for people seeking gluten-free. When customers say they have difficulty digesting bread, he has them try a piece of his sourdough, and that very often they report back that it was delicious and they were able to digest it easily.
“It’s not just the gluten that is bothering people. It’s more the preservatives that they don’t realize (are in it) – or we think we cannot live without them,” he added. “In Europe everyone has pasta, bread or pastries, but not everyone has this problem with diet. They make everything, every step, the right way.”
Topi said often his own dinner starts with a slice of carmelized garlic batard.
“It’s really good. I love it. I grill it and cut it thick as a steak,” he said. “That, and a glass of wine. It’s enough.”
The pastries start with croissants, which involve a four day process.
“We start the sponge today. Tomorrow we make the dough. Monday we do the first fold, which we do until 1:00 am,” he said. “By Wednesday they’ll be ready. It takes four days to create the layers.”
“The more hydrated the dough is, the easier it is to digest,” Topi explained. “In Italy all the pizza men – it’s a competition – they claim 90% or 95% hydration. The more hydrated the more sticky it is and harder to work with.”
In addition to the loaves, there are also loaves that are pre-sliced. The recipe is the same, but they are sliced so customers can use them for sandwiches and convenience.
“The plastic will not hurt the bread,” he said, adding that he has become a convert to the sliced loaves purely for the convenience. But, he said, “If you want a really thick crust, you’ll buy the unsliced.”
To see all the varieties of breads from Wave Hill, click here and then click on “products.” It is possible to place an order in advance.
May 12, 2021