This Pretzel Shortbread Is the Cookie of the Future
On a recent visit to Di Bruno Bros.—Philadelphia’s revered cheese institution, where super-knowledgeable staff not only grant sample requests, but push them like card-carrying Italian grandmas—Emilio, the cheesemonger, introduced me to a new product. After carving off thick slabs of several varieties, slicing a pile of thin, rosy-pink prosciutto, and scooping some olives, he handed me one more bag. It was a sleeve of pretzel shortbread cookies from Lost Bread Co., and in that moment, Emilio was not only ensuring that this and all future cheese plates were superior, he was introducing me to the city’s most innovative new treat.
Alex Bois founded Lost Bread Co. in April of 2017. After studying chemistry in college, Bois worked with Jim Lahey of New York City’s Sullivan Street Bakery before moving to Philadelphia, where he helped open High Street on Market and spent over three years as the head baker for its restaurant group, High Street Hospitality. The year-old Lost Bread Co. already runs a robust wholesale business, in addition to operating a retail counter at their Kensington facility on weekends and selling at five farmers markets around the city (and a sixth starting this month at Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan). They specialize in loaves and rolls, using locally grown grains that they mill in-house—from straightforward table bread to smoked potato sunflower, cheddar paprika, and beetroot rye—plus pastries and some version of focaccia that draws on whatever fresh produce they have that week.
The bakery is driven by a guiding principle to reduce waste as much as possible, which is how pretzel shortbread was born.
“It was basically inspired by the fact that we had tons of these leftover pretzels,” says Allison Carafa, Lost Bread’s Director of Operations. The bakery supplies sourdough pretzels for Parks on Tap and Morgan’s Pier, two local beer gardens. Whatever didn’t sell came back to the facility, where Bois and his team worked to spin them into something else fresh and good.
“We put so much effort into getting the grain here, and milling it onsite, that once it becomes flour, and then bread, we want to make sure all that effort from everyone was not wasted,” says Carafa. “We had been putting breadcrumbs into the doughs,” says Carafa. “And Alex had the idea of putting the pretzel crumbs into a cookie, so he and one of the bakers we had at the time, his name is Craig Escalante, worked to create the pretzel shortbread cookie.”
The leftover pretzels are cut into pieces and dried in the oven before being buzzed into the breadcrumbs they add to a shortbread dough. The dough is rolled, cut into rectangles, and frozen, and each cookie gets dipped in lye—the same treatment a standard pretzel gets—which gives it that burnished shine and touch of bitterness. It’s sprinkled with salt before it bakes, resulting in a perfectly balanced sweet-salty snack that doesn’t suffer from the same fate as the typical shortbread cookie (or at least every single one I’ve ever tasted) with its dry, crumbly bite. The pretzel shortbread has a dense, rich interior that’s both surprising and satisfying.
Carafa says the cookies are a big hit. “Some people have said, 'You know, I took one bite, and thought, I don’t know about this. And then I took another bite, and then I ate the whole package.'” As my pal Emilio pointed out, they make a welcome addition to cheese plates, plus they’re good on ice cream (according to Carafa, several local ice cream players are interested in collaborating), and, of course, straight out of the bag.
While the bakery has created operating systems to reduce food waste, the bakers and chef, Ari Miller, also find new ways to reuse as much as possible, like transforming leftover bread into “eggy in the basket” (an egg in toast), which is a recent addition to the weekend menu at the bakery’s retail counter. Breadcrumbs go on top and underneath the focaccia to add texture and crunch, and are also being made into a canelé.
“Everything gets turned into something,” says Carafa. “It goes back to one of the reasons why Alex chose the name Lost Bread Co.—it refers to the lost culinary heritage of thriftiness, of making sure that you use everything you have. Which is, historically, the way people treated the food they had. No one just threw something out.”
In a time when food hybrids like donut burgers and sushi burritos beg the question, "Why?", Lost Bread Co.’s pretzel shortbread is a pure thing created by the desire to waste nothing. And they taste very, very good.