Meet The Baker Behind The Loaves: Sarah Owens of Ritual Fine Foods

While one of the primary reasons that I started this series was to tell each baker’s unique story through the lens of an interview comprised of personalized questions. I chose to ask every baker the following question. “Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?” I did so because the individuals behind the loaves of sourdough bread that we’ve come to respect and be constantly inspired by are in essense showing us what it means to bring bread to life. They help us see that through our relationship with bread and by assocatiation, the art of fermentation, we can work towards helping others live a healthy, happy, and sustainable lifestyle that benefits both ourselves and the environment around us. This body-mind connection is what I feel helps foster a deep sense of community amongst those who pursue the artistry behind their interests. In turn, it has been a true honor to get to know the bakers whose stories I’ve shared and hope that you find them as inspiring as I have.

Photo Credit: Sarah Owens

Award-winning cookbook author, naturally-leavened baker, professional horticulturist, culinary instructor, and advocate for many important social and environmental causes. This week’s featured baker, Sarah Owens, harnesses the power of baking and utilizes it to foster community and social change, advocate for regenerative agricultural practices to rebuild global grain sheds, and spread her belief that stone milling can bring good bread back to the table. While reading her bio, her self descriping as “a student and teacher of nourishing food traditions, who (she) travels globally to encourage an interest in ancient techniques interpreted within a modern context” really hit home for me. Through my culinary and fermentation related hobbies I’ve tried my best to constantly be learning, sharing what I’ve learned over time with others, and being a participating member of the communities surrounding each hobby. Hence, when Sarah agreed to be featured in this series I was elated and driven to come up with questions that would capture just how amazing, commited, and inspirational she is.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Sarah Owens of Ritual Fine Foods

Barry (The Brewed Palate): You initially explored sourdough baking as a way to manage your own digestive intolerances and honor fond memories of baking with the women in your family. How has your view of fermented foods evolved over time as a result of baking sourdough bread and the healthy lifestyle that you’ve developed?

Sarah: Fermented foods are both deliciously enjoyable and beneficial to our well-being. I now use fermentation as a method of creative culinary expression and mode of preservation as much as a preventative and remedial approach to health. When I began fermenting however, my goal was simply physical healing. This involved recognizing and listening to the needs of my body outside of commodified health care and the nefarious superiority of a ‘healthy lifestyle’ defined by capitalist pseudoscience. 

Sarah @ Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicilia.

My gateway ferment to reintroduce healthy probiotics was pickled vegetables like sauerkraut before discovering that sourdough makes prebiotics more digestible. I began considering the microbial dynamics of the digestive system and how intertwined they are with mood, immunity, and sleep. These three things were equally as troubling in my life at the time as my digestive functions, but I had never considered them as being associated with the gut. This was around 2009-10 when research on our microbiome was much less available. It was difficult to find solid information on the subject outside of documentation of traditional fermentation customs and their assumed nutritional influence. Since this journey began, I am now much more in tune with my intuitive experience of fermented foods but there is also thankfully more proven scientific information available to support their benefits. 

Since beginning this journey, I have adopted a more holistic consideration of health that also embraces spiritual and mental aspects. I attribute the ritual of sourdough in particular to a practice of mindfulness through engaging the senses. This has helped me to develop keen observational skills and to remain anchored in the moment while considering the future. All of this assists with freeing the mind and nurturing the spirit with delicious, nutritious food.  

Practicing fermentation has become more than just a way to preserve food or make it more digestible but allows participation in the cycles of life and death and expands the ways that we experience both. Fermentation provides an opportunity to connect to the earth and our food in a way that nurtures both self-preservation but also stronger community with others. Food is an ancient expression of culture and the more I study the various customs of fermentation globally, the easier it has become to celebrate our similarities and also beautiful differences. There is an unlimited diversity of microbes in any one fermented food, and likewise the culinary creativity and use of those foods is vast, delicious, and often very place-based. Coupled with my curiosity for travel, connecting to the people of any particular region through fermentation has allowed me to learn more about what native foods grow there, subsequent agricultural developments, the historical uses of those foods, and ritual/religious significance associated with those food traditions. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How have your baking and cooking pursuits been impacted by the feedback and accolades that you’ve received for your three books?

Photo Credit: Sarah Owens

Sarah: A published cookbook lands in the hands of more people than you could ever imagine and the information it contains can have a profound impact on those who consider its narrative and use its recipes.  Although I don’t think an award is necessary to make a book valuable, the James Beard given to Sourdough has helped spread the joy of naturally leavened baking, its versatility, and its power. The most valuable feedback has been from personal messages or workshop attendees who have shared their experiences of healing and reconnection to the earth, their bodies, and their communities. That has inspired me to keep digging deeper into the craft and I have immense gratitude for being enabled by an audience and a publisher that supports this. It has inspired me to take a closer look into how agriculture, milling, and sourdough fermentation together can positively affect both the planet and our quality of life globally. In short, being recognized as a voice in baking and fermentation has allowed more opportunities to explore and share resources for making this world a better place.  

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Now that it’s been a year since your relocation from New York City (Rockaway Beach, Queens) to California, what do you find unique about sustaining a whole foods and fermentation-focused lifestyle in California? How does it differ from doing so in New York? 

Sarah: I left NYC in October 2019 but relocated to California mid-January of this year after a long cross-country book tour, fire evacuations from Sonoma county, and a 5 week stint in Mexico leading baking workshops. When I finally landed in California, I was unaware that the well water of the house where I lived was tainted, and I fell incredibly ill. I had already been sick in Mexico a few weeks before and really struggled with being a healthy human until I understood the source of illness. It was a frustrating introduction to California but exposed the reality of pressure on natural resources in this state and the lack of adequate and affordable housing for those who live here. I wasn’t eating a complex diet through most of February while I was reclaiming digestive health. Then, the lockdown happened that made it difficult to really explore the agriculturally rich area of Sonoma county. My personal and professional circumstances changed shortly after and I moved to southern California, which is again, a vastly different lifestyle than northern California. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Owens

I did have some growing space earlier this year however and the opportunity to return to a love of interacting with soil, plants, and weather. Exploring this very unique region through gardening and sustainable foraging was a real gift through the lockdown and allowed me to stay grounded in the moment when all else seemed to fall into a state of turmoil. This connection with nature outside of manipulating microbes was missing from my work as a baker and educator in urban Rockaway and part of why I began seeking a lifestyle outside of the hustle of NYC. I was also lucky to be neighbors with some generous folks who raised delicious duck and goose eggs. We traded eggs, vegetables, and sometimes cheese for breads and pastry, which was perfect, as recipe testing baked goods can be extremely wasteful if you don’t have someone to feed! This exchange is what makes rural living so attractive to me even though access to its abundance is often traded for the cultural diversity of a bigger city. 

There is an abundance of fresh produce in California due to the generous growing season, but it is extremely expensive to eat well. I couldn’t answer this question without addressing the assumption that everyone in California lives a healthy lifestyle. While that may be true for those who can afford to live in areas with clean air and to pay for the high cost of housing and food here, this state is also home to a great number of people who cannot. This has been exacerbated by the problems of the pandemic as well. It’s important to remember that there is a large population of migrant farmworkers in California who live a very brutal life under the scorching sun and smog of the central valley where vegetables, nuts, and fruits are grown in monoculture to be shipped to the rest of the country. My consumption of certain foods has been curbed because of this, and the expense of a more sustainable alternative often makes them inaccessible, particularly in an era of frugality. I do however save up and splurge occasionally to support the amazing farmers and craftspeople who are dedicated to their work and honoring the precious resources of this fragile ecosystem. Although I have become increasingly sensitive to alcohol this year, I have enjoyed access to the abundance of organically grown, dry farmed, naturally-fermented wine and cider made with low-intervention methods. This method of winemaking is a beautiful movement in Sonoma and Napa counties in particular and now that I am near the border with Mexico, I hope to have the time and resources to explore the food and wine of Valle de Guadeloupe in the near future. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With one of the reasons that you moved to California being to open a “cook-the-farm” school. Are there any updates that you’d be willing to share about how your plans are progressing? 

Sarah: Unfortunately due to the previously mentioned circumstances of this year, my partnership with the “cook-the-farm” school in Sebastopol has dissolved and I have relocated out of Sonoma county due to the ongoing fire pressure and cost of living during this uncertain time. The challenge now is to reassess where it would be best to continue working as a writer, educator, gardener, and community-supported baker. Teaching is and will continue to be my passion and I would love to develop an alternative plan for eventually resuming in-person workshops that have a closer connection to the land. For now, I am staying at a friend’s place in southern California through the winter where I will focus on writing and recipe development and explore whether the realities of this state jive with my priorities for the future. Patreon has thankfully provided a somewhat stable source of income during this time so I can remain flexible. I’m so grateful for this platform to share recipes, videos, and workshops and will reassess my options in the spring when we hopefully have a better handle on the global health, economic, social, and climate crises.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One message that I took from your most recent book ‘Heirloom’ is the importance of utilizing recipes and cookbooks as guides toward building upon one’s baking and cooking knowledge. From my own personal experience, doing so has allowed me to make the continuous development of my baking and cooking skills into an immersive journey of creative expression. Can you share an example of how a home-baker could utilize one of your published recipes as a guide rather than a rigid list of ingredients coupled with a recipe specific set of instructions?

Photo Credit: Ngoc Minh Ngo courtesy of Roost Books

Sarah: The last 10 years of teaching and writing have sharpened my sense of how people develop a lifetime of skills around this very organic and variable process of fermentation, particularly when working with ingredients that haven’t been standardized by industrial processing. I like to focus on celebrating uncertainty rather than conforming to a specific set of dogmatic instructions. Traditionally, baking recipes have focused less on the sensuality and immersive moment-to-moment decision making of the process and more on the chemistry and reliability of standardized ingredients. However, to move forward with ingredients that have a better nutritional and environmental footprint (which inherently lead to more robust, digestible, and unique flavors so many seek through sourdough) we have to embrace the variability and intuitive nature of using these ingredients and the bacterial fermentation that honors them. We are hard-wired for seeking success without failure though, so it is tricky to try and provide the answers and guidance for adapting to this expansive approach. When working with the regional, stone ground flours that I prefer, I have to make sure readers have the right expectations before they launch into a recipe or technique. I wrote Sourdough back in 2013, before a lot of stone ground flours were as available as they are now. The way I write recipes and guide workshops continues to evolve accordingly and I’d like to say the best book and recipes I will write is yet to come. 

Creativity can only come after basic techniques have been mastered and hand skills have been homed in tandem with intuition. As an educator (both author and instructor), I strive to make sure both of those things are within reach regardless of your experience when you pick up one of my books or attend a workshop. A perfect example would be the Table Loaf recipe that was published in Heirloom (not the shortened excerpt that has become so viral on YouTube). It includes a more adaptive approach to using stone ground flours in various percentages of whole grain and being able to respond to the variables of time, temperature, and bioavailability of nutrients as they influence fermentation. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Over your time as a sourdough baker and author, advocacy and education have gradually taken up a bigger portion of your involvement in the worldwide sourdough community. What would you say are today’s most pressing agricultural issues affecting home and professional bakers? 

Sarah: We have to address the use of natural resources and both the short and long-term consequences on ourselves and the planet. ‘Sustainability’ was trending for a while but is being replaced by the increasingly popular concept of ‘regenerative agriculture’ on social media, in documentaries, and cookbooks. It is essentially a powerful holistic land management practice that uses traditional farming methods to draw down carbon and increase soil biodiversity, with the benefits of severing reliance upon chemical inputs, becoming more water-wise, and reversing the effects of climate change. It is also nothing new. My hope is that by increasing awareness of these practices and their power, it inspires those who want to heal our earth to consider the historical context of this knowledge and who benefits from it. Language is important, and we must use it with ancestral respect and to empower those who continue to struggle in the shadow of colonialized systems of oppression. Regenerative agriculture means nothing if land and water rights aren’t restored to indigenous peoples and descendants of slave labor who are the sources of this knowledge. When this isn’t addressed, extractive behavior continues to be disguised as regeneration. 

With that out of the way, we can consider our actions as bakers. According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Program on wheat, at least 531,276,570.15 acres of the planet have been devoted to growing wheat in 2020, making it more widely cultivated than any other staple food crop. We cannot underestimate the environmental impact of the farming methods used to cultivate the majority of this wheat. We need to reexamine the consequences of industrial farming and cheap, commodified flour that makes up the greatest percentage of this statistic. If we pivot the way we bake to embrace more regional and diversified cereal crops, I truly believe commodity agriculture and its environmentally devastating consequences can be supplanted with affordable alternatives for all. Home and professional bakers have to stop relying upon the crutch of cheap flour as an excuse for not supporting better farming and milling. It’s a lazy way of dodging a complex issue and comes at the expense of the most vulnerable and marginalized. It continues the cycles of extraction and land occupation. Marginalized communities are feeling the greatest effects of climate change as the rising cost of climate disaster and public health crisis accelerates. 

For most people however, knowledge of how to work with less standardized, regional ingredients is out of reach. This is what I hope to continue exploring in my books and recipes and as I hopefully resume travel to other countries in the coming years. Aggregating and passing on this ancient knowledge is very important in a fast moving world, but I am constantly striving to do so with respect to those who are generous enough to share it. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With so many old world cooking and baking techniques being reintroduced back into the mainstream of modern cooking and baking, how do you view the recent growth of scratch cooking and baking? How would you describe the health and overall lifestyle benefits of cooking and baking with raw (minimally processed) ingredients to someone who is not already an avid home cook or baker?

Sarah: It’s great that these traditions are being revisited! If they aren’t made relevant to modern times, they risk being lost and along with them, knowledge of who we are and where we come from. 

Nourishing food made from minimally processed ingredients can look and taste so different depending upon the culture from which they came and the preferences of those who are eating it. We all know people who prefer refined, nutritionally devoid foods like white bread and soda pop over the aggressive flavor identities of healthier options like whole grain loaves, kombucha, and kale salad. That should be honored without judgement. If the scratch cooking and baking movement is to improve health, the approach needs to contain ingredients that are culturally appropriate for various demographics and focus on the feeling of nourishment. Healthy eating or scratch cooking is a dangerous badge of honor when it is measured by external values of body image or is imposed upon a community who is unfamiliar with its flavors and customs. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Owens

There is also the consideration that not everyone feels empowered to make health their priority. If a population’s self-esteem and corporal existence has been compromised for hundreds of years by the insistence that it is inferior to or should be sacrificed for another superior race, social healing has to be addressed before physical healing can be. Scratch cooking can be a gateway to social and physical change for the better if it is presented as an invitation into a world of pleasure and communion. As I mentioned above, that can be a challenge when you don’t possess culinary knowledge, time, or resources. As with land and water rights, we have to restore access to ancestral knowledge of scratch cooking as well for historically marginalized people that statistically suffer the most from modern disease.   

People who wish to change their lifestyle habits, often do so out of necessity. They may have a health crisis like I did. Their doctor may threaten the risk of heart disease or diabetes if they don’t remove unnecessary refined carbohydrates from their diet. There has to be a good reason why someone wants to explore the world of minimally processed foods and their benefits because it takes effort and often time to prepare them. Flexibility and an openness to new experiences are key to instigating personal change. But it’s also important to realize that small changes can have a huge impact on health without a major time or monetary investment. Little steps allow us to embrace foods, recipes, and unfamiliar customs at ease and with the ability to measure their effects on how we feel. That is extremely powerful and encouraging! We can all start by identifying one thing that could use an upgrade and then devise a plan. For my father recently, that was addressing an addiction to soda pop. When I described how he could make a healthier, probiotic version with less sugar using a kombucha or jun culture, he was open enough to consider learning how to do it. 

Again, preparing food with minimally processed ingredients can be challenging to those who wish to improve their health but do not have the knowledge of how to do so. When you push through the learning curve though, your body responds with healing, strength, better sleep, clearer thinking, and generally just feeling good. That is more addictive than the alternative and eventually, the positive feedback loop pushes us toward better choices

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One thing that we have in common is that our cooking is influenced by a variety of cuisines. How would you describe your style of cooking? Who/what are your current culinary influences?

Sarah: I don’t really consider myself to have a style although I am predisposed to cuisines that contain spicy foods, nourishing broths, loads of cooked or fermented vegetables, and use of whole and heirloom grains. Most people would associate this with a Mediterranean diet, but I find inspiration in a much broader range of flavors and customs. There is so much to discover and experience! I am inspired by and am extremely curious to learn about foods that I have little direct experience with and am encouraged by the attention that is increasingly being given to authors from lesser-known or recognized cuisines. I have a long list of cookbooks to explore this winter including Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand by Nuit Regular, East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing by Meera Sodha, To Asia with Love by Hetty Lui McKinnon, Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen by Durkhanai Ayubi and Farida Ayubi, and In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean (A Cookbook) by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Have you baked breads with specific food pairings in mind? If so, what steps do you typically take to ensure that the pairing turns out how you originally envisioned it?

Photo Credit: Sarah Owens

Sarah: Although I have pursued particular styles of breads that are identified in a classic way (ciabatta for mopping up saucy foods or brioche buns for hamburgers) more often lately I am inspired by the unique properties of regional, stone ground flours and how they can be best expressed in a baked good. When you stop trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, there is so much more freedom in baking.  Using these flours as foundations rather than replacements for more refined counterparts allows you to explore their remarkable textures and flavors. It becomes a matter of learning their behavior or performance and only then, can I begin to fantasize about more intentional food pairings. 

Otherwise, there are breads that just functionally fit into my personal preferences. A porridge loaf with moist keeping quality is what I aim to create as my breakfast or midday snack, as I love the way the butter melts into the toasted crumb and crust and how the natural sweetness from the grain contrasts the bitterness of my coffee. A tin loaf with a high percentage of whole grain is what I aim for in a sandwich bread, as I love how soft and flavorful the crumb can be when stuffed with cured meats, aged cheeses, or roasted veggies. If I’m preparing a mezze spread, then of course I want to bake a good flatbread for scooping and transferring those bright flavors from plate to belly. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As someone who fully embraces cooking and baking with seasonal ingredients, what are five tips that you would give to home bakers and cooks for taking full advantage of seasonal ingredients? 

Photo Credit: Sarah Owens

1. Work with whatever is most abundantly available either from the farmer’s market, your own garden, or what is sustainably gleaned from the wild or with permission from your neighbor’s yard! This can be challenging, as it may be an ingredient that you are not familiar with or only have so many recipes for use. This approach however encourages culinary creativity, frugality, and problem solving. 

2. Consider ways to preserve abundant seasonal ingredients for later usage. Squirreling away ingredients for the off-season is a great way to avoid fatigue by whatever seasonal abundance you may be experiencing at the time. In a four season climate, this is particularly important for the stark contrast between summer and winter abundance. Even if you are a sweet potato or butternut enthusiast, come March, I bet you will be really excited to dig out that bag of frozen sweet corn from the freezer! Not every year will produce abundance of the same seasonal ingredients and it’s important to ensure you have access to a diverse diet for creative inspiration but also health. 

3. Share your abundance with others. We tend to approach feeding ourselves in a very practical way and sometimes get stuck in a creative rut. When giving freely, people will often tell you of the food they have made. We may learn about a cultural tradition previously unfamiliar, discover an old family recipe, or otherwise learn a new technique. It is a great way to keep inspired and stay connected to our community. 

4. Anticipate the abundance and what you will do with it. This helps to avoid waste. If you know a plum tree in your yard or neighborhood will drop its fruit at roughly the same time every year, make a plan to harvest and process or share the fruit and incorporate that into your schedule just as you would a yoga class or church service. 

5. Embrace the timing of seasonal foods that complement each other and incorporate these into your meals. A good example for autumn is a salad made of fruits, root veg, hearty chicories, and toasted nuts. Roasted golden beets pair well with apples, endive, and hazelnuts (or walnuts or pecans) in a delicious, seasonally-appropriate salad that feels and tastes fresh. The earthiness of the beets is complemented by the sweet, crisp texture of the apples, the bitterness of the endive, and the robust aroma and crunch of hazelnuts. Brought together by a bright dressing of yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, and a pop of mint (fresh or dried), brightens the dish and is taking advantage of what is seasonally abundant. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With so many sourdough bakers opening cottage bakeries, what are some lessons that you’ve learned from your cottage baking experiences that you’d like to convey to home bakers choosing to turn their baking hobbies into a profession?

Sarah: Although my answer looks a bit different because of the current health crisis and its limitations for commerce, there are a few things that remain constant. 

Think ahead and decide what business model will be the most sustainable for your priorities and lifestyle. This will look very different for each baker, as we all have different motivations, access to resources, and familial responsibilities. Many baking entrepreneurs open a business based upon their passion for the process and want to find a way to subsidize becoming a better baker through feeding their community. What many don’t anticipate is that when you are making bread with quality ingredients and a dedication to fermentation and the time it takes, you will never be able to make enough bread to satisfy your customers! Consider growth or your ceiling for production and what that looks like in terms of equipment, space, and monetary investment. But also think about your quality of life and what you need to stay healthy and inspired. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Owens

Diversify if you can! This is one of the key strategies for sustainable longevity in the new normal and considering the physical demands of production baking, even on a small scale. Each business model should reflect locally available ingredients and the needs of the community, but also the ability of the baker to meet those needs without sacrificing their health or happiness. Direct-to-consumer is the most profitable way for a cottage baker to sustain long-fermentation bread baking but that might not make sense for every community. Wholesale may be another cottage baker’s best option, but this requires more units to be sold to meet the same profit as direct sales. This should be evaluated in advance of investing in space and equipment, but it is also important to remain flexible and open to letting the business grow organically, particularly if your bread is relatively unfamiliar to your community. You can never anticipate what opportunities may come your way once people get hooked on your passion! 

Leading workshops is a great way to diversify your business. This has always been an activity I find deeply satisfying because I love introducing the magic of sourdough, but it is also a fun and cerebral alternative to the physicality of production baking. It can also be potentially more lucrative than the profit margins of sourdough bread baking and provide you with a bit of relief from the grind of a routine. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? 

Sarah: Our increasingly urbanized existence has been an efficient way to centralize resources and yet it distances us from the never-ending cycle of life and death. All of our food really should be considered an opportunity to connect with nature. Sourdough is literally alive and teeming with microbes, particularly when made with freshly milled flours that are remarkably bioactive. It is a powerful way to create and strengthen bonds to nature through the act of nurturing.

Each step in bread making is an opportunity to honor not only the land on which our food is grown but the hard work and expertise of each person involved in getting that food to our tables, including the farmers and the millers. Bread making provides an opportunity to connect to a life force bigger than ourselves, to step outside of our personal experience and feel the common thread that sews together our existence: How we source our flour impacts the microbial health of the soil in which the grain was grown. How that grain is processed affects the bioactivity of the flour that creates our starter and leavens our bread. The choices of how we leaven our bread affects the nutritional availability and thus the nourishment it can provide. And when we choose to nourish ourselves and one another, we provide opportunities to thrive together, as one living organism. It’s all connected!

Sarah is currently producing a series of online recipes and workshops through Patreon, exploring the alchemy and digestive benefits of natural leavening, fermentation, and preservation. 

Happy Baking!

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TBP Feature: An Audio-Visual tour of Castle Valley Mill (Doylestown, PA)

While I’ve been homebrewing beer since 2009, I’ve yet to visit a malt house or interview a maltster. However, ever since dipping both feet into sourdough baking this past April, I’ve done increasingly more research on the cultivation and milling of heirloom, ancient, and more well known grains. Some of which I was familiar from cooking thems as side dishes and incorporating them into my weekly challah bread. Hence when I discovered Castle Valley Mill, I was immediately impressed by the variety of whole berries and flours that they mill and sell.

On Wednesday, October 14th I drove 90 minutes from New Jersey to Doylestown, Pennsylvania to get a firsthand look at the impressive work of Mark and Fran Fischer, owners of Castle Valley Mill. Before sitting down with them for an interview, Fran guided me on a wonderful tour of the mill and its property during which I learned a lot about both the history of the mill, its restoration process, and the cultivation and milling wheat in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

I chose to record the audio of the tour while taking pictures with my cell phone along the way in order to edit together this audio-visual presentation about the mill and its history. I hope you enjoy this video as much I enjoyed the tour. Happy Baking!

Key points from the tour:

Castle Valley Mill was not in operation for 150 years prior to when Mark Fischer started restoring it 13 years ago. The restoration is close to being complete. Next steps include transitioning back to operating on water power and completing the restoration of additional milling stones and machines inside the mill.

Grain is moved from the basement to the third floor of the mill by a bucket elevator system (vertically) and archemedes screw (horizontally).

While the mill currently runs on 3-phase electric power. Mark always checks the original patents of each machine that he restores and looks for architectural signs first in order to make sure that modern touches are only added when absolutely necessary.

Before being milled, grains and corn go through a number of cleaning steps in fully restored machines such as the first-pass cleaner and revolving disc aspirator.

After being milled grains and corn are sifted using bolting cloths and then packed for distribution and retail business.

If a piece is missing during the restoration of a milling machine it is 3-D printed, tested, and then cast if it functions as intended.

All of their grains and corn are stone-ground using restored and well maintained milling stones.

All of the products that Castle Valley Mill sells are cleaned, milled, packaged, and stored cold on premises.

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Mark and Fran Fischer of Castle Valley Mill

This past July I was three months into my sourdough baking journey and spending lots of time perusing social media and researching ingredients, recipes and techniques. It so happened that towards the end of the month, a cousin of mine mentioned plans to visit a flour mill in Pennsylvania with his wife. While I wasn’t able to go with them, I immediately went to the mill’s website and became increasingly excited to try out their flours. One week later, I decided to email one of the mill’s owners about the possiblity of a blog sponsorship. To my surprise, she called me that day and agreed to both sponsoring The Brewed Palate and sending me some of her mill’s flours to bake with. Fast forwarding yet again, shortly after contacting Cairnspring Mills CEO Kevin Morse about an interview for this series, I emailed this mill’s co-owner once again and after exchanging a few emails, a date and time were set for me to visit the mill and interview her and her husband.

History, craftmanship, and dedication to good quality food; three qualities that characterize this week’s featured bakers, Mark and Fran Fischer of Castle Valley Mill. Located in Doylestown, PA, Mark has spent the past 13 years restoring the late 18th century mill that his father purchased in 1947. While not complete, Mark has brought Castle Valley Mill back into operating order and currently processes and mills an impressive variety of grains and heirloom corn with the help of Fran and their children.

On Wednesday, October 14th I headed to the mill and was greeted by Fran. After taking some time to admire the adjacent river and mill’s property, she proceeded to take me on a wonderful tour of the mill itself. Audio was recorded, pictures were taken, and then edited into an audio-visual tour video. However, I’ve chosen to post the interview that I recorded with Mark and Fran first in order to share what I find most special about Castle Valley Mill. The passion, dedication, and knowledge of its owners.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Mark and Fran Fischer of Castle Valley Mill.

The following topics were discussed during the coarse of this interview:

  • The process of restoring old grain mills and Mark’s restoration process at Castle Valley Mill. [start-3:25]
  • How Mark and Fran source the grains that they mill and prepare them for milling. [3:36-6:11]
  • Castle Valley Mill’s relationships with its local farmers and what’s unique about growing heirloom varietals of wheat in Pennsylvania. [6:12-8:40]
  • Mark’s milling philosophy and methods. [8:41-10:29]
  • Mark’s homebaking and the changes in the aroma and flavor profiles of Castle Valley Mill’s (CVM) flours from year to year. [10:30-13:37]
  • CVM’s growing and milling of heirloom varities of corn. [13:38-16:47]
  • Milling malted barley flour: Collaboration with Deer Creek Malt House. [16:48-18:52]
  • “Real food is good” – Mark and Fran’s philosophy on and inspiration behind producing and promoting good quality products aka “living food.” [18:53-24:20]
  • Outro. [24:21-end]

Mill Tour Preview:

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Kevin Morse of Cairnspring Mills

Going beyond the grocery store shelf to find what makes up the foods we eat and where the ingredients that we cook and bake with come from, often leads to some eye opening discoveries. Taking one from goods defined by terms like industrialized, commodity, and preservative laden to those characterized as responsibly sourced, sustainable, and whole. One food product that portrays this epiphany quite well is bread. When delving deeper into the world of bread baking, one discovers the world of differences between Wonder Bread and artisan bread. However, one’s curiosity doesn’t need to stop there. The cultivation and processing of the varietals of wheat that turn into the flours that we bake with are worth learning about and incorporating into the development of our definition of food that is truly good for us and the environment.

“Our whole business model starts with the farmer. Part of our mission is to lift the farmers out of the commodity system so they remain economically viable and can be good stewards of the land we all depend on for our sustenance and well being.”

“We view the different varieties like wine grapes or specialty coffee. There is terroir in wheat and we are only just beginning to explore the varieties that can be grown here and provide the home and professional baker with products that they have never experienced before.”

Two quotes that exemplify the character and mission of this week’s featured baker, Kevin Morse, founder and CEO of Cairnspring Mills (Burlington, Washington). With sustainability, conservancy, and community in mind, he maintains strong relationships with individuals at every step of the bread production process. From the farmers who he pays above premium prices for the high quality grains that they cultivate and harvest to the bakeries that he works with in order to make sure they’re able to bake breads etc with the characteristics that they’re aiming for. Since 2016, Kevin and his team have been redefining what an agricultural supply chain can look like with a level of dedication that to me is quite inspiring.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Kevin Morse of Cairnspring Mills.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How has your home baking evolved since opening Cairnspring Mills? 

Kevin: My home baking has undergone a tremendous transformation. Prior to opening the mill I hardly baked at all. When I did it was yeasted pan breads or pizza dough made with industrial white flours. I never got too excited about it and the bread was just a platform to be covered in butter, cheese and sauce. There was no expectation of flavor. After tasting breads, pizzas and pastries made by our customers with our flour I could not believe what I had been missing and it opened up a whole new obsession and passion. Now I bake at least twice a week and I am constantly studying new techniques and searching for new recipes to try. I think I have also put on 15lbs. 😊

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What do you find to be most unique about cultivating and milling grains in Washington state?

Kevin: Washington’s climate and diverse growing regions offer us the opportunity to source a variety of grains that have a range of flavors, colors, aromas and baking characteristics. We view the different varieties like wine grapes or specialty coffee. There is terroir in wheat and we are only just beginning to explore the varieties that can be grown here and provide the home and professional baker with products that they have never experienced before. To me, this journey of exploration and seeing our customers reaction to these new flours is one of the most satisfying parts of the job.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One characteristic of Cairnspring Mills that I’ve found myself truly inspired by is its dedication to its relationships with individuals at every stage of the “life of a loaf”, from the farmers to the milling staff to the bakeries that bake their breads with its flour. One such relationship is with Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery, a well known baker and author. Can you share a brief history of your relationship with Chad and how it is a prime example of the mission of Cairnspring Mills?

Kevin: The foundation of our business is our community. Our approach to customers, farmers and team members is to establish authentic and meaningful relations that are beyond just business transactions.. I met Chad at a Grain Gathering hosted by the Washington State University Bread Lab and we hit it off right way. His passion for his craft and interest in supporting regenerative farming and bringing better tasting healthy bread to the world was aligned with my values and vision. He visited the mill frequently before we were operating and then again afterwards to learn about the mill and get to know the farmers. Today we still communicate frequently and the vision remains the same. His entire team has become like family. This holds true for many of our other customers and champions of local mills including Mel Darbyshire at Grand Central Bakery, George DePasquale at Essential Baking, Chris Bianco at Bianco Pizzeria, Scott and Renee at the Breadfarm, Leslie Mackie at Macrina, Thomas Vroom at Fernhorn Bakery, Sean Hughes at Mount Bakery, Conner O’Neil at The Cottage Blue Ridge Bakery, the bakers at the Herbfarm and the chefs at Canlis , Post Alley Pizza, Craig at Gracie’s Pizza and many others that I wish I had the time to list here.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One hobby of mine that I can relate to grain cultivation is specialty coffee. Coffee roasters do their best to source their single origin coffees via “fair trade”, a process that leads to farmers being paid fairly for their labor. What does your process of making sure that your local farmers are paid fairly for their hard work look like?

Kevin: Our whole business model starts with the farmer. Part of our mission is to lift the farmers out of the commodity system so they remain economically viable and can be good stewards of the land we all depend on for our sustenance and well being. Cairnspring pays growers on average 30% more than commodity prices. In return they agree to our growing practices and produce high quality clean grains that meet our specifications.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’ll have to admit that when we first started messaging each other on Instagram I was surprised to find out that the founder and CEO of a well known mill takes time out of his busy schedule to be present on social media and interact with bakers of all levels. What do you enjoy most about interacting with home bakers via social media? 

Kevin: Interacting with our customers and community is one of my favorite parts of the job. The inquiries, appreciation and lessons learned from our customers inspire me, provide us invaluable guidance on the best uses of our flours and help us all become better at what we do. I think this is also a product of my upbringing. I grew up spending summers working with my Nonno in his six aisle grocery store, deli and butcher shop. He was my role model and I loved watching him interact with his staff and customers. It brought him great joy to serve good food to his community and family and I inherited that same passion.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One exciting part of the continuous learning process that sourdough bakers experience is learning that there is more to flour than just buying a bag off the grocery store shelf. As someone who has an intimate relationship with the flour production process, how do you approach learning about the grains that you work with when deciding which varietals to use in your core line of flours? 

Kevin: This is also one of my favorite parts of the job. I constantly review and read about the work being done at the wheat breeding programs at WSU, UC Davis, the California wheat commission and network with other millers in the US and around the world to learn about the varieties they are milling. In particular I look at yield for the farmer, diseases resistance, milling quality, baking quality and flavor. Steve Lyon, who is the wheat breeder at the WSU Bread Lab, is one of the best in the business and he provides me with great guidance as well. I also frequently connect with our customers to better understand their needs and wishes then try to find a match.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): In line with my previous question, what are the differences between your Trailblazer and Organic Expresso bread flours? and What percentage of a bread recipe’s total flour weight would you recommend that they represent?

Kevin: Trail Blazer is a responsible conventional flour made with Yecora Rojo hard red spring wheat. Organic Expresso is its organic equivalent in terms of protein content and functionality. They both have excellent fermentation tolerance and protein in the range of 13% to 14%. The Trail Blazer flour produces bread with a slightly milder flavor, a lighter colored crumb and a beautiful dark caramel colored crust. The Expresso has a more robust wheaty flavor, a darker colored crumb and a thick more rustic crust. I frequently blend them together using the Tartine Country loaf recipe and I also mix them 80% to 20% with other flours like the Sequoia, Edison or Organic Skagit 1109 to produce different flavors and textures.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Of all of the wheat varietals that you’ve come across, what are some that surprised you upon milling and then baking with them?

Kevin: This is a hard question. The first surprise was related to milling technique. When we compared our flour to flour produced in an industrial mill I was amazed at the aroma and flavor difference we are able to achieve using stone mills and intentionally milling more of the bran and the germ into our flours. It resulted in a much more flavorful and complex product that what you can buy on the shelves in the grocery store. There is nothing like fresh milled flour!!

 There a couple varietals that we test milled in the early days that had unique aromatic qualities. The Rouge de Bordeaux smelled like the winter flavors you find in holiday cooking such as nutmeg and cinnamon. The Yecora Rojo and Expresso continue to amaze me with their spicy and complex flavors and most recently we milled our first batch of Skagit grown Fortissimo durum flour. The rich nutty flavor is blowing the chefs minds when they use it in pasta and pizza dough. I have also recently milled a small batch of heritage wheat from my great grandmothers village in Sicily. The raw grain and bread baked with it tasted like honey. I am hoping to grow some out in the US and start milling it in a couple years.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Having recently started milling my own flour on my new Mockmill; I’m slowly learning the ins and outs of stone milling. What is stone milling on a large scale like at your mill? 

Kevin: It many ways it is like milling with a smaller home mill. We pay close attention to the flow of grain into the mill so the stones achieve the optimal grind and maintain ideal temperature needed to achieve our desired specs. Our millers, Dave, Josh and Abby are the heart and soul of the operation. They have built the mill from the ground up, maintained it, and have developed an amazing ability to listen to the stones and the other equipment and know when they are operating correctly or not. They have truly mastered the ancient craft of stone milling and added their own creative twist using modern equipment. I am so grateful for our team and their commitment to quality and each other.  

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With home and professional bakers incorporating a large variety of whole grains flours into their breads, cakes, and pastries nowadays. How do you direct bakers towards choosing the most ideal flours for more specific situations like pizza and pastry making? 

Kevin: The different grains and flours have different functional properties so I usually start by asking the baker or chef what they want to make and then recommend which flours would be best for their desired outcomes and the process they are using.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): From your perspective, what is the relationship between nature conservancy and the quality of life improvements that come with baking and cooking with whole foods? 

Kevin: I believe that the best way to keep our communities healthy, prosperous and resilient to things like climate change is to rebuild local food systems. That includes conservation of our farmland and natural areas. They are what produce the fundamental elements of a good quality of life including food, clean water and clean air. When we can cook and bake with local, more nutritious foods grown in healthy soils or from clean water we are all better off. Know your miller, know your farmer and buy local!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? 

Kevin: Living bread to me means that it was made with fresh milled flour from non commodity grains, naturally leavened and made without dough conditioners or additives. All you need is flour, water and salt! Pane e vita!

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Hannah Dela Cruz of Make It Dough

Adapt, bake, and share. Three tasks that every baker, sourdough or not, completes each time he or she bakes. Adapting entails paying attention to things like the weather (or local climate), hydration limits of flour, time, and recipe constraints. Next, whilst baking one must create the ideal environment for their dough in order for it to rise enough before its crust sets. Then it comes time for sharing i.e. the point where in my opinion, the most subjectivity comes into play. While on one hand, you’re usually your own worst critic. One hopes that on the other hand, those who try your breads etc take into account all of the things that had to go right when giving their feedback.

Nowadays, that feedback can come in many forms, many of which do not involve someone actually tasting what you’ve baked. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook allow both home and professional bakers to hone their photography skills and share their latest baked creations, “crumb shots”, and unique recipes and processes with the continuously growing worldwide baking community. Along with the aforementioned three tasks, it takes practice and forethought to present one’s baking experiences in a approachable and attractive manner on a consistent basis. However, those who do so successfully eventually amass sizeable followings consisting of bakers of all experience levels. These bakers are in turn inspired to develop their own passions for baking in a way that they can comfortably adapt, bake, and then share their own processes and experiences and keep the cycle going.

Recently, a considerable amount of home sourdough bakers who have mastered sharing their baking knowledge and experiences via social media have decided to write and publish cookbooks containing recipes, baking process guides, and memorable bread baking related experiences. One of these esteemed bakers is this week’s featured baker, Hannah Dela Cruz of Make It Dough. Through her award-winning blog and Instagram page , she presents beautifully photographed sourdough breads, desserts, and other miscellaneous sourdough recipes such as semolina angel hair pasta to her over 16k followers. Hannah’s first book ‘Sourdough Every Day’ is set to be released this December after months of hard work. I personally have learned a lot from her in recent months and hope that you find her personal story and baking perspective as inspiring as I have.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Hannah Dela Cruz of Make it Dough.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How long have you been baking sourdough bread? What was your approach to learning and then mastering the basics of sourdough baking?

Hannah: I’ve been baking bread for just a little over 2 years. I created my sourdough starter in 2018, after deciding to quit my job of 4 years. The routine of having to feed my starter and trying to understand the process of bread making was a welcome distraction from the uncertainty of life.

I followed Paul Hollywood’s recipe for creating my first sourdough starter using a grated apple and my sourdough starter actually exploded! After this happened, I went on a Google binge trying to figure out what happened and how I could prevent it, this led me to Maurizio’s blog ThePerfectLoaf.com, which then became my main educational resource, and gave me the foundation that led me to understanding the basics of breadmaking. From there, Kristen’s videos on her Youtube channel, Full Proof Baking, helped me “perfect” my method. I put “perfect” in quotation marks, of course because no bread is perfect, and all are a work in progress. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As someone who embraces the full versatility of sourdough baking. How would you describe the benefits of utilizing sourdough starter (levain) in baked goods such as pizza, pastries, and baked desserts?

Hannah: The main benefit in my opinion is taste and flavor. Sourdough gives bakes such a nuanced flavor that is unique to each starter. The sourdough gives these bakes a different dimension that you simply can’t achieve with just flour and water.

Sourdough also introduces nutritional benefits if you use it to ferment flour, I do this a lot with pasta but not so much with other baked goods. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): In line with question #2: What are your three top tips for enriched sourdough baking?

Hannah: I find baking enriched breads so much easier than regular lean doughs! In my opinion these doughs are so much more predictable. 

  1. Watch the dough not the clock. Understand your dough!
  2. Your dough should increase in volume noticeably during bulk fermentation (about a 30 to 50% increase. It should feel like it’s airy and full of bubbles at the end of bulk
  3. It should increase in volume noticeably and almost feel like soft marshmallow after final proof and just before baking.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One piece of baking equipment that some sourdough bakers purchase once they’ve mastered the basics is a Mockmill for grinding fresh flour. How would one’s dough preparation process change when using freshly milled flour?

Hannah: Freshly-milled flour contains bran, bran sucks up the hydration  from your dough so you may need to add more water to compensate for that. Otherwise try to sift out a large portion of the bran to minimize the amount of water absorbed. Bran also has sharp edges which can interfere with gluten development. Sifting the bran and soaking it in water before adding to the rest of your dough is a great way to prevent it from affecting the texture of your bake.

I usually try to stick with 20 to 30% fresh-milled. I find that this allows me to enjoy the flavor of the fresh-milled grains without compromising the strength of my dough and the texture of my resulting bake. There are bakers out there who can bake beautiful breads with 100% fresh-milled, I admire these bakers, but I’m just not there yet. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a fellow blogger who has recently shifted the focus of his blog to include sourdough baking, I found your Saveur Magazine 2019 readers choice award for best special interest blog quite noteworthy. Can you describe what the nomination and award process was like and whether your approach to blogging has changed as a result of your award?

Hannah:  I love this question, I honestly don’t have a great answer for this because I had no idea I was a finalist. A fellow blogger Jaughna (towhatplace.com) reached out to me on Instagram to tell me I was a finalist. I attended the awards ceremony with no expectation of winning and was so surprised to have received an award. It was definitely one of my proudest moments.

I met so many amazing bloggers at the Saveur Awards and they all inspired me in different ways. Mainly, to improve as a photographer and to try and take advantage of the business side of blogging (there’s so many badass bloggers out there who are really owning the industry, and I aspire to be one of them). Other than that, I haven’t really changed the way I choose what recipes I choose to develop or post on my blog. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Upon seeing that you live in Las Vegas, the first question that came to mind was: “How does she bake in the hot desert climate of Las Vegas?”  How have you learned to adapt your baking process over time to the changes in outdoor and/or indoor temperatures that are unique to Las Vegas and locations with a similar climate?

Hannah: I actually recently moved and traded one desert for another moving from Las Vegas to Tucson. Baking in the desert is challenging, our temperature changes are extreme and abrupt. I try to compensate by keeping my starter and proofing my bread in a proofing box. However, that is often not enough. I feel like I have to relearn bread making every time the seasons change.

I think the key to dealing with the temperature changes is understanding the visual and textural cues of each stage of bread making. Knowing how your dough feels and looks when it is adequately fermented, proofed, etc. is vital.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What is your favorite sourdough discard recipe? 

Hannah: My answer to this question changes all the time! I love all of my sourdough discard recipes. I love creating these recipes because it allows me to be creative. I love my sourdough pasta recipe because it is so delicious and so many people have made it and loved it. I also really love my blondie recipe and my flaky biscuit recipe.

In my upcoming cookbook I have a recipe for discard chocolate cake that is one of the best cakes that I’ve ever tasted. I also have a recipe for dumpling wrappers that I’m so excited about. Each time I dream up a sourdough discard recipe it’s like I’m daring myself to try something new and allowing myself to conquer another baking or cooking milestone. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): On that note, your first book “Sourdough Every Day” is slated to be released this December. Can you describe what the writing and recipe development processes were like?

Hannah: Recipe development is my absolute favorite. I love getting creative with new recipes and ways to use my starter. But writing a book was HARD, I don’t think I’ve worked harder on anything in my life and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

Recipes are based on food that I love, so the process started with thinking up a list of food and baked goods that I thought could be adapted to include sourdough. This means having enough water in the original recipe to accommodate the hydration in my starter. I also wanted to make sure to include a large variety of recipes to show people the versatility of sourdough. From there I tested the recipe at least 2 or 3 times to make sure people could replicate it in their kitchens.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): The scoring patterns that one adds to his or her loaves prior to baking can be matters of both pride and artful expression. How do you decide which scoring pattern/s to use? and How do they enhance your appreciation of the craft of sourdough baking?

Hannah: I love scoring because it allows me to inject another layer of creativity in my bake. I get inspiration from patterns that I see on Instagram, I also get a lot of inspiration from patterns in nature or in tribal art. My boyfriend got me a book of japanese family seals and I pulled a lot of inspiration for patterns from that book.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Ever since I baked my first sourdough focaccia I’ve enjoyed perusing your instagram posts and seeing all of your beautifully decorated (garnished) focaccia. For those who enjoy adding that extra artful touch to their focaccia, what are some key factors to keep in mind in order to achieve one’s desired final product?

Hannah: Docking your dough enough so that your focaccia doesn’t puff up too much while baking and ruin your design. Don’t slice your vegetables too thinly or it will simply burn in the oven. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?

Hannah: Living food and living bread mean food that is nurtured and not conquered. Our starters are a companion that evolves with us throughout different stages of our lives. Just like our own bodies it adapts to changes in weather, it ages with time, the way we take care of it dictates its characteristics and the nuances in it’s flavor. Then we have to adjust our baking method accordingly. 

Thank you Hannah for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the he worldwide sourdough community! May your approachable and well photographed manner of presenting sourdough baking to your followers continue to bring you much success and serve as an inspiration to increasingly more of your fellow bakers.

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Living Bread Is…

So far the last question of every Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves series article has been “Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? ” In this video I celebrate living bread and each baker with a montage of their answers and a preview of upcoming interview articles.

Check out these upcoming featured bakers:

Hannah Dela Cruz – Make It Dough

Guy Frenkel – Céor Bread

Kevin Morse – Cairnspring Mills

Kanyi Muraguri, McKinney Bread Bakery / @cookingwithrags

Happy baking!!!!

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Meet The Baker Behind the Loaves: Inna Surita-Emmons of The Flour Floozy

Epiphany (noun)- a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience. Appearance, texture, aroma, and flavor; sourdough bread has them all in abundance. However, until you’ve tasted your first slice, the role that bread plays in one’s daily diet or culinary repertoire may be limited to impressions left by supermarket or softer textured and minimally-flavorful breads. In other words, breads that don’t necessarily spark culinary curiousity. Yet another factor that could limit one’s chances of having his or her sourdough “bread-phinany” is that the availability of artisan sourdough breads tends to vary widely between countries. In fact some countries go out of their way to keep their breads soft and not sour. As Chiew See of Autumn.Kitchen stated in her Meet the Baker interview, “We love our breads very soft in Asia, and with minimal tang. In fact erasing the slight tang from the finished products is a priority with many mothers in this region. Children generally reject ‘sour’ bread. My bakes are usually given away and tasters will give feedback.”

Growing up in the Philippines, this week’s featured baker had her sourdough “bread-phinany” while working in a restaurent in Manila prior to emigrating to the US. Ever since she arrived and settled in Tacoma, Washington; Inna Surita-Emmons has embarked on a journey towards learning as much as possible about what bread can be both as a form of nourishment and as a way of bringing people together. With a sense of humility, she has mastered baking in her apartment in order to bake loaves for less fortunate members of her local community and maintain an inspirational sense of culinary curiousity which she shares with her Instagram and Facebook followers.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Inna Surita-Emmons of The Flour Floozy

Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’d like to start with getting to know your cooking and baking background. What inspired you to start baking naturally leavened bread and how does your professional cooking background influence your baking? 

Inna: I guess my professional cooking background influences a lot of things I do in my life, especially in my bread making. The most important thing I mean, i wouldn’t have chosen to be a cook if being around and making good food wasn’t my initial inspiration. Before doing it professionally, my father ran a tiny bakery, and I would help him make yeasted breads with an often malfunctioning industrial mixer. We would take turns hand-kneading massive amounts of dough while the other rested. Imagine this Scenario, 300-400 orders of Cinnamon rolls, broken mixer, 33C (91F) degree weather. It still gives me nightmares to this day, haha! But, hey, the upside is that large amounts of dough does not scare me, plus the fact that I have pretty good looking biceps.

Anyway, I had always been interested in sourdough, but never actually gotten the chance to taste one slice. Crazy I suppose, but sourdough isn’t really a thing for the masses in the Philippines and it’s not widely known or available beyond  bigger and more expensive cities that have artisan / French inspired bakeries.

Chef Shell’s bread

It’s actually a fun little story of how I had my first bite of naturally leavened bread…I was working as a chef de partie in Manila back in 2018 before moving to the US and it would be pretty hectic. Long order tickets and six-day work weeks with 10-12 hour shifts, were the usual. There was this one time Chef Shelly (@daischielle on IG), who was the pastry chef consultant for the restaurant that I worked at, dropped by and had brought freshly baked sourdough bread that he had made. It was for my bosses, but she had another loaf for me and my team as well. I sliced it up, slathered a thick layer of butter on it, placed it on the hot flat grill, took a bite and E X P L O S I O N. It was tangy, the crumb was soft, and the crust was crispy.. I never knew bread, as simple as it is, could be that flavorful. 

It was probably one of the best tasting things I had ever put in my mouth. I mean it’s like that first bite was my “gateway drug” to my current sourdough obsession. I knew from then on, once i started my new life in the US, I would make my own sourdough starter and bread.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a home baker who focuses on locally sourced flour and ingredients. Can you describe how you source ingredients in and around Tacoma, Washington?

When I first started making my breads, the flours I was using weren’t local; they were in fact  “whatever the baker’s in the Youtube tutorials I watched used.” I didn’t really know that much about sourcing local flour and ingredients, How should i? I was still getting used to being “the new local”, but I eventually got better and became more confident at making bread. So the more my curiosity peaked, the more I started experimenting with the locally available ingredients. So naturally, I prefer to use local flour as well. 

Inna’s first bake with Cairnspring mills flour.

It just appealed to me so much to be making food and bread that I had sourced around me, like modern day foraging. Flour is the most important ingredient of bread so for me, so bit makes sense to utilize and source local flour. I had a hard time finding a steady supply though as I was still getting used to the area. Plus the fact that the pandemic hit and all the flour from the shelves of every single store I visited was GONE. But thanks to Thomas from Fernhorn Bakery in Vashon, I was able to experience the beauty of Washington’s flour from Cairnspring mills.

He was a big help in the project I was yearning to Start. I wanted to help people by providing them with free, delicious, and nourishing bread; and I was able to do that with his gracious gesture of dropping bags of flour at my doorstep like a “flour fairy” that every home baker probably has had a dream about. I subsequently found a reliable source of affordable flour from a local milling company named Shepherd’s grain at the Smart food service store near me, and have been supporting that brand as well ever since. It’s been a good 5 months since i’ve been making and giving away free bread, and i hope to keep doing it.

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  With bread being such an essential staple food item, baking healthy whole grain sourdough bread offers one the opportunity to help community members in need. In your case, you’ve chosen to do so through your “Free bread Friday” baking. What inspired you to start baking for your community and how has Free bread Friday grown over time?

Inna: I’ll start off by saying, I wanted to help in my own little way. Emphasis on the little because I am NOT that financially secure. I am a new immigrant in America, waiting on her expensive documents (that my husband and I had to save up for) to push through, no benefits, no job opportunities, no nothing, and coming from a “third-world country” too. So i know what it feels like to be vulnerable, and i wanted to do something for those who are experiencing vulnerability and food insecurity.

I support the cause of changing how we see and consume “bread” and how commercial and store bought bread has put a bad name in like what you said, “a very essential and staple food item.” I figured, I had all the time in the world and therefore might as well help out by providing REAL bread for the people.. right?

Goat cheese, moringa and turmeric soft sourdough loaf.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One factor that I admire about your Instagram posts is that you present your baking experiences as a journey towards achieving the best end result for each of your breads. What would you say is unique about your sourdough recipe development and adjustment processes?

Inna: Thanks for appreciating that! Although I wouldn’t really call it unique, I wouldn’t be so sure if there wasn’t another person who goes through the same process as I do. However, I do take pride in the fact that I often think of flavor combinations, maybe that’s my inner cook shining through. Whenever I think of a certain ingredient, let’s say goat’s cheese; I immediately ask myself… “Would that be good in bread?”and “If so, what else can complement the flavors of it?,  and that’s basically how i go about making my Recipes. I base it off my most basic known knowledge of tried and tested recipes, 10% of this or a dash of that, add the goat’s cheese, subtract from the total hydration since the cheese has its own moisture content, and edit from there…Knowing the basics is great, but experiments and flavor explorations are better!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Baking at home on a “large” scale can be quite challenging. However, you’ve figured out how to prepare and then bake multiple loaves at a time in your apartment. I have two questions for you on this topic. Firstly, how often do you bake nowadays? Next, how have you adapted your baking to allow you to bake more than two loaves per batch in your apartment?

Inna: I went from baking bi-weekly for my husband and I’s supply of daily bread, which meant 3 to 4 loaves a month. First using a regular steel pot (which did not work out too well as I didn’t have any baking vessel) and eventually using a cast iron combo cooker. Then I went  on to pushing for 12 to 24 loaves monthly. I rely heavily on kind donations and would like to do more, but that’s not too shabby for a home baker with a basic oven and non-professional equipment. 

I searched for the best way to bake bread with what I had, and saved up for my current, a used cast iron camping grill with a typical turkey roaster filled with lava rocks for steaming. I’m able to fit in 4 loaves at a time, sounds like a dream but it’s actually difficult. It takes at least 50 mins each batch, and another 30-45 to get back to the right temperature again. Takes about 5-6 hours, a good chunk of my day, but it’s worth it. I also have to make sure I provide enough steam and rotate the breads at least twice for even browning of the crust. Sometimes the breads get too cozy and “kiss” because it’s a little cramped, and every now and then I get burnt. But hey, I like to think my new burn marks compliment my tattoos!

Soft vegan sourdoug sandwich bread using plant-based butter.

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  Whether for dietary or religious reasons, many sourdough bakers choose to use plant-based substitutes for their enriched loaves. As a baker who often bakes vegan-friendly enriched loaves, what are some tips that you would give fellow bakers who are looking to similarly adapt their recipes?

Inna: I’m no Vegan, but I love eating and making vegan or vegetarian food. The most basic and simplest sourdough bread is VEGAN (and I had to explain this to people so many times)…I wanted to be more inclusive so I often try to “veganize” enriched and soft crumb breads. I am lactose-intolerant (with a slight tendency to be a masochist when it comes to dairy); so I often  make milky soft breads using plant-based ingredients, no eggs, no dairy, and still achieve the same textures as I do with soft and buttery breads. 

My advice? Always be on the lookout for new brands or companies that produce plant-based baking alternatives. There will always be a good “swap” for everything!

Halloween inspired scoring project for Made Terra.

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  I’ve enjoyed watching your Youtube tutorials recently and found them to be a great refresher course and reminder to always keep the basics in mind. How has the response been to your tutorials? and If you don’t mind me asking, what’s the nature of your partnership with Made Terra?

Inna: Thanks for appreciating! Those videos are actually sponsored by Made Terra and are a first for me! I started out as a customer, since their bannetons were the ones I was using when I started making bread. Eventually I got offered to provide content for them.

I am actually a selectively social and awkward person, so being in front of the camera is anxiety inducing (this is my FIRST interview!). But we all have to face our fears, especially if they are paid projects, haha! I’m beyond grateful to be given opportunities like this to learn from and better myself, and maybe help others learn too.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid home-cook I’ve enjoyed baking sourdough loaves with food pairings in mind. What are some of your favorite bread and food pairings? and How do you go about creating your pairings?

Inna: My food pairings are common. I suppose? Softened butter slathered on warm bread with crispy edges is definitely on the top of my list. My go to though is any type of sandwich, like homemade feta and black bean patties, house pickles, tomato, onion, cheddar and chipotle mayo. 

Sometimes when I have the random urge to make baguettes, I would instantly think ham and havarti cheese would go great with it. So I plan my day…I’d take a trip to the nearby deli and buy a few slices of ham; all because I wouldn’t want my baguettes to get lonely! 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Aside from baking sourdough bread, do you ferment other foods and/or beverages on a regular basis? If so, what are they?

Inna: That question reminded me of people saying that sourdough baking opened the doors for their other fermentation adventures. For me, it was kimchi. I’ve been making my own kimchi since I was 19 and I’ve even got my parents to do it as well. Also, I’m nursing a kombucha scoby, sauerkraut, kimchi and other pickles of sorts. I think it’s acceptable to say that I am indeed a fermentation fanatic now. 🙂 

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? 

Inna: The term “living bread” for me signifies how almost all of humanity’s different civilizations relied on bread. It gave them sustenance and nourishment, enabling them to go about and live. It is made from simple ingredients and brought to life by, well organisms and life itself. Bread and food is energy, it’s exciting, it’s delicious, it’s culture. It’s so simple and yet so profound, life giving living bread. 

Thank you Inna for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the your local community and the worldwide sourdough community at large! May your humble and artful way of presenting sourdough baking to your followers continue to bring you much success and be an inspiration to increasingly more of your fellow bakers.

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Veggie Fermentation: Make your own condiments and sandwich toppings

Before we get to the recipes, I’d like to define the two most popular vegetable fermentation methods:

Lacto-fermentation (according to The Spruce Eats)

The good bacteria on the salt-tolerant team are called Lactobacillus. Several different species within this genus are used to produce fermented foods. Lactobacillus bacteria convert sugars naturally present in fruit or vegetables into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that helps fight bad bacteria and preserves not only the flavor and texture of food but also its nutrients. 

In stage one of lacto-fermentation, vegetables are submerged in a brine that is salty enough to kill off harmful bacteria. The Lactobacillus good guys survive this stage and begin stage two.

In stage two of lacto-fermentation, the Lactobacillus organisms begin converting lactose and other sugars present in the food into lactic acid. This creates an acidic environment that safely preserves the vegetables – and gives lacto-fermented foods their distinctive tangy flavor.

Vinegar Pickling (according to wellpreserved.ca)

These are the easiest pickles to make! Vegetables, fruit or protein (i.e. eggs) are covered in brine (which is sometimes heated). Eaten fresh or stored in the fridge for weeks or months, these pickles tent to be crunchy as they are barely cooked and are easy to experiment with.

The taste: These tend to be acidic and are generally more subtle than other pickles due to the short time it takes to create them. You can experiment wildly when creating these!

The basics: Making quick pickles isn’t complicated – equal parts water and vinegar with honey to taste. Add a dash of salt and any flavouring ingredients you wish (hot pepper flakes, dill, garlic and ginger are all great). Bring to a simmer, toss vegetables (or anything else) into the brine, immediately remove from heat and cool! We do this often for dinner and eat pickles the same night we make them. If you’re not in a rush you can dissolve salt and a sweetener (if desired) in the vinegar, add the water and spices, and pour the mixture over your veggies (e.g. sliced red onions, sliced cucumbers, and par-cooked beets).

Key points: 1) The three recipes that I’ve chosen to share in this article were chosen because at their core, the methods used to prepare and ferment/pickle them can be applied to many similar recipes. I will break them down accordingly to drive this point home even further. 2) Because everyone has different sized jars or fermentation crocks, I’ve chosen to share each recipe as a series of steps rather than a list of ingredients followed by a list of instructions.

Recipe #1: Lacto-fermented Dill Pickles

In order to fully experience flavors contributed by the dill, garlic, and other common pickle spices, I feel that nothing beats a homemade batch of lacto-fermented pickles. However, while I haven’t tried making a vinegar brined “quick” version of this recipe; I’m quite certain that it would taste much better than store-bought “dill pickles.”

Step 1: Make your brine – For every liter of warm filtered water dissolved 2 tbsp of good quality coarse sea salt. – This brine can be used to simplify many of your basic vegetable fermentations. Others may benefit from a 2-3% by weight brine.

Step 2: Prep the cucumbers – Cut off a bit of the blossom end of each curby (pickling) cucumber. If you’d like to keep your cucumber whole you can poke each end with a toothpick. Doing this allows the brine to work its way into the cucumbers as fermentation progresses and some say it prevents you from ending up with mushy pickles.

Step 3: Gather your spices and seasonings – Because I’ve made these pickles so many times I tend to eye ball each ingredient. However, best practice would be to start with the following: 1-2 tsp of each of black peppercorns, white or yellow mustard seeds, and coriander seeds / 6 cloves of garlic (peeled and sliced in half) and 1 bunch of fresh dill (roughly chopped)/ 2-3 dried bay leaves. Then depending on how big of a batch you’re making, you can use more of less of each of the spices and seasonings.

Step 3: Assembly – Add a little bit of dill and garlic to the bottom of your fermentation vessel followed by pinch or two of each of the spices. Then add a layer of cucumbers and 1 bay leaf. Continue layering until you’ve reached about 80% of your vessel’s capacity. Then slowly pour in enough brine to submerged the cucumbers. If you’ll be use a fermentation weight to keep them submerged, I’d recommend leaving a little more headspace for brine displacement.

Step 4: Start of fermentation – Loosely cover your fermentation vessel to keep dust and wild yeast out and allow CO2 to escape. If you’re using a Mason of similar jar you can tighten the lid most of the way and loosen it (burp it) 2-3 times a day to prevent too much pressure from building up in the jar. The amount of time that it takes to see visible signs of fermentation (bubbles) tends to vary, but in most cases it takes 12-24 hours. Place your vessel in a relatively cool dark place. The warmer the spice, the faster fermentation will progress.

Step 5: Fermentation progress – One sign that fermentation is progressing nicely is that the brine will become progressively cloudier over time (usually after the first 2 days of fermentation). Next, when I first started making dill pickles I would try my first pickle after 4-5 days and I’d recommend that you do the same. If the pickles aren’t sour or flavorful enough then let them ferment longer. Lately I’ve been tasting my pickles on day 6 or 7 and have waited up to 14 days before putting them in the refridgerator.

Rinse and repeat: This brine recipe can be used for fermenting many other vegetables i.e. choose and prepare your vegetable/s and seasonings, make your brine, combine, and ferment away.

Recipe #2: Whole grain beer mustard

This recipe is quite versatile in that you can choose which beer, type of mustard seeds, sweetener, and vinegar to use and still end up with a mustard that goes well with lots of sandwiches etc. When searching for easy to follow recipes online I found this one and most recently made 1.5x the recipe so that I could have yummy mustard in my fridge for a while (the beer and vinegar act as preservatives).

Step 1: Decide which mustard seeds (1 cup) and beer (5oz) you want to use – “yellow mustard seeds are more mellow, brown are spicier. If you’d rather not make a spicy mustard, use only yellow seeds. ” Both moderately hoppy and malt-forward beers can be used, but it’s easier to creat a balanced mustard with malt-forward (sweeter) beers.

Step 2 – Overnight soak – I’ve found that using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder to grind a portion of the mustard seeds helps ensure a smoother final texture. So I’d recommend grinding 1/4 to 1/3 of the seeds, mixing them with the whole seeds, and then pouring in the beer. Stir to combine, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.

Step 3 – The final mix – Combine your vinegar of choice (8oz – apple cider, malt, red wine, distilled white etc), sweetener of choice (2 tbsp – brown sugar, honey, demerara sugar, agave syrup etc), sea salt (2 tsp), and any additional spices. Stir until sweetener and salt have dissolved and combine with mustard seed / beer mixture.

Step 4 – Overnight rest – While the recipe linked above calls for achieving your desired texture with a food processor prior to refrigerating the finished mustard overnight. My experiences have taught me to either grind a portion of the mustard seeds in advance or use a high powder blender that can grind the seeds efficiently. During the overnight the rest the flavors will meld.

Step 5 – Enjoy! – I’ve used my homemade beer mustard as a condiment for sandwiches, an accompaniment to fermented veggies and meats, and in sauces and marinades.

Recipe #3 Lacto-fermented sauerkraut

With a little big of “elbow grease” this simple two-ingredient recipe bares no resemblance to store-bought (vinegar based) sauerkraut in both texture and taste. Two factors that separates one recipe from the next are the amount salt and whether spices are added.

Step 1: Chop and salt – While you can use any type of cabbage for sauerkraut, white cabbage is traditional. For my most recent batch I used Savoy cabbage, a firmer white cabbage…Remove the outer leaves of your head/s of cabbage (don’t throw them out) and cut into quarters. Then make a diagonal cut to remove the hard core from each quarter. Now you’re ready to thinly chop your cabbage into strips and mix with 1 tablespoon of coarse (kosher) sea salt per pound. Note, if you only have fine sea salt then use 2% by weight of salt.

Optional: I like to add spices to my sauerkraut. Most often I add 1 heaping tsp each of caraway and mustard seeds per head of cabbage.

Step 2: Knead and rest – To create your brine, knead the salt into the cabbage for 3-5 minutes or until it starts to release some of its water. Let it rest for 10 minutes (15 if you have the time) and then knead some more. Once you’ve accumulated about a cup worth of brine, transfer to your fermentation crock or jar, add your reserved outer cabbage leaves) and compress the cabbage until there’s 1/2 to 1 inch of brine on top. Then add your fermentation weights/s and compress a bit more. Note: If there still is not enough brine over the cabbage, you can make and then top it up with a 2% salt brine solution (e.g. 100g water and 2g of coarse sea salt (about 1 heaping teaspoon).

Step 3: Start of fermentation – Seal your fermentation crock or jar with airlock lid (following manufacturer’s instructions). Note if you only have standard ball (Mason) jar lids, you can use them. Just screw them on all the way and then loosen back a bit to let CO2 out. Place in a cool, dark place; 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C) is ideal. After a 1-3 days, the fermentation process should start and bubbles should be visible on around and on top of the cabbage. Keep an eye out for overflowing brine.

Step 4: Fermentation TLC – Once fermentation kicks off, keep an eye on it and open your fermentation vessel to push the cabbage back down below the brine if needed. As during the preparation stage, if brine level gets too low, you can top it up with more 2% salt water solution. However, be careful not to open your vessel too often, as doing so increases chances of mold growth. If mold does grow on the surface, carefully scrape it off and continue to ferment your sauerkraut. Note: Some sulfurous smell is natural, but anything truly offensive is a bad sign.

Step 5: Is it ready yet? – Your sauerkraut is ready to eat when it is reaches your preferred level of sourness, which can take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks. Personally, I usually taste my sauerkraut after 3 weeks and then let it ferment for another 7-10 days if it is not sour enough. Refrigerate in sealed containers for up to 6 months.

Step 6: Enjoy! – I love eating sauerkraut along side other fermented vegetables, whole grain mustard, and toasted sourdough rye bread. Though my favorite way to eat it is on a sandwich (sourdough caraway rye bread) with corned beef, whole grain mustard, and lacto-fermented pickles. Note: This method of brine production is also used when making kimchi.

Happy fermenting!!!

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Anne Clapper of The Family Crumb

Cottage bakery (n) – a bakery approved by state”cottage food” laws which allow entrepreneurial cooks and bakers to sell food from home under clearly defined conditions. Those conditions vary among jurisdictions, but usually include limits on the kinds of food you can sell and how much money you can make. With the explosion of home sourdough baking that has taken place since March 2020; many bakers have taken their baking to the next level by selling their breads and baked good under their state cottage laws. So while I’ve primarily been featuring home bakers who have made their hobbies into their professions. I’ve found those operating bakeries out of their homes to be just as inspiring and am happy to introduce the first “cottage baker” in this series.

From country boules to sourdough “nutty choc chip” cookies, Anne bakes it all with her husband and kids by her side. Her process involves the use of freshly milled flour, local ingredients, a passion for learning from each batch, and an impressive level of efficiency. These factors have allowed her business (aka The Family Crumb) to grow exponentially both in terms of sales and the variety of breads and other baked good being produced. As a result she has been able to raise her children on a diet rich in whole foods and the values of hard honest work; all while inspiring many home sourdough bakers and vicariously homebaking parents to start selling their sourdough breads.

So without further ado, I present to you Anne Clapper of The Family Crumb

Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’d like to start with getting to know your baking background. How long have you been baking sourdough bread? and What led to your decision to start a home / cottage bakery?

Anne: I’ve been baking sourdough bread for close to three years, and I began to do it professionally about two years ago. The Family Crumb has been both a cottage bakery and a commercial bakery. For about a year, I was wholesaling and baking out of a commissary kitchen, but when COVID hit, I made the decision to scale back rather than scale up.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What steps did you need to take in order to be able to start selling your breads and baked goods as a cottage bakery in Arkansas? 

Anne: Being a cottage baker in Arkansas is pretty simple. You need to clearly label everything you sell with ingredients and the address where it’s made, and make sure you’re only selling at Farmers Markets or having customers pick up at your house. I believe they also recently expanded the law to include pop up sales, but I’m not doing any of that currently.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With the growth that your bakery has recently experienced in mind. How have your weekly baking schedule and approach to sourdough baking evolved over time? 

Anne: My bakery is smaller right now than it was six months ago because I can’t keep up with demand. When I was baking out of a commercial kitchen, I could get 16 boules an hour out of the oven. At home, I can only do 4 boules an hour. So my numbers have scaled way back, but I’m able to be safe with my family right now, which I realize is a huge privilege. As any baker knows, the baking schedule is constantly getting tweaked and adjusted to try to fit into whatever season of life we’re in. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Of all of your bread recipes, which one would you say has evolved the most over time? What has its evolution taught you about recipe development? 

Anne: Each recipe that has stayed with me through the years of baking has had its fair share of changes. The savory pumpkin boule is a pretty finicky recipe because of the hydration levels, so that one has had a lot of adjustments even day to day. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a father of two I admire how much you involve your kids in your baking. Especially after you posted the picture of your daughter’s starter aka Remus Glupin. How did you introduce sourdough baking to your kids? and How would you recommend that fellow baking parents get their kids involved in their sourdough baking?

Anne: Oh man. Instagram really paints a pretty picture of how I involve my kids in my baking. Sometimes, it’s really fun and they listen and it’s magical. Sometimes, I’m hanging onto my sanity while I watch flour spill everywhere. But each time we bake together, I know we’re doing something to benefit their lives, because the feeling of self sufficiency that comes with baking something as essential as bread is something special.

Introducing baking was pretty natural because I do it often and they’re interested in things that they see me doing. The challenge has been trying to patiently involve them when I’m really just trying to move on to the next thing. It’s not always possible, but I try to do it when I can. With our youngest, I’ve had success using a tip I learned from Bonnie O’Hara (Alchemy Bread) just letting him play with flour and a bench knife.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Somewhat in line with the previous question. I love how you incorporate local and responsibly sourced ingredients into your cookies and other baked goods. In my opinion doing so adds much needed nutritional value to foods that would otherwise be considered indulgences (or “treats”). How would you describe your cookie and pastry recipe development process? 

Anne: Part of our decision for the bakery to be vegan was born out of necessity. My son and I both have dairy allergies, so I wasn’t comfortable putting my name on a recipe I couldn’t taste. I will say, I think these treats are totally still treats and not at all something that should be consumed all the time.

When I develop new recipes, sometimes because I’m excited about them and sometimes because they’re heavily requested, I start with a few trusted recipes and modify them in ways I think will work. Converting a conventional recipe to a vegan one takes a LOT of trial and error, but I’ve stored up quite a few go to tools to do this over the years.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): To what degree has your approach to sourdough baking been affected by your recently acquired Mockmill and incorporation of freshly milled flour into your breads?

Anne: I feel like I’m just scratching the surface with the Mockmill right now! Water content is a huge change because the fresh flour seems to be able to take on a lot more of it. The breads also have a much deeper flavor, almost like the volume has been turned up. And boy do they prove more quickly with fresh flour!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Have you baked breads with specific food pairings in mind? If so, what steps do you typically take to ensure that the pairing turns out how you originally envisioned it?

Anne: I’ve done pairings, but I’ve had to rely on the expertise of others. I did a beer/cheese pairing which was pretty difficult for me because I don’t really drink and I can’t eat cheese. So I leaned on the very talented brewer (New Province Brewing) and cheese monger (Sweet Freedom Cheese) that I was working with, and I think it turned out well!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Flipping the previous question around…Now that you’ve been baking in bulk for some time. What are some lessons that you’ve learned that could help those who are only baking for family and friends improve how they go about their dough preparation and baking?

Anne: Starter health is something that’s been a big revelation over the years. There are nights where I’m exhausted and don’t want to get out of bed to feed the starter and the bread always suffers. This may seem obvious, but I still forget sometimes. I also find that intuition is more important than a timer. If you can learn to trust your instincts, you’ll often save heartache on bake day. Whether it’s shaping the bread quickly when it’s hot or taking a two hour bench rest because the bread still isn’t there yet, I am always glad when I listen to my instincts instead of going by the timer.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): If you were to give five tips to someone looking to start selling their sourdough loaves, what would they be?

Anne: Okay. Five Tips…

1. The first time anything is new, it’s hard. Don’t be discouraged if at the end of your first bake, you feel depleted and exhausted. 

2. Always build buffer time into your schedule. Especially if you have children!

3. Prescaling is a really, really good idea. Make your plan for mix day and weigh everything out the night before. It saves time on mix day and it can often save you from scaling mistakes.

4.  Make sure to rest. Baking is tiring, and you’ll need to recharge. Lying on the floor quietly for 2 minutes can make a big difference.

5. The fridge is your friend. Dough can rest overnight, the starter can chill in there on non baking days, cookie dough can wait there, etc. Use that fridge!

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? 

Anne: Watching the dough prove really does make it feel like a living bread. I do strangely feel like mixing day is all about communicating with the dough. Past that, I know there’s a lot of science in the works talking about how sourdough is beneficial, but I’m not current with it. 

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Quick Recipe: Rosh Hashanah Sourdough Discard Honey Cake

Have some sourdough starter discard? Try this easy honey cake!

With my rye starter smelling like honey lately, I was inspired to adapt this recipe for both discard and my personal taste preference. For my first honey cake this one turned fluffy, moist, and balanced in flavor and sweetness.

Ingredients:

1 cup Sourdough starter discard

3 cups All Purpose flour – sifted

2 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Nutmeg

1 cup Vegetable Oil

1.25 cups Honey

1.5 cups Dark Brown Sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 cup Strong Coffee

1/4 cup orange juice

Preparation Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the your cake pan(s) of choice. For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the add the starter discard, oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, and orange juice. Then sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

3. Using a strong wire whisk or an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

4. Let batter sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the discard to activate a bit.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s). Place the cake pan(s) on 2 baking sheets stacked together and bake until the cake springs back when you touch it gently in the center. For angel and tube cake pans, bake for 60 to 70 minutes; loaf cakes, 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, the baking time is 40 to 45 minutes. This is a liquidy batter and, depending on your oven, it may need extra time. Cake should spring back when gently pressed.Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Shana Tovah!!!

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