Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Michael Hilburn of The Sourdough Podcast

When it comes to defining food and drink products that are produced with quality rather than quantity in mind, the term complexity is often used a way to describe depth of flavor. However, I feel that complexity can also describe the layers that comprise what it took to create a given food or drink product. When it comes to sourdough bread, recognizing its “layers” becomes increasingly easy once one chooses to bake with grains and flours sourced from local and regional mills rather than those found on supermarket shelves. Millers and state grain commission members work closely with farmers on cultivating staple, heirloom, and ancient grains in a sustainable manner. In turn, creating a complex network of quality relationships between those who live their lives as a result of their role/s within one of the “layers” of sourdough bread production. Getting to know individuals within each “layer or “link in the chain” creates inspirational opportunities for learning, sharing, and increasing the quality and complexity of one’s daily life.

Amongst those who have fully embraced the complexity of the worldwide sourdough community lies a group of passionate bloggers and podcasters sharing their baking knowledge, making themselves available to their fellow bakers, and spreading the word about individuals within each “layer” of the community whom they find to be inspiring. One such podcaster is this week’s featured baker, Michael Hilburn of The Sourdough Podcast. Since 2018 he has interviewed an impressive variety of men and women whom he finds inspiring and have in their own right majorly contributed to both their local communities and the the worldwide sourdough community as a whole. As a fellow blogger/podcaster who started interviewing such inspirational bakers, millers, and farmers this past July. I can truly say that its been a blessing to have Michael as a source of inspiritation within our ever growing number of individuals dedicated to maintaining and increasing the quality of life of others through all that goes into a loaf of sourdough bread

So without further ado, it is may honor to present to you, Michael Hilburn of The Sourdough Podcast and Mission Bakehouse.

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 Who were your first sources of sourdough inspiration?

Michael: I started my first sourdough starter in 2014 after a rather ordinary meal at a cafe in Santa Barbara. Growing up in California, I had eaten sourdough my whole life but never really thought twice about it or considered how it was made. But for some reason the bread at that cafe and the description “naturally leavened” sent me down a rabbit hole online and within a few days I had a bubbly glass of starter fermenting on my window ledge. My first sources of sourdough inspiration and education came from blogs and instagram. But the first blog that really helped make sense of everything for me was one called Food Travel Thought (later to be called The Perfect Loaf by Maurizio Leo).

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Having recently started posting podcast episodes for season 3 of The Sourdough Podcast. Can you describe the process that you go through while preparing for an interview of a fellow baker (podcast guest)?

Michael: I typically compile a “short list” of potential guests by saving photos on Instagram of accounts that I find inspiring. I’ll reach out via DM or email, and if they are interested we’ll schedule an interview. I’ll start a google doc and try to learn as much as I can about my guest. It reminds me of cramming for an exam in college. The day before I like to request questions for the guest from everyone on Instagram and I’ll add those questions to my notes. Depending on the time zone of my guest, the interview could be anytime of day. This involves a balancing act of scheduling with my wife, kid’s schedules, and my cottage baking activities. If everything works out, I’ll have a quiet room for about an hour to record! 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How has your view of the worldwide sourdough community evolved since starting your podcast in 2018?

Michael: Since I started the podcast I’ve come to see the sourdough community in many new ways. My first experiences as a home baker exposed me mostly to other like minded “bread heads” as we all shared notes, pictures, and information, all looking to bake our own “perfect loaf.” But when I started the podcast I started to see how intertwined sourdough was with other groups like farmers, scientists, millers, entrepreneurs, etc. I learned how making sourdough can support local grain economies and change our communities and planet for the better. I started to see sourdough more clearly as the worldwide community that it is, with all the cultural influences and histories it carries with it. I’ve learned how diverse our community is and, at the same time, seen how much we all have in common. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Through podcasts like your’s and meeting men and women at all levels of the bread production process (seed to loaf), I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the lives that people live as a result of being in touch with the ingredients that they cultivate and then bake with. How would you describe what you’ve learned from your podcast interviews and its influence on your perspective on sourdough baking?  

Michael: Over the last three years of interviews and interactions with the sourdough community my greatest influence has come from cottage bakers. Cottage bakers showed me how meaningful baking for your immediate community could be. I saw my own passion for bread and community reflected in my guests and connected with their stories on a personal level. I saw how they elevated their local bread scenes using locally grown ingredients and supporting (or creating) their local grain economies. This is what ultimately inspired me to take the leap and start my own cottage bakery last year. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While northern California has a rich history of sourdough baking at least partially due to the popularity of San Francisco sourdough. What does the sourdough baking community look like in your immediate area? 

Michael: We only recently moved to our new town of Turlock, CA, from San Diego, in 2019. Needless to say, the bread scene was quite different. No more beachfront bakeries like Wayfarer Bread to drop in on after a surf sesh. What we did find was a handful of traditional bakeries, cafes, and bistros but none that specialized in, or carried, artisan style sourdough. Of course when I found a local college girl and her mother selling sourdough at the farmer’s market I immediately introduced myself. I probably overwhelmed them with my enthusiasm and definitely worked my podcast into the conversation (even though I am sure they had never heard of it). A few weeks later they invited us over for dinner and made us sourdough pizza in their ROFCO oven. Since then we’ve remained friends and Annie (Flourish Bread Co.) has even picked up flour for me on her way home from college in Sonoma. Of course, I had to make the pilgrimage 20 mins north to see Bonnie Ohara at her bakery (Alchemy Bread) in Modesto, CA. That’s where I worked up the courage to ask her to be on my podcast. Since then I’ve visited several times and she always has something delicious cooking or baking to share. So, my sourdough community here is small, but like most, it is generous, hospitable, and welcoming.   

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Taking the previous question a bit further, I’ve enjoyed seeing how much you support grain farmers both in Turlock and the state of California. What are some recent experiences that have stood out to you? and What have you found to be unique about California’s grain economy?

Michael: My first experience supporting my local grain economy is one I’ll never forget. I met up with another stay-at-home dad and cottage baker, Justin Gomez (Humble Bakehouse), at Frog Hollow Farms in Brentwood, CA. There we got a tour of their beautiful farm and I bought my first 100lbs of White Sonora wheat. However, finding sources of local wheat (even regional) has not been easy. Most wheat farmers are in Northern or Southern California, not the Central Valley where I live. After a couple years I was finally able to get my hands on some locally grown Yecora Rojo from Adam at T & A Farms. Other than that, my local sources have been few and far between. One thing I find so unique about the California grain economy is it’s history. California’s mediterranean climate makes it ideal for wheat growing wheat. Over 100 years ago, before irrigation was developed, the Central Valley was primarily used to grow wheat and helped make California a leading producer of wheat in the world. Wheat peaked in the 1880s and gave way to dairies and higher margin produce like irrigation dependent nuts and fruit trees. Most large scale mills here now ship in wheat from the midwest. However, I am beyond excited that a local farmer and friend of mine, Jon Eck, will be growing his first wheat crop this year. I even got to participate in the planting! With any luck (and a little rain) I’ll be baking with “hyper” locally grain from Eck Farms this fall. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): In 2020 you became a cottage baker through the establishment of Mission Bakehouse. If you were to have a mission statement for your bakery, what would it be?

Michael: I love this question. It’s something I really haven’t put down on paper yet but something I have thought a lot about. It would be something like, “At Mission Bakehouse we strive to feed our community by making real bread using naturally leavening and only the best, simple ingredients possible – flour, water, and salt.” 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid follower of cottage bakers like yourself, I enjoy following each baker’s process of slowly acquiring baking equipment as demand grows. What did your equipment acquisition process look like? 

Michael: As a home baker turned cottage baker, I’ve tried to only buy equipment when I believe it’s needed to get me to the “next step.” This has resulted in a very piecemeal approach. For example, early on, I tried to concoct an elaborate steam creating system, only to learn the most efficient way to trap steam in a home oven is with a dutch oven. I found one on craigslist for $20 and my second one at an estate sale for even less. Similarly with baskets, I’ve acquired a strange collection as I’ve learned what works best for my ever changing needs. I first tried using kitchen towels and cereal bowls. When that ended in sticky disaster too many times, I bought one wicker banneton on Amazon. Then I tried one with linen lining. I bought 15 brotforms from a Germany company after seeing Betsy Gonzalez use them on Instagram. I also have a collection of thrift shop bread baskets! When I bought my ROFCO oven (another Craigslist find, thanks Justin Gomez!) owning one was only a daydream. But someone was selling 2 of them and Bonnie Ohara and I decided to go halfsies on them. It was too good, and too lucky, a deal to pass up. My latest purchase was my Estella 60qt mixer. I researched and messaged with Humble Bakehouse and Lucky Penny Bread for weeks before buying. Like most everything to do with my cottage bakery, my purchases are usually inspired by bakers I admire.    

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How would you describe the learning curve of going from a home baker to a cottage baker?

Michael: I’d say the learning curve can be as steep or as gradual as you want it to be. As a stay at home dad my first priority has always been my kids, so my cottage bakery has always had to fit into that context. No quitting my day job and diving headlong into baking. Slow organic growth is what has worked for my bakery. I started like many by just baking one or two loaves for years. Then one day I doubled the recipe to make 4 loaves. This doubling is always where the biggest challenges presented themselves. More dough meant more chances to make mistakes but also more opportunities to learn and share bread with neighbors. Large masses of dough ferment differently than small ones. More dough means bigger equipment and more physical energy needed to mix, shape, and bake. Soon I was doubling yet again to 16 loaves, then 32! Quantities that seemed unfathomable when I first started. I gave a lot of bread away to neighbors at first. We were in a new town and it was an amazing way to get to know people. Then for many months I bartered bread. I traded for honey, olive oil, homemade wine, oranges, almonds, and eggs. This also extended my “network” of local craftspeople, growers, and artisans – just my kind of people. Finally, by the time I did my research about our county’s cottage food laws and submitted my paperwork, I had an amazing pre-existing customer base from my community excited to support my new endeavor. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While I was at first a bit reluctant to follow many of my fellow bakers and create a ‘master’ or ‘base’ recipe, I eventually did so as a way to experiment with different wheat varieties. Do you have a base loaf recipe that you bake regularly as part of your weekly Mission Bakehouse menu? If so, what did its formula’s development process look like?

Michael: For the longest time my main formula was based off of Maurizio Leo’s “my best sourdough recipe” from his blog. I mainly camped out on this recipe, experimenting with hydration levels, types of flour, and other variations, as I learned what type of bread I liked to bake. Another early formula I used was “Pain au Levain with mixed sourdough starters” from Jeffrey Hamelman’s BREAD book. This formula introduced me to the amazing flavor and enzymatic properties of rye. Today, my Mission Sourdough is a fairly common “country loaf” style bread, popular in many cottage bakeries. It is 75% bread flour, 20% fresh milled whole wheat, and 5% rye, and around 80% hydration. One thing that makes every bakery unique is the ingredients it uses. I like to use locally grown grain whenever possible. White Sonora from Frog Hollow Farm is my favorite. I mill the wheat in-house just moments before I use it. I use sea salt harvested from San Francisco Bay. I’d like to say I’ve finally arrived at my final formula but I am on a constant journey of tweeking and modifying in hopes of baking better bread. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While things like chasing Instagram worthy high hydration-open crumb loaves can be both fun and a sign of baking achievement. If I were to pick one factor that has kept my sourdough baking exciting it would be having the ability to mill my own flour and cornmeal at home. In your case, I saw that not only have have you been home-milling California grown grains and helping out at local farms, but you’ve planted wheat in your own backyard. What do you enjoy most about baking with freshly milled flour? and What steps did you need to take in order to start growing your own wheat?

Michael: There is just something about the smell, feel, and taste of freshly milled grain that changes the way someone thinks about bread. It reminds me of when I toured a coffee farm in Guatemala. Experiencing the raw bean being processed from start to finish with my 5 senses, I learned to pick up the different smells and flavors in the final product that I wouldn’t have recognized otherwise. It’s the same with wheat milling. Holding warm whole grain flour in your hand, seconds after being milled, allows you to experience flour in a completely different way than from a bag that’s been on a store shelf for weeks. You’ll start to pick up on smells and flavors you never noticed before. 

Growing your own wheat merely expands your experience and understanding of using fresh flour even further. It didn’t take much research on my part – just some elbow grease. I found a small 10×10′ plot in my backyard and tilled it manually with a shovel. I added a couple bags of compost, mixed it in, and delineated my crow rows. I googled how much grain to use per square foot and hand sowed the seeds (only about a cup’s worth). I made sure to time the planting right after the first good rain of our winter wet season and pretty much left it alone until harvest in late summer. I harvested just over 5 pounds of wheat. Not a lot ,but a fun project nonetheless! I highly recommend trying it out.  

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

Michael: The act of eating, sharing, and making bread is a very spiritual exercise for me. In the book of John, Jesus identifies himself as “living bread” and the religious symbolism of life, death, and rebirth experienced in the making of sourdough are not lost on me. There is a great TED talk given by Peter Reinhart in which he talks about the process of bread making. He first describes the process literally, and then poetically, evoking the symbolism in the cycles of life and death of wheat and microorganisms as the baker guides their path to becoming bread. Listening to that talk as a Christian, I couldn’t help but hear echoes of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It makes sense why Jesus used bread over and over as a metaphor. And of course the bread they would have been making 2000 years ago would have been naturally leavened. There are also the communal aspects of bread – the symbolism of bread in the last supper and breaking of bread during communion. These are all aspects of “living bread” that I meditate on while making and sharing my bread. 

Happy Baking!

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves (podcast): Anomarel Ogen

Greeting fellow bakers, Barry from The Brewed Palate here. I’d like to welcome you to my latest Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves series podcast interview. Of the many ways that I’ve found inspirational fellow sourdough bakers to interview, getting suggestions from bakers that I’ve met through this interview series is definitely my favorite. During my interview of Ceor Bread’s Guy Frenkel, he mentioned a baker who has revolutionized sourdough baking in Israel and I immediately started researching and following his baking. From humble beginnings, Anomarel Ogen’s dedication to his fellow bakers and the land of Israel shines through in how he presents his wealth of baking and fermentation knowledge. From ancient grains to fast and wild fermentations this interview left me humbled and inspired to keep learning.

Photo Credit: Gadi Ohad

So without further ado, please join me in getting to know the baker behind the loaves, Anomarel Ogen, artisan baker, baking consultant, product developer, and all around amazing human being. Happy Baking!

Photo Credit: Gadi Ohad

The following topics were discussed during the course of this interview (podcast episode):

0:00-1:34 – Inspiring quotes / Episode Intro

1:35-10:37 – An in depth discussion of Anomarel’s baking twenty plus year baking journey: From restaurant cook to off-the-grid bakery owner to revolutionizing sourdough baking and grain agriculture in Israel. Anomarel describes his most impactful experiences in an engaging, relateable, and inspiring manner.

10:30-13:59 – Anomarel’s current baking related projects – consulting, product development, grain cultivation, and mentorship.

Photo Credit: Anomarel Ogen

14:00-17:49 – What is currently driving Israel’s sourdough baking culture? and What factors have inspired its recent growth?

17:50-20:22 – Anomarel’s role in creating a sustainable chain of farmers, millers, and bakers which drives the availability of locally grown staple, heirloom, and ancient grains.

20:23-30:34 – Baking with ancient grains: How to get the most out of each ancient grain…Including how to truly know whether you’re using a “young levain” and differences between using 20-50% and 100% ancient grain in your recipe/s.

30:35-41:40 – Anomarel’s 5 hour “from dough to cooling rack” method: Inspiration, professional practicality, techniques, tricks, and issues it solves.

41:41-44:14 – Does water chemistry effect the health of one’s sourdough starter? Chlorine aside, could water temperature be a more significant factor to look at?

44:15-49:14 – Leavening breads with wild yeast from fermenting fruits like raisins… Utilizing a “covert vs an overt taste” to add aroma and flavor complexity to your breads.

Photo Credit: Anomarel Ogen

49:15-57:04 – Living bread: A) Bread as a medium for improving the quality life of others and a means to preserve and develop Israel’s grain agriculture. B) Conscious attention to growing, baking, eating, and supporting uniquely local food products (e.g. bread and olive oil). B) The benefits of constantly questioning common bread knowledge and learning from the baking traditions of countries in your immediate region (e.g. Israel learning from Turkey vs France and Germany).

57:05-End – Episode conclusion: The benefits of sourdough baking being so communal and how to follow Anomarel’s baking. Instagram / Facebook. Old Dough project.

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Using a Recipe as a Guide: Cranberry Nut Sourdough Loaves

Even after I find a recipe that I can see myself baking, I often do some additional research to in order to read up on and decide whether I want to include additional elements in my final recipe (formula). Doing so allows me to keep in mind that recipes are best when used as guides rather than a rigid set of ingredients and instructions. After all, one’s sourdough starter is a living culture, each flour has its own protein level and absorbancy potential, and every kitchen (home) has its own temperature and humidity level. This being said, when adapting a recipe to factors such as one’s tastes, starter characteristics, and baking experience level. It is important to adjust ingredients and variables in a manner that does not compromise the basic techniques and/or ingredient percentages outlined in the recipe’s instructions and introductory paragraphs. For example, one can use their 100% hydration starter instead of a stiff starter. However, one should use the same percentage of starter and pay attention to how his or her bulk fermentation rate and dough temperature differ from those listed in the recipe being used.

In the days leading up to this past Thanksgiving, I decided to bake two new sourdough loaf recipes. The first was my base loaf recipe with freshly milled Turkey Red wheat and 1.8% Victory malt and the second was Breadtopia’s “Whole Grain Cranberry Walnut Sourdough Bread” or the focus of this article…

When looking for a cranberry-walnut sourdough loaf recipe I chose Breadtopia’s because of its well tested whole grain element and my familiarity with the technique/s included in its list of preparation instructions. However, I chose to include two ingredients from other recipes that I read during my initial recipe search along with two ingredients that were chosen to put my own personal touch on my adapted recipe. Firstly, I found that many recipes included orange juice in place of some or all of the water and/or orange zest; therefore, I included the zest of one large orange. Secondly, I chose to use both walnuts and pecans instead of only walnuts for added complexity and to embrace my love of toasted pecans in baked goods. Lastly, in terms of my purely personal ingredient choices, I made 10% of the flour freshly milled hard Redeemer wheat berries from Castle ValleyMill in order to take advantage of their natural cinnamon aroma (when milled) and added 9% honey to balance the tartness of the cranberries and orange zest.

My Adapted Recipe: Original recipe by Breadtopia’s Melissa Johnson

Makes 2 loaves

340g Hard Red Spring Wheat flour (River Valley Community Grains) – 33.8%

150g Sprouted Red Spring Wheat berries* (Breadtopia) – 14.9%

250g Spelt berries* (Castle Valley Mill) – 24.9%

165g White Senora berries* (Breadtopia) – 16.4%

100g Hard Wheat berries* (Castle Valley Mill) – 10%

200g Sourdough Starter (100% hydration)

22g Salt

230g Dried Cranberries

90g Honey

85g Walnuts

85g Pecans

Zest of 1 large orange (see final thoughts below)

* Milled into flour using my Mockmill 100 Professional grain mill

Adapted Instructions: I included 10 tips for successful and smooth preparation of this recipe within the video above.

  • Mix all of the ingredients except the walnuts and cranberries. Cover the dough and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  • Complete one set of coil folds to build gluten strength.
  • Wet about 14″x18″ of clean counter or cutting board and place the dough on it. Stretch the dough into a large thin rectangle. A little tearing of the dough is okay.
  • See the video above for a visual explanation of the following instructions. Place about 1/3 of the cranberries and walnuts onto the middle third of the dough and then fold over a side, covering the additions. Spread another 1/3 of the additions over the layered dough, and then fold over the other side of the dough. Add the remaining cranberries and walnuts to half of the dough and then fold it in half.
  • Ball up the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover and let it rest 30 minutes.
  • Gently perform one round of coil folding, partly to redistribute the cranberries and walnuts, and partly to build more gluten.
  • Cover and let the dough rise until it has grown by 50-75%. In my experience, this was about 5.5 hours after the initial mixing in low to mid 70s kitchen temps.
  • Mist your countertop with water and transfer your dough onto it. Use your bench scraper and food scale to evenly divide the dough (see video). Fold the sides into the middle and form a ball. Flip the dough onto its seam. Use bench scraper to create some surface tension as you rotate the dough. Cover and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
  • Flour the rested dough and then flip it over. For a boule, do the same process as the pre-shape, only scoot the ball around to tighten it after flipping. For a batard, gently stretch the sides outward before folding them inward and over each other, then roll the dough up from the bottom, scooting the tube until the seam is facing down. Pinch the edges closed (see video).
  • Place the dough in a floured banneton, stitch seam if you shaped your dough into batards (see video), cover and proof 1-2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. My dough went immediately into the refrigerator for 16 hours and was baked from the cold.
  • Preheat your oven and baking vessel to 485F for 45-60 minutes.
  • Flip your dough onto parchment and score it (see video). Put the dough in the baking vessel, cover it and bake for:
  • 24 minutes at 485F, covered
  • 18 minutes at 450F, uncovered
  • The internal temperature should be at least 205F when the bread is done. Let cool for 1-2 hours before slicing.

Final Thoughts: Overall these loaves came out looking and tasting great. The whole grain flours, cranberries, and nuts contributed to both great texture and flavor and the orange zest added freshness and complexity. In terms of appearance my scoring decisions (see pictures below) led to differences in oven spring, but thanksfully both loaves had even crumb and a crisp crust. Though I added the honey to balance the tartness of the cranberries and orange zest, all who tried these loaves noted that the orange zest at times seemed overpowering. In turn, next time I bake this recipe I’ll use less orange zest and possibly add some cinnamon to complement the nuts.

Happy Baking!

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves (podcast): Karl De Smedt, The Sourdough Librarian

When describing one’s desire to never stop learning about the art of sourdough bread baking terms like journey, adventure, and quest are often used. Each of them meaning something different to each individual baker based on how he or she goes about learning new baking skills and harnessing what drives their unique passion for sourdough baking. For example, I often describe my baking as a journey because my passion is driven by things like experimentation, ingredient research, and learning from fellow bakers that I meet as a result of sharing my baking experiences with the worldwise sourdough community. This week’s featured baker has chosen the term “quest” to describe his pursuit of sourdough knowledge and quality baking experiences. In its simplest form, a quest can be defined as “an act or instance of seeking” (Merriam Webster dictionary). In my opinion this definition may be a bit too general because while one can go on a quest to seek something for him or herself. A quest can take on a much deeper meaning when it is carried out on behalf of others.

More specifically, Karl De Smedt aka the sourdough librarian has dedicated himself to ensuring the future of sourdough baking and constantly learning more about each sourdough culture’s story and capabilities through his “Quest for Sourdough” and research at the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library. After interviewing him I excitedly and sincerely shared the following on Instagram . “One factor that I’ve cherished over my years as a blogger is that while I’ve never amassed a sizeable amount of followers etc, I’ve been able to meet and interview quite a few individuals who inspire me on many different levels. This morning I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing one such individual, Karl De Smidt aka @the_sourdough_librarian. I found out that he is as much of a fermentation enthusiast as I am and values what it means to live a life that is defined by all that goes into truly “living food” and “living bread.” In other words, I found his passion, wealth of knowledge, and genuine personality to be inspiring, enlightening, and relateable on many levels.

So without further ado, it is may honor to present to you, Karl De Smedt of the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library.

The following topics were discussed during the course of this interview (podcast episode):

0:00-1:48 – Episode Intro – including one of the historical facts that I learned during this interview that blew my mind.

1:49-3:06 – Karl’s baking background before and after joining Puratos.

3:07-6:18 – History of the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library and its primary goals.

6:19-9:50 – Do sourdough starters in the Sourdough Library stay true to their original cultures and characteristics? and Plans to investigate this by revisiting their original sources.

9:51-12:00 – Lambic (wild) beer fermentation in Belgium – the unique wild yeast and bacteria present in each brewery and its surrounding area.

12:01-14:09 – Notable discoveries made so far at the Sourdough Library.

14:10-15:43 – Unique properties of lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, a lactic acid bacteria that was originally found in San Fransisco, but was later found in sourdough cultures all over the world.

Photo Credit: The Quest for Sourdough

15:44-17:53 – What Karl has gained from interacting with fellow bakers while on his “Quest for Sourdough.”

17:54-21:16 – An outsider’s view on the prevalance and history of sourdough in the United States versus that of European countries.

21:17-23:07 – Were classic French and Italian breads originally made with sourdough?

23:08-26:53- Why countries with histories of baking rye breads have longer stretches of uninterrupted years of sourdough being their primary bread leavening agent? and The science of baking an evenly baked loaf of German sourdough rye bread.

26:54-29:06 – What effects does rye flour truly have on sourdough starters that are not performing (fermenting) as expected?

29:08-31:20 – Sourdough culture in Belgium and its relation to well known American sourdough bakers.

31:21-33:20 – Countries that bake using sourdough, but purposely avoid sourness in their breads. Also, Karl’s experiences with sourdough in China and Japan.

Photo Credit: The Quest for Sourdough

33:21-35:26 – Notable friendships that Karl has formed since officially launching his “quest for sourdough.”

35:27-40:52 – Karl’s perspective on the terms “living bread” and “living food” and how it relates to the history of bread and fermentation. – What came first beer or bread?

40:53-43:21 – What’s being worked on now at the Sourdough Library? and What are some future plans for experiments (sourdough culture analysis)?

43:22-44:56 – The scientific study of sourdough’s effects on grain digestibility at the University of Bozen/Bolzano in Italy using starters from the library.

44:57-47:08 – Getting in touch with Karl and keeping up with the Sourdough Library’s activities…What are the benefits of registering your sourdough starter on questforsourdough.com?

47:09-48:30 – Parting remarks and episode outro.

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Crusty Sourdough Discard Rolls Experiment: Reliable, Valid, and Delicious results

Admittedly, I have yet to decide where I stand on the definition of sourdough starter discard and creating opportunities where one would end up with it. However, in my quest to use my discard to learn more about both its potential and different flour combinations, I’ve enjoyed a number of successful baking experiments. My most recent one began on December 16, 2020, when I found some 6 day old discard in my fridge and asked myself the following question. Can I make rolls with the same appearance, texture, and flavor of full sized loaves?

After three recipes iterations and a successful bake by my baking buddy Melissa Johnson, I’m quite certain that the answer to this question is a resounding yes.

Recipe Parameters: In line with many sourdough roll recipes I kept recipe iterations in this experiment between 65 and 70% hydration, included 22% all-purpose flour for a lighter crumb texture, and made sure each roll weighed no more than 220g prior to baking. Next, as with the majority of my full sized loaf recipes, I used between 18 and 20% starter so that bulk fermentation would progress at a similar rate until preshaping. Lastly, as in many roll and loaf recipes, I added extra virgin olive oil in the second and third iterations of this experiment to create a soft crumb texture.

Techniques use: With an enriched dough being defined in this case as a dough that has had butter and or sugar added to it. All dough preparation techniques used in this experiment were the same as any non-enriched sourdough until pre-shaping. Though I will note that one December 16th, I preshaped each roll’s dough like I would a full loaf, but changed coarse when shaping iterations 2 (December 17th) and 3 (December 31st) and pre and final shaped my dough segments the same way (cupped hands rotating and pulling the dough to create tension).

When it came to proofing I used both 8 and 16oz plastic take out containers (see photo) to help each roll retain its shape while proofing in the fridge over night. (see below for alternative proofing vessels)

Baking the rolls went much like baking full sized loaves. I used both my Lodge combo cooker and Challenger Breadware bread pan to bake four rolls at a time. However, baking on a baking stone or steel with a tray of hot water below for steam would work as well. Lastly, for aesthetics I misted each rolls after scoring to achieve a blistery and crispy crust.

Recipe: Makes 8 rolls

185g Sourdough Starter Discard (100% hydration) – 20% inoculation 

305g Bread Flour – 33.5%

200g All-Purpose Flour – 22%

140g Hard Red Spring Wheat Flour – 15.4%

130g Turkey Red Flour (freshly milled berries) or another hard red wheat flour – 14.3%

135g Whole Rye Flour – 14.8%

610g Water – 70% total dough hydration

21g Salt – 2% 

22g Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 2.2%

Instructions/Process: 

  1. Mix flours and salt then incorporate the sourdough starter discard, water, and olive oil. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.
  2. During the first 2.5 hours of bulk fermentation perform 3 sets of stretch and folds. My bulk fermentation lasted just over 5.5 hours as 72F ( I used an infrared thermometer to measure the temp of the dough’s surface). 
  3. Once bulk fermentation is finished, transfer your dough onto a clean counter or large cutting board and divide into eight 210-215g portions. 
  4. Preshape each portion into a ball can be done to ways: A) by folding in the edges (like you would during a set of stretch and folds), flipping it over and rolling it tight with a cupped hand. B) Use your bowl or bench scraper to round the dough into a rough round and then use a cupped hand to roll it tight. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rest for 20 minutes.
  5. To final shape: Flour your hands to prevent them from sticking to the dough and once again roll each dough ball with a cupped hand to develop surface tension. Then transfer to a 8 or 16oz bowl or round plastic deli take out container that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Note: Small bowls or a baker’s couche (proofing clothe) can be substituted if needed.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap or quart sized Ziploc bag and proof overnight in the refrigerator (12-15 hours).
  7. Preheat over to 475F with a dutch oven (e.g. Challenger Bread Pan), baking stone, or baking steel (see techniques above) for 45-60 minutes.
  8. Dust the bottom of each roll with rice flour and transfer onto parchment paper, score, mist with water.
  9. Bake covered (with steam) at 475F for 20 minutes and then uncovered at 450F for 12-14 minutes i.e. until desired color is reached.
  10. Let cool and then enjoy!
Batch 2: front view
Batch 2: overhead view
Batch 3: overhead view
Batch 3: front view
Crumb of Batch 1

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Chef Matt Duffy

Editing this week’s interview gave me a new appreciation for the steps that I’ve taken while pursuing my passions for cooking, baking, and brewing. Therefore, before introducing this week’s featured baker I’d like to share some hopefully relateable quotes about what it means to follow one’s passion/s. “Passion (n): intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” “Following your passion means exploring areas that spark your interest, developing your skills in a specific area, and using those skills to contribute to something beyond yourself.”… “passions are developed, not simply found” – Steve Rose, Phd. As Cal Newport said “Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.” Furthermore, “I think that people that are really successful or people that are really good at what they do are genuinely obsessed, passionate, and into it” and “I’m lucky that my passion is something that everyone has in common, we all eat.” – Chef Matt Duffy

Photo Credit: @matthewjamesduffy

Following over a decade of working as a professionally trained chef, Matt Duffy left the restaurant kitchen to pursue his passion for baking. Doing so by finding and then working with well known bakers around the world, reading a multitude of books, and viewing his baking as a never-ending journey of learning. His hard work and passion have in recent years evolved into his current focus on teaching both future professional bakers and current home bakers through the courses he teaches as the Centennial College’s baking and pastry arts management program and the online courses and webinars that he offers through his website and Instagram feed (links below). Admittedly, I was initially drawn to his baking after seeing pictures of his pizzas and loaves challah bread. However, after conducting and editing this interview, I am looking forward to following all of his baking pursuits more closely.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Chef Matt Duffy

The following topics were discussed during the course of this interview (podcast episode):

0:00-1:37 – Episode Introduction

1:38-4:01 – Matt’s transition from working as a professionally trained chef to being a full-time baker.

4:02-6:27 – Matt’s current sources of baking inspiration.

6:28-9:10 – Sourdough baking in Canada (with a focus on Toronto): Sourcing grains, bakeries, and recent growth.

9:11-13:41 – Professor Matt: how he got into teaching and what bread related skills are taught at the baking and pastry arts management program that he coordinates at Centennial College in Toronto.

13:42-15:44 – What to look out for when working with and then baking naturally leavened sweet doughs.

15:45-18:14 – Tips for making sourdough pizza.

18:15-22:14 – Matt’s goals for his first cookbook.

22:15-25:23 – What role sourdough baking should play in the kitchen of both an avid home-cook and professionally trained chef.

25:24-27:41 – What makes baking an ideal passion to share with one’s children.

27:41-34:36 – The meaning of “living bread”: How Matt currently maintains his sourdough starter and uses recipes as guides despite what is written in sourdough books and presented in YouTube videos and online recipe articles.

34:37-36:14 – Matt’s tips for beginner sourdough bakers.

36:15-37:08 – Closing remarks and Outro. Follow Matt’s baking via his website and on Instagram.

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Jon and Amanda of Proof Bread

During a year when the world has been in a state of mental and physical upheaval, sourdough baking has become a therapeutic hobby and outlet for thousands of men and women all over the world. While the social media community surrounding it existed prior to the onset of the pandemic; both new and experienced sourdough bakers chose to share their baking journeys via social media as a result of other forms of engagement being limited. Facebook groups grew in size, Instagram accounts were created, and YouTube channels were both started and/or inundated with views. Not only has this allowed bakers to hone their baking skills quicker; it has also given them a glimpse at how much every aspect of sourdough baking can increase one’s quality of life and appreciation for what it takes to produce truly healthy food.

Photo Credit: @proofbread

Having come to sourdough baking with a background of culinary and fermentation related hobbies. Good quality ingredients and community have always been quite integral to the growth of my knowledge and passions. Being that I was already an avid Youtube viewer, I went there first immediately after creating my starter. One channel that I found was created by a duo of bakery owners who happen to be this week’s featured bakers. From the start of their channel and simultaneously my personal sourdough journey, I have found Jon and Amanda’s videos to be full of inspiring, honest, and caring dedication to the artistic, agricultural, and community elements of sourdough baking. With the unexpected yet fast approaching build out of their new commercial bakery looming as 2020 comes to an end, I was quite excited when I recieved their answers to my interview questions when I did.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Jon and Amanda of Proof Bread.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Before we get into question about your bakery, I’d like to start with a couple questions about both of you. Firstly, what role did baking play in your lives prior to opening Proof? (e.g. baking with your family, a way to de-stress, and/or a way to get in touch with the food that you were eating)

Amanda: Honestly, nothing. In fact, I was very anti-baking. I was more accustomed to cooking on the fly and thought baking, in all of its science and accuracy, was too restrictive and tedious. Baking sourdough was a whole new world for me, and I found it to be much more intuitive than baking something like a cake. I’m drawn to whimsy and this was like magic. 

Photo Credit: @proofbread

Jon: Food preparation has always been an important part of my life. I grew up in an immigrant household that enjoyed home cooked meals. My parents retired back home to Poland after 30 years in Chicago. On visits to Poland we would buy huge sourdough miches, and enjoy fresh butter with butter. Amanda and I sought out similar bread here in Arizona, and found Proof when it was with its founder, Jared Allen. It was a one market bakery, but we happened to go to that market weekly, and Proof was a Saturday ritual. When I learned the original founder was moving away, I felt a strong calling to take the baton and continue Proof. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Next, what inspires you to wake up in the morning and bake the best artisan bread and pastries that you can for your community and family?

Amanda: For me, it’s how much people love it. It’s very satisfying to watch the joy on people’s faces when they find and taste fresh bread. So many of these breads are connected with fond memories (who doesn’t love eating bread!?), and it’s motivating to know that I had a part in manufacturing that happiness. Secondly, I find sourdough to be more than just baking bread. It’s a statement. It’s a rejection of many modern conveniences in exchange for skills. It’s a curbing of the individual in favor of community. It’s a forced slow down, a protest of our society’s constant pressure of rush. If done right, there’s revolution in bread.

Jon: In the beginnings of our sudden dive into sourdough, I was fueled by the joy our customers were expressing to me every Saturday as we exchanged our sleepless night’s work for their overwhelming excitement, gratitude and joy. Then, as I became more connected with the rhythms of being a bread baker, I grew addicted to the management of all the variables. I find deep satisfaction in the incremental improvement of formulas, tastes, processes, spaces, and experiences. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One lesson that I’ve learned from watching your amazing YouTube videos is that workflow optimization can be applied to every aspect of one’s baking no matter what level they’re baking at. How has your view of this important strategy evolved along with the steady growth of Proof Bread?

Amanda: It’s essential. Without a focus on workflow management and optimization, our world would be run by Harriet (our starter) and not the other way around. It’s an important component to achieving a semblance of balance and profitability.

Jon: Its perhaps the single most important lesson I would pass to someone else trying to head down a similar path. Question every process, every timing. Run experiments without ceasing. There are incredible strides to make where you may least expect them. Optimizing workflow declutters your mind as you bake, and allows you to gain a stronger relationship with your doughs. 

Photo Credit: @proofbread

Barry (The Brewed Palate): In your opinion, would you say that your choice to be a 100% sourdough bakery provides you and your team with additional inspiration to be as in touch as possible with the ingredients that you work with and those who produce them?

Amanda: Yes, and no. I think that was more something instilled within us as children, which has permeated our daily lives and therefore our community culture at Proof. Both Jon and I are first-generation Americans. We grew up with the heavy influence of our native cultures, both of which are heavily tied to agriculture, old world traditions, and general resourcefulness.

Jon: Taking care of a sourdough starter so that it is viable and consistent enough to make a wide range of items requires a study of fermentation daily. The constraint of sourdough requires our team to be more in touch with the fine details of temperature and time. Sourdough baking is after all less forgiving on the whole. Small mistakes can lead to devastating results. I believe the choice to remain a sourdough only bonds our crew together and with Harriet. I believe that as a result of the desire to make the best breads, we also care to be as in touch with the ingredients as we can be. Our breads after all are the ingredients they are made of. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): After watching your recent videos at your local mill, I became even more curious about your custom flour blend. Can you describe the process that led you to finalizing the blend that you use nowadays? Furthermore, would you recommend that home bakers work towards creating their own unique blend of flours that they can use for a variety of loaves?

Jon: Our custom flour blend is a template, more than anything else. A signature flavor wheat. Of the locally grown wheat, much are heritage grains like White Sonora, or Blue Beard Durum. We wanted to offer a flavor profile in our bread that is unique to our region. Now, when I play with new formulas I often blend our custom blend as a base, and then add other grains or flour types in for desired effect. We came up with that particular blend based in large part on dough strength, the quality of the dough development, and ultimately taste. In the beginning we trialed all types of ratios of various flours from our local stone mill, until a particular formula stood out. 

Photo Credit: @proofbread

Barry (The Brewed Palate): When a sourdough baker enters the world of pastry, the croissant is often the first pastry that he or she attempts to bake. What are 3 tips that you would give to sourdough bakers attempting to prepare and bake sourdough croissants for the first time?

Jon: 1. Warm, humid, long final proof above all else 2. Refrigerate your dough in sheets before lamination, 3. Laminate with the butter at +/- 3 degrees of 60F. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Going beyond croissants, can you describe your sourdough pastry recipe development process? 

Jon: We have been pretty constrained by cottage food laws in the types of pastries we can pursue, and so variations of croissant dough have been an intense focus. Sourdough offers a more neutral pastry dough, which can pair with either sweet or savory. As a result, our pastry development program has been a continual variation of the sourdough croissant dough base. We are making good headway in sweet breads these days. An enriched sourdough, that can be used in a number of variations to create different types of dessert sourdough breads. As we move to a brick and mortar we will be able to expand our methods of recipe development beyond the constraints of cottage food laws. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a bakery who values bread scoring as a form of artistic expression, what are 3 tips that you’d give to bakers who are looking to improve their decorative and functional scoring skills?

Photo Credit: @proofbread

Amanda: 1) Practice your functional scoring before getting too creative. Everything is connected. The more you practice your hand at the basics, the better understanding you will gain for your more complex scoring. Bonus tip: cut at an angle under the skin to get a “lip” to help your ear.

2) Use a sharp blade. Just like in the kitchen, a dull blade doesn’t get you very far. Dull blades will cause you to drag the dough potentially misshaping your loaf or design. A sharp blade will help even the most inexperienced baker. 

3) Observe. Observe everything. To me, scoring is a form of meditation. It’s the moment to reconnect with your dough. Each loaf will be different (this is the fun of sourdough), so notice how it feels, how it reacts to your blade when you cut it this way or that, etc.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With so many sourdough bakers opening cottage bakeries nowadays, 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?

Amanda: Define your motivation and write it down. It’s not easy to run your own business. The days ahead will be long and hard, and you will need the reminder from time to time. Also, figure out how to keep the things you love in tact. For us, we dived in head first, and may have hit our heads a couple times at the bottom. I can fully admit I had a few meltdowns that could have been avoided if we spent more time doing other things we loved. Don’t forget that life is about BALANCE!

Jon: Build a customer community of your own. Wholesale is a tempting way to build volume, but I found it to be very difficult in the beginning, when we didn’t have the business infrastructure to cut product costs sustainably, nor the logistics capabilities to run deliveries on wholesale timelines. If you can work with a Farmer’s Market, it really is an excellent way to grow your own community. 

Photo Credit: @proofbread

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Though your need to start the process of transitioning from being a cottage to a commercial bakery began under less than ideal circumstances. What are some goals that you hope to accomplish once you’ve settled into your new location? and How can the sourdough baking community help you accomplish them?

Amanda: Operating under AZ Cottage Law in our home restricts us from using or making certain fillings, so I look forward to the opportunity to showcase and experiment with a wider variety of ingredients. It will also be fun mingling with our community on a more regular basis. I anticipate warm conversations with regular or frequent visitors that become friends. I hope that we can create the type of environment that will inspire creativity and encourage community (and in a post-pandemic world, actual gatherings). In high school, I enjoyed literature, and was always fascinated by the stories behind the novels. Where the authors would write, who knew who, where they’d go gather. I’m hoping to create something classy, lounge-y, but also comfortable, and still whimsical. A smart, industrial, warm and inspiring place to hang out, work, meet with friends, etc. The community can help by visiting us!! ❤ We can’t wait to get to know more and more other bread heads! Lastly, I’ll say that we hope that once this is set up, Jon and I will get a bit of a break, maybe sneak in a few travels before jumping into offering some breaducation, classes and workshops. 

Jon: While our current bakery build out is happening earlier than I wanted, it is also serendipitously falling into place. We are in love with the new location in the heart of Downtown Mesa. The historic building has plenty of charm, and no shortage of opportunity. Our most significant goal is to invest in our team. This bakery can no longer be sustained only by us, so we are on a mission to create the best team we can. Visits, feedback, and idea sharing are all great ways to engage us as we enter some of the more challenging chapters of our development. When things settle down, perhaps Amanda and I can visit some bakeries too.

Photo Credit: @proofbread

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One topic that is often discussed within the sourdough baking community is gluten intolerance. What do you feel are major factors that contribute to the prevalence of gluten intolerance nowadays? and How do you explain the higher digestibility of sourdough bread to your customers?

Amanda: That’s a good question. Jon can probably explain more scientifically, but I truly feel that a lot of the food allergies that we’ve been experiencing as a growing humanity have emerged as the variety of our food supply homogenizes. I find myself often thinking about survival. How did the first humans live? What and how did they eat? I learned yesterday that the first supermarkets popped up around the 1940s. That’s such a short time ago if you think about it. Before that, how did we get our food? We grew it in our backyards and we shared it with our communities. If it was grown, it was grown for sustenance instead of profit. Motivation aligned with health. Survival. With such a connection to the source, I think it would be so hard to find as many picky kids. I feel so lucky to have grown up on a Lebanese diet. We eat things most people would discard as weeds. Haha. I remember my aunt harvesting wild mint or purslane from her back alley. In hindsight, people may have thought she was crazy, but this is the resourcefulness example with which I grew up. We eat what the land provides, and in return we’re granted nutrition, health, and viability. It was sustainable. Now, as we destroy our biodiversity in favor of monocultures or cow lots, we shun this basic principle. It’s like if you are a kid, and you get a new toy and thrash it about, how long will you really have that toy? Or how well will it function for you? That’s what we’re doing to our Earth, and we’re part of that, so what are we really doing to ourselves?? These intolerances are a BIG sign, and we shouldn’t be ignoring that. Obviously, I don’t have time to rant all of this to customers at a farmer’s market, haha, so I just tell people that sourdough has many health benefits because it’s done in a slow way, allowing beneficial bacteria to break down the harmful factors that contribute to gluten intolerances. And that allergies are a different thing altogether. 

True story. I cut out cheese for a while because I thought maybe dairy was giving me digestion issues, but my whole life changed when I ate a grilled cheese on our sourdough and I didn’t bloat! It was the BREAD all this time (sorry cheese)!!!!

Jon: Recently, I looked up the simple definition of the word “fermentation”. Oxford defines it as “the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms”. A baking process that is sourdough only is a baking process that requires lengthy enough fermentation in wheat to fundamentally change its digestibility. From the toughness of the gluten itself, to the anti-nutrients such as phytates lurking in whole wheat, fermentation changes the bread eating experience. Bakers yeast is so concentrated, that fermentation is clipped. Bread has been harder on our diets since modern times, as more and more bread was made fast. To piggy back on Amanda, we ought to get to know what we are eating. If it requires fermentation to be more nutritious, so be it. Time shouldn’t be a factor. 

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

Amanda: Living food is food that contributes to life. It’s sustenance. It’s nutrition. It’s something that actually serves your body. To paraphrase Joel Salatin, if it doesn’t decompose (which is totally natural and part of the circle of life), I don’t wanna eat it!

Jon: Simply that we work with elements of nature in the production of our product. Fermentation is a natural process that we are using to alter a prolific human staple crop. It is amazing really that the breakdown of a portion of wheat is what leads to a process that allows for the alteration of the rest into something that can make a species thrive. 

Happy Baking!

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves (Podcast): Guy Frenkel of Céor Bread

“I found myself dreaming about bread” and in turn ” I(‘ve) spent years learning and digging into what at the time was very scattered and sometimes well protected knowledge and as a result my baking (has) improved and at some point the world noticed and I started gaining attention and flown around the world to several gatherings to teach and to lecture and its been a crazy adventure that started as a catch me if you can with a bit of impos(t)er syndrome…but I just went with it and and realized eventually that I did have something to offer the baking world…”

Photo Credit: @ceorbread

When I began my sourdough baking journey this past April and looked to bakers on Instagram for inspiration, this week’s featured baker and his artful, educated, and passionate approach stood out almost right away. Beyond his perfectly lit bread photos and inspiring ability to incorporate unique ingredients into his loaves, Guy Frenkel’s multifacted approach to continuously learning about both the hands-on and natural processes involved in sourdough baking became increasingly relatable. As I developed my own multifaceted approach to sourdough baking, I closely followed his baking activites, read and listened to interviews he gave to other bloggers, and viewed his instructional presentations. Therefore, once I started this series, I knew that I had to get in touch with him and find time for an interview that would capture what makes his approach inspiring to me and sourdough bakers around the world.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Guy Frenkel of Céor Bread.

The following topics were discussed during the course of this interview (podcast episode):

0:00-1:02 – Episode Introduction

1:03-3:47 – The beginnings and subsquent evolution of Guy’s baking and involvement in the worldwide sourdough baking community.

3:48-6:56 – The “home baker advantage” – Are home bakers limited when it comes to the level of bread baking they can achieve in a home kitchen?

6:57-11:04 – Adapting the artistic principles of Bread Couture to the large scale production format of Céor’s new sourdough baking factory.

Photo Credit: @ceorbread

11:05-14:10 – Defining “artisan bread” in terms bread baking being both being an art and a craft. Going beyond the classics and celebrating local and seasonal ingredients, the unique creative expressive of each baker, and opportunities for growth.

14:11-17:09 Viewing bread through a cuilinary lens. Bread as the main attraction rather than “the canvas on which other creations are being painted.” and as something to bring to a meal instead of an expensive bottle of wine. Deconstructing and then adapting your favorite restaurant dishes with your local farmers market and imagination being your only limitations.

17:10-21:10 – Guy’s experiences with fellow bakers all over the world. Developing long lasting friendships full of shared learning experiences along the way rather than just accumulating contacts.

21:11-25:07 – Past and present artisan sourdough baking in Israel.

25:08-28:30 – Understanding fermentation beyond “you add a leavening agent and it makes the thing (dough) rise.” Researching the unknowns of sourdough fermentation through the lens of other types of fermentation such as beer brewing and its focus on style specific yeast strains.

28:31-31:08 – Do sourdough cultures change their yeast and bacteria composition when moved to a new location?

Photo Credit: @ceorbread

31:09-33:51 – Stone milling as part of Guy’s baking philosophy and practices.

33:52-40:18 – What do the terms “living bread” and “living bread” mean to you (Guy)? An in depth discussion of the triggers of the growth of the sourdough baking movement. Followed by a look into the history of sourdough bread and fermentation in general. Including how they changed with the discoveries of Louis Pasteur.

40:19-43:15 What you should know about the planned opening of the Céor bread factory and the Cast Your Bread charity baking movement.

43:16-end – Closing remarks and Outro. Follow Guy’s baking and Cast Your Bread on Instagram via @ceorbread and @cast_your_bread

Happy Baking!!!

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Len Bussanich of River Valley Community Grains

A major theme or should I say mission of many of the inspirational individuals that I’ve interviewed in recent months is their dedication to restoring their state and region’s grainshed (grain economy). This week’s featured sourdough baking community member has teamed up with local farmers and researchers to work on bringing high quality grain cultivation and milling back to New Jersey and its surrounding states. However, before introducing him I’ve decided to share the following article excerpt as means of sharing a piece of the rich agricultural history of the northeastern US.

“Grist mills constructed in the early 1600’s to grind corn and wheat to make flour for the early English settlers of coastal areas. Two words in this sentience reveal was the mill was constructed to do. These words are: corn and flour. To English speaking people of the 1600’s and 1700’s a corn mill means a mill that grinds corn and makes flour. Corn is the English generic word for grain. More specifically meaning a mill that grinds wheat, rye, oats, and or barley into flour and meal. The common American word “corn” meaning maize the English and Puritan settlers would have called it maize and not used the word corn. In America the English use of the word corn did not change until the War of 1812, when the people of the United States wanted to separate themselves from England.

Wheat was grown in New England primarily along coastal areas. The rocky soil and climate of New England never made New England a large wheat growing center. Wheat was a more important crop in the areas of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Early milling centers of America was New York (first by the Dutch and then later because of Rochester and the Erie Canal), Wilmington (along the Brandywine River), Baltimore (along the Patapsco River), Georgetown (along the C & O Canal), Richmond (on the James River and the Kanawha Canal). Then after the Civil War the wheat growing areas sifted to the Midwest. The Mennonites brought hard wheat from the Ukraine and the milling methods changed, places like Minneapolis (the largest ever in the world) became milling centers.” (full article).

In 2016, after meeting with local grain farmers and researchers Mike Hozer, Len Bussanich, and Larry Mahmarian formed River Valley Community Grains with the mission of “re-imagining local grain production through the lens of collaborative and regenerative agriculture.” Since then they have continued working with local agronomists and farmers to grow high quality seasonal wheat, oat, and rye varietals. In addition, they also mill, process, and sell whole berries, flours, rolled oats using grains grown and harvested by the farmers that they work with. So far I’ve baked with their hard red spring wheat and einkorn flours and can attest to their amazing flavor and great baking properties (gluten strength, great final crumb textures, etc).

So without further ado, I present to you Len Bussanich of River Valley Community Grains.

Len (Right) w/ Emilio Panasci, Executive Director of Urban Agricultural Cooperative (UAC) in Newark

Barry (The Brewed Palate): To start, I found the River Valley Community Grains story to be quite inspiring. However, I’d like to hear more about how you’re currently operating. What do daily operations look like? and What’s the breakdown of the River Valley team? 

Len: As we are a start-up, we currently are not doing this full-time but that is the goal. My colleagues, Mike Hozer, Larry Mahmarian, and I work full-time day jobs. We operate one night a week, Tuesday evenings, at the Red Barn Kitchen Incubator where we mill flour and roll oats. On the weekends you can find us at various farmer markets, such as Morristown, Bedminster and Ramsey. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What do you find to be most unique about cultivating, sourcing, and milling high quality grains in New Jersey and its surrounding states? 

Len: We are working with several landowners/farmers in New Jersey who are planting and harvesting the grain while River Valley focuses on the infrastructure and the marketing. Being present at farmer’s markets has shown that there is consumer demand for local and healthy grains. New Jersey was once a significant producer of flour as attested by the multitude of dormant stone mills scattered across the state. There are quite a few streets in NJ called Mill Street and there is also the town of Millstone and the Millstone River. Inspired by history, we are striving to reintroduce local and healthy grains for human consumption in NJ. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Beyond the grains themselves, I’ve found that relationships between farmers, millers, and bakers represent an integral part of telling the story of what goes into a loaf of artisan bread. What have you gained from your relationships with the farmers that you source grains from and the bakers who bake with your flours? 

Len: Part of our mission statement speaks directly to this and we agree that it is absolutely an integral part in telling the story. We learned a great deal about this in Amy Halloran’s, The New Bread Basket, and we hope to replicate it here in NJ. Several bakers have mentioned they love how the grain is procured from a single source and their customers love the taste and flavor. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Due to the dominance of commodity wheat, many farmers feel incentivized to grow it instead of natural and organic varietals. What does your process of making sure that the farmers you work with are paid fairly for the hard work that they put into cultivating high quality grains look like? 

Len: We are still in the process of working through these dynamics; however we recognize the need that it has to work for the farmers in order for this to be successful. We believe farmers can make more in the local markets as opposed to the commodity markets. It does require a paradigm shift. Earlier this year we attended the first gathering of the Northeast Grainshed Symposium in Canton, MA. Farmer Thor Oeschner made a poignant remark when he said that farming is a backwards business because the farmer only receives 12 cents on the dollar. A paradigm shift is certainly needed. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  I’ll have to admit that when we first started messaging each other on Instagram I was surprised that there is a New Jersey based mill. What do you enjoy most about interacting with home bakers and millers via social media? 

Len: I love the interaction and engagement on social media, telling our story and sharing bakers’ stories of the breads and other items they’ve made with the grains we’ve supplied. It’s exciting and fun!  

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? 

Len: We learn a great deal from bakers, both home and commercial, about their experiences with the flour. Especially at farmers markets, we engage directly with consumers. Some like higher protein levels, while others prefer lower protein. For instance, one of the first crops we marketed was a hard red winter wheat, warthog. Winter wheat tends to have a lower protein content than Hard Red Spring. The warthog was harvested at Ruthie’s Farm (Ruthie Perretti, owner of Ruthie’s Pizza & BBQ in Montclair) in 2019 and the protein content was 11.1%. This year, Ruthie’s farmer harvested Hard Red Spring, a lower yield but the protein content is at 13.6%. Also, some bakers have their own mill so they prefer to purchase the raw grain itself, grain berries. 

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?

Len: We’ve noticed there’s quite a bit of difference in throughput when milling a hard red wheat compared to an ancient grain such as einkorn. Milling einkorn has a higher throughput than milling a hard red such as a winter (warthog variety) or spring (bolles variety). 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How would you describe the differences between natural and organically grown grains? 

Len: We are hoping to encourage farmers to use a regenerative agricultural approach to growing grains, essentially a non-chemical-based approach to growing grains. We’ve relied extensively on the advice and guidance of agronomist Dr. Elizabeth Dyck, founder of Organic Growers Research Information-Sharing Network. She recommends farmers use cover crops instead of pesticides to minimize Canadian thistle weed pressures here in NJ. Some of our grains are certified organic while others are organically grown, they just don’t have the official certification so the difference really is minimal. Customers at farmer markets are satisfied that the grains we offer are organically grown. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How often do you get a chance to bake bread? What types of bread do you bake most often?

Len: Unfortunately, I don’t really bake. I’m too busy milling and processing. 

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

Len: I think it speaks directly to the part of our mission statement about nutrient-dense flour, bread and cereals. And it all starts with healthy soil, which then translates to healthy grains, healthy flour and breads! 

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First Impressions: My Mockmill 100 Professional home grain-mill

Background: The events leading up to receiving my Mockmill 100 Professional home grain-mill brought together my passion for learning as much as I can about every ingredient that I cook and bake with and my drive to meet and get to know as many sourdough baking community members as possible. In the beginning of August, shortly after sending Hannah Dela Cruz of Make It Dough questions for her Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves interview, I remembered reading an article on her blog where she mentioned a conversation that she had with someone from Wolfgang Mock Companies (aka Mockmill) and asked for his contact information. Since first emailing Paul Lebeau, managing director at Wolfgang Mock Companies (GmbH), has been both a baking role model and great friend. After posting his Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves interview, my interest in acquiring a Mockmill of my own intensified and a conversation about Mockmill and Breadtopia (Mockmill’s US partner) becoming sponsors of The Brewed Palate began. To make the rest of this story short, after some delays Paul decided to look for and send me a Mockmill to review and take my home-baking to the next level. Suprisingly, on September 29th, one day after being shipped from Germany, I received my Mockmill 100 Professional.

Initial Setup: As shown in the video above, set up was quite easy. After unboxing it and clearing off a space on my kitchen counter, I proceeded to unscrew the upper portion (hopper) of the mill in order to get a look at the mill stones and check whether stabilizers were present to protect them during transit (there weren’t any). After seeing that the internals looked good, I put the hopper back on and set the mill to grind setting number 6 in order to mill my first handfuls of grain. Doing so served two purposes, first to clear the stones of any debris and residue from the manufacturing process and then to make sure that the flour was of even consistency. I chose to mill two handfuls of emmer (Farro) and was delighted to see that my new Mockmill was working well and producing consistent whole grain flour.

Learning curve: Due to the ease of adjusting grind size with this model (compared to the base Mockmill 100), the only curve that I’ve had to get over was with milling legumes such as chickpeas which are larger and therefore don’t descend from the hopper to the millstones as quickly or smoothly as whole grain berries do. However, further discussions with Paul and Breadtopia‘s Melissa Johnson helped me figure out which grind size (mill gap setting) to use for the various grains, corn, and legumes that I’ve been working with.

Overall thoughts: I purposely waited until now i.e. a little over a month into using my Mockmill 100 Professional to write this article. Doing so in order to experience as many of the benefits of being able to mill fresh flour at home as possible and collect my initial thoughts. In terms of texture and flavor, I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my loaves when using as little as 20% and up to almost 100% freshly milled flour (see video above). Process-wise, I’ve recently started preparing my flour blends the night before I plan to use them for my next loaves and when using fresh flour I store them in my refrigerator in order to best maintain their freshness. However, I’ve also milled flours and cornmeal day of for either my main dough/s or porridges.

One sourdough baking related factor that I’m still investigating for myself is how much using freshly milled flour increases the rate of a dough’s bulk fermentation and proofing time. With so many other factors in play once the levain has been added to the dough; I think it’ll take quite a few more milling and baking experiences to notice the subtle differences made by the incorporation of freshly milled flour.

When it comes down to it, I think that weighing pros and cons with a home grain-mill is not necessary. While one may not be fully satisifed with his or her mill of choice and need to save up for a replacement. The benefits of being able to mill whole grain flours at home in my opinion greatly outweighs learning curves, extra prep time, and at times not knowing the exact protein content of one’s fresh flours. In fact, the more I use my Mockmill, the more I wholeheartedly identify with Paul Lebeau’s mission to get a Mockmill into every home. Cooking and baking with and then consuming whole foods nourishes the body and mind at a level that can only be believed with experience. Therefore, I’d highly recommend that my fellow sourdough bakers and home-chefs purchase a Mockmill to take their baking and cooking to a higher and healthier level.

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