While I’ve featured bakers who have went from hobbyist to professional in this series; I’ve yet to feature a baker who went from corporate job to professionally trained chef to sourdough baking focused chef. You may ask, what would motivate someone to make these significant life transitions? In my opinion it is a drive for balance and a sense of fulfillment. While having a full-time job provides structure to one’s day, it cannot always provide opportunities for a healthy work / personal life balance. Secondly, depending on how well the tasks involved in one’s profession relate to an individual’s passions and sources of joy; even an ideal job can leave one feeling like something is missing in order for it to provide a true sense of personal fulfillment. For some this “missing ingredient” comes as an unexpected surprise that ends up changing the course of one’s personal and professional endeavors forever.
“My blog focused on healthy comfort food and balanced living. However, my world changed overnight when a packet of dried sourdough starter showed up on my doorstep… all the way from Sydney, Australia!” …
“I became utterly obsessed with baking the natural way (no rapid rise yeast) and was fulfilled on a level that was deeply connected to something way bigger than me. Through Priscilla, which Celia has graciously shared with hundreds, if not thousands of people all over the world, I became part of an international family tree of bakers!”
Two quotes from this week’s featured baker, Emilie Raffa of The Clever Carrot. Well known for her easy to follow sourdough bread, dessert, and food pairing recipes. Emilie’s passion for baking and cooking nourishing food shines brightly in her amazing photography, published recipes and guides, and love for engaging in conversation with her fellow bakers. Between 2006 and 2012, she went on a journey of self-discovery which included graduating from the International Culinary Center, working various cooking-related jobs, creating her website, and most significantly, making a life-changing connection with a fellow blogger who helped initiate her sourdough journey. While her accomplishments in cooking and baking speak for themselves. I hope this article provides you with further insight into the mind and lifestyle of the amazing woman that she is.
So without further ado, I present to you Emilie Raffa of The Clever Carrot.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid home cook and foodie I found your personal journey from corporate to culinary life quite relatable. Do you feel that the journey that you went on to make your love for cooking and baking into your profession still influences how you approach current professional and personal culinary pursuits?
Emilie: Absolutely. My gut drives my most of my decisions. If I feel unhappy, whether it’s in the professional or personal realm I’m pretty quick to switch gears, if needed. A yoga teacher once told me “If something doesn’t feel right, it’s most likely not. Don’t fight it.” This has been my mantra ever since.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): When looking over your beginner’s guide I found that one unique aspect of your recipe is the 25g of olive oil. Beyond its ability to soften the texture of a loaf’s crumb. What led to your decision to include olive oil in this recipe?
Emilie: Ahh yes… the olive oil. Everyone always asks me about this 😉 The inclusion of olive oil in my beginner sourdough recipe is how I first learned to bake. I followed the recipe of my dear friend and sourdough mentor, Celia (she blogs over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial) and that’s what she did. I followed suit. It creates a soft, plush crumb and a crispy crust.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Do you have a weekly baking routine (schedule)? If so, can you describe it in terms of how often you bake and also balancing baking with other daily responsibilities (family, work, chores)?
Emilie: I bake for fun. So, fitting sourdough into my daily schedule has to mimic that otherwise I won’t do it. Overnight doughs are the most practical at the moment; I do not have to fit them in between anything else (except sleep!). In the early morning, I shape and bake the dough before leaving the house. Or, if I’m pressed for time I’ll just chill the bulk dough until ready to use later in the day. I usually bake in bulk 2x/ week.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Because one can bake using recently fed starter (leaving enough behind to keep their starter going) instead of baking with a separately built levain. How do you define the term ‘sourdough discard’? and Do you use your discard in a recipe immediately (after feeding your starter)?
Emilie: Typically, sourdough discard is defined as the portion of starter you remove before feeding what’s left in the jar. It can also refer to recently fed and collapsed starter that you’re not using to make dough. When baking with discard, I use it right away or ferment it overnight in a pancake or waffle batter.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a sourdough baker who enjoys using starter discard in dessert recipes; what are five tips that you’d give to a baker trying to get the most out of incorporating starter discard into his or her dessert recipes?
Emilie: I don’t have 5 tips, but I do have 3 good ones!
For sweet recipes….
1) Always make sure the discard is in good condition. If it smells too acidic or has a ton of dark liquid on top, don’t bother using it. Your dessert recipes will taste like vinegar.
2) Do not use discard directly out of the fridge. Again, it might be too acidic. Fresh is best. Use your nose.
3) The consistency of your sourdough discard will effect the consistency of your dessert batter. Do not be afraid to add more liquid or flour if necessary, to get the right texture.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Being that you’ve been sharing your cooking and baking experiences on your blog since 2012. How has your approach to sharing your personal culinary journey with fellow home cooks and bakers changed over time?
Emilie: The climate of blogging has changed immensely over the years. And although my blog content has shifted to mostly sourdough and baking recipes, my approach has remained the same: simple, conversational, and most importantly, practical. I never post recipes that I wouldn’t share with my mom or make something look easy when it’s not.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Since being published in October 2017 your book ‘Artisan Sourdough Made Simple’ has received a lot of praise. Have you thought about publishing a revised edition with updates based on what you have learned in recent years and the feedback that you’ve received?
Emilie: Yes and no. Book writing is tricky- the process is never really finished until you intentionally let it go. I could literally edit myself for ages! With that said however, I’ve jotted down and analyzed the most frequently asked questions and comments since the book’s publication. So, if and when the time comes I’ll be ready to update with the most relevant information.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Nowadays sourdough bakers are baking with quite a large variety of flours, from all-purpose to ancient grains. Can you describe how you go about baking with a type of flour for the first time?
Emilie: Two things: First, I highly recommend sticking with the same brand and type of flour for several bakes. Practice through repetition is the only way you’ll understand how a specific brand and type of flour will perform. This is critical. If you keep making changes, you’ll never know where you went wrong (or right!). Second, try baking smaller loaves. Whenever I work with a new flour, I scale down my loaves so that if I mess up, it’s not a total waste of flour and money.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Within sourdough baking (and many food related pursuits/hobbies) there seems to be a push towards keeping things simple in order to make it less intimidating and seem flexible rather than its process and methods being held to a set of rules that need to be followed At the same time there can be immense enjoyment in delving into the details and “geeking out” over ingredients and sourdough fermentation science. How do you relate to this “two side of the loaf” dilemma? and How would you present it to fellow sourdough bakers?
Emilie: Great question. The term “simple” is different for everyone. Some bakers want a no frills approach to sourdough, whereas others find a sense of calm in analyzing the geeky stuff. I fall somewhere in between. I’ve found that offering just enough info for reference without going overboard, is key. Additionally, I always tell those who are new to sourdough to find a baker or an author who resonates with them. Does their style and approach make you feel calm and confident? If so, you’re on the right path!
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?
Emilie: If you take sourdough quite literally, it’s bread made with a live fermented culture of flour and water. So right there, you are experiencing all of the living benefits from friendly bacteria and enzymes. But if you take it a step further, sourdough is not just bread; it’s a living connection. Not only do you grow, cultivate, and maintain a relationship with your sourdough starter; the act of sharing sourdough- whether it’s your starter or a loaf- is the the ultimate form of connecting with others. And in a time where social distancing has become the “norm,” finding ways to connect is more important then ever. Sourdough has bridged the gap all over the world.
Thank you Emilie for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are truly living a life which defines “living bread” and in turn are an inspiration to countless home and professional bakers.