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.