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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Barry W

NJ (formerly NYC) based home brewer and fermented food enthusiast sharing his brewing, cooking, and baking adventures on thebrewedpalate.com.
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