This past July I was three months into my sourdough baking journey and spending lots of time perusing social media and researching ingredients, recipes and techniques. It so happened that towards the end of the month, a cousin of mine mentioned plans to visit a flour mill in Pennsylvania with his wife. While I wasn’t able to go with them, I immediately went to the mill’s website and became increasingly excited to try out their flours. One week later, I decided to email one of the mill’s owners about the possiblity of a blog sponsorship. To my surprise, she called me that day and agreed to both sponsoring The Brewed Palate and sending me some of her mill’s flours to bake with. Fast forwarding yet again, shortly after contacting Cairnspring Mills CEO Kevin Morse about an interview for this series, I emailed this mill’s co-owner once again and after exchanging a few emails, a date and time were set for me to visit the mill and interview her and her husband.
History, craftmanship, and dedication to good quality food; three qualities that characterize this week’s featured bakers, Mark and Fran Fischer of Castle Valley Mill. Located in Doylestown, PA, Mark has spent the past 13 years restoring the late 18th century mill that his father purchased in 1947. While not complete, Mark has brought Castle Valley Mill back into operating order and currently processes and mills an impressive variety of grains and heirloom corn with the help of Fran and their children.
On Wednesday, October 14th I headed to the mill and was greeted by Fran. After taking some time to admire the adjacent river and mill’s property, she proceeded to take me on a wonderful tour of the mill itself. Audio was recorded, pictures were taken, and then edited into an audio-visual tour video. However, I’ve chosen to post the interview that I recorded with Mark and Fran first in order to share what I find most special about Castle Valley Mill. The passion, dedication, and knowledge of its owners.
So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Mark and Fran Fischer of Castle Valley Mill.
Going beyond the grocery store shelf to find what makes up the foods we eat and where the ingredients that we cook and bake with come from, often leads to some eye opening discoveries. Taking one from goods defined by terms like industrialized, commodity, and preservative laden to those characterized as responsibly sourced, sustainable, and whole. One food product that portrays this epiphany quite well is bread. When delving deeper into the world of bread baking, one discovers the world of differences between Wonder Bread and artisan bread. However, one’s curiosity doesn’t need to stop there. The cultivation and processing of the varietals of wheat that turn into the flours that we bake with are worth learning about and incorporating into the development of our definition of food that is truly good for us and the environment.
“Our whole business model starts with the farmer. Part of our mission is to lift the farmers out of the commodity system so they remain economically viable and can be good stewards of the land we all depend on for our sustenance and well being.”
“We view the different varieties like wine grapes or specialty coffee. There is terroir in wheat and we are only just beginning to explore the varieties that can be grown here and provide the home and professional baker with products that they have never experienced before.”
Two quotes that exemplify the character and mission of this week’s featured baker, Kevin Morse, founder and CEO of Cairnspring Mills (Burlington, Washington). With sustainability, conservancy, and community in mind, he maintains strong relationships with individuals at every step of the bread production process. From the farmers who he pays above premium prices for the high quality grains that they cultivate and harvest to the bakeries that he works with in order to make sure they’re able to bake breads etc with the characteristics that they’re aiming for. Since 2016, Kevin and his team have been redefining what an agricultural supply chain can look like with a level of dedication that to me is quite inspiring.
So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Kevin Morse of Cairnspring Mills.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): How has your home baking evolved since opening Cairnspring Mills?
Kevin: My home baking has undergone a tremendous transformation. Prior to opening the mill I hardly baked at all. When I did it was yeasted pan breads or pizza dough made with industrial white flours. I never got too excited about it and the bread was just a platform to be covered in butter, cheese and sauce. There was no expectation of flavor. After tasting breads, pizzas and pastries made by our customers with our flour I could not believe what I had been missing and it opened up a whole new obsession and passion. Now I bake at least twice a week and I am constantly studying new techniques and searching for new recipes to try. I think I have also put on 15lbs. 😊
Barry (The Brewed Palate): What do you find to be most unique about cultivating and milling grains in Washington state?
Kevin: Washington’s climate and diverse growing regions offer us the opportunity to source a variety of grains that have a range of flavors, colors, aromas and baking characteristics. We view the different varieties like wine grapes or specialty coffee. There is terroir in wheat and we are only just beginning to explore the varieties that can be grown here and provide the home and professional baker with products that they have never experienced before. To me, this journey of exploration and seeing our customers reaction to these new flours is one of the most satisfying parts of the job.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): One characteristic of Cairnspring Mills that I’ve found myself truly inspired by is its dedication to its relationships with individuals at every stage of the “life of a loaf”, from the farmers to the milling staff to the bakeries that bake their breads with its flour. One such relationship is with Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery, a well known baker and author. Can you share a brief history of your relationship with Chad and how it is a prime example of the mission of Cairnspring Mills?
Kevin: The foundation of our business is our community. Our approach to customers, farmers and team members is to establish authentic and meaningful relations that are beyond just business transactions.. I met Chad at a Grain Gathering hosted by the Washington State University Bread Lab and we hit it off right way. His passion for his craft and interest in supporting regenerative farming and bringing better tasting healthy bread to the world was aligned with my values and vision. He visited the mill frequently before we were operating and then again afterwards to learn about the mill and get to know the farmers. Today we still communicate frequently and the vision remains the same. His entire team has become like family. This holds true for many of our other customers and champions of local mills including Mel Darbyshire at Grand Central Bakery, George DePasquale at Essential Baking, Chris Bianco at Bianco Pizzeria, Scott and Renee at the Breadfarm, Leslie Mackie at Macrina, Thomas Vroom at Fernhorn Bakery, Sean Hughes at Mount Bakery, Conner O’Neil at The Cottage Blue Ridge Bakery, the bakers at the Herbfarm and the chefs at Canlis , Post Alley Pizza, Craig at Gracie’s Pizza and many others that I wish I had the time to list here.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): One hobby of mine that I can relate to grain cultivation is specialty coffee. Coffee roasters do their best to source their single origin coffees via “fair trade”, a process that leads to farmers being paid fairly for their labor. What does your process of making sure that your local farmers are paid fairly for their hard work look like?
Kevin: Our whole business model starts with the farmer. Part of our mission is to lift the farmers out of the commodity system so they remain economically viable and can be good stewards of the land we all depend on for our sustenance and well being. Cairnspring pays growers on average 30% more than commodity prices. In return they agree to our growing practices and produce high quality clean grains that meet our specifications.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’ll have to admit that when we first started messaging each other on Instagram I was surprised to find out that the founder and CEO of a well known mill takes time out of his busy schedule to be present on social media and interact with bakers of all levels. What do you enjoy most about interacting with home bakers via social media?
Kevin: Interacting with our customers and community is one of my favorite parts of the job. The inquiries, appreciation and lessons learned from our customers inspire me, provide us invaluable guidance on the best uses of our flours and help us all become better at what we do. I think this is also a product of my upbringing. I grew up spending summers working with my Nonno in his six aisle grocery store, deli and butcher shop. He was my role model and I loved watching him interact with his staff and customers. It brought him great joy to serve good food to his community and family and I inherited that same passion.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): One exciting part of the continuous learning process that sourdough bakers experience is learning that there is more to flour than just buying a bag off the grocery store shelf. As someone who has an intimate relationship with the flour production process, how do you approach learning about the grains that you work with when deciding which varietals to use in your core line of flours?
Kevin: This is also one of my favorite parts of the job. I constantly review and read about the work being done at the wheat breeding programs at WSU, UC Davis, the California wheat commission and network with other millers in the US and around the world to learn about the varieties they are milling. In particular I look at yield for the farmer, diseases resistance, milling quality, baking quality and flavor. Steve Lyon, who is the wheat breeder at the WSU Bread Lab, is one of the best in the business and he provides me with great guidance as well. I also frequently connect with our customers to better understand their needs and wishes then try to find a match.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): In line with my previous question, what are the differences between your Trailblazer and Organic Expresso bread flours? and What percentage of a bread recipe’s total flour weight would you recommend that they represent?
Kevin: Trail Blazer is a responsible conventional flour made with Yecora Rojo hard red spring wheat. Organic Expresso is its organic equivalent in terms of protein content and functionality. They both have excellent fermentation tolerance and protein in the range of 13% to 14%. The Trail Blazer flour produces bread with a slightly milder flavor, a lighter colored crumb and a beautiful dark caramel colored crust. The Expresso has a more robust wheaty flavor, a darker colored crumb and a thick more rustic crust. I frequently blend them together using the Tartine Country loaf recipe and I also mix them 80% to 20% with other flours like the Sequoia, Edison or Organic Skagit 1109 to produce different flavors and textures.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Of all of the wheat varietals that you’ve come across, what are some that surprised you upon milling and then baking with them?
Kevin: This is a hard question. The first surprise was related to milling technique. When we compared our flour to flour produced in an industrial mill I was amazed at the aroma and flavor difference we are able to achieve using stone mills and intentionally milling more of the bran and the germ into our flours. It resulted in a much more flavorful and complex product that what you can buy on the shelves in the grocery store. There is nothing like fresh milled flour!!
There a couple varietals that we test milled in the early days that had unique aromatic qualities. The Rouge de Bordeaux smelled like the winter flavors you find in holiday cooking such as nutmeg and cinnamon. The Yecora Rojo and Expresso continue to amaze me with their spicy and complex flavors and most recently we milled our first batch of Skagit grown Fortissimo durum flour. The rich nutty flavor is blowing the chefs minds when they use it in pasta and pizza dough. I have also recently milled a small batch of heritage wheat from my great grandmothers village in Sicily. The raw grain and bread baked with it tasted like honey. I am hoping to grow some out in the US and start milling it in a couple years.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Having recently started milling my own flour on my new Mockmill; I’m slowly learning the ins and outs of stone milling. What is stone milling on a large scale like at your mill?
Kevin: It many ways it is like milling with a smaller home mill. We pay close attention to the flow of grain into the mill so the stones achieve the optimal grind and maintain ideal temperature needed to achieve our desired specs. Our millers, Dave, Josh and Abby are the heart and soul of the operation. They have built the mill from the ground up, maintained it, and have developed an amazing ability to listen to the stones and the other equipment and know when they are operating correctly or not. They have truly mastered the ancient craft of stone milling and added their own creative twist using modern equipment. I am so grateful for our team and their commitment to quality and each other.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): With home and professional bakers incorporating a large variety of whole grains flours into their breads, cakes, and pastries nowadays. How do you direct bakers towards choosing the most ideal flours for more specific situations like pizza and pastry making?
Kevin: The different grains and flours have different functional properties so I usually start by asking the baker or chef what they want to make and then recommend which flours would be best for their desired outcomes and the process they are using.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): From your perspective, what is the relationship between nature conservancy and the quality of life improvements that come with baking and cooking with whole foods?
Kevin: I believe that the best way to keep our communities healthy, prosperous and resilient to things like climate change is to rebuild local food systems. That includes conservation of our farmland and natural areas. They are what produce the fundamental elements of a good quality of life including food, clean water and clean air. When we can cook and bake with local, more nutritious foods grown in healthy soils or from clean water we are all better off. Know your miller, know your farmer and buy local!
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?
Kevin: Living bread to me means that it was made with fresh milled flour from non commodity grains, naturally leavened and made without dough conditioners or additives. All you need is flour, water and salt! Pane e vita!
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.
Watch the dough not the clock. Understand your dough!
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
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.
So far the last question of every Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves series article has been “Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? ” In this video I celebrate living bread and each baker with a montage of their answers and a preview of upcoming interview articles.
Epiphany (noun)- a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience. Appearance, texture, aroma, and flavor; sourdough bread has them all in abundance. However, until you’ve tasted your first slice, the role that bread plays in one’s daily diet or culinary repertoire may be limited to impressions left by supermarket or softer textured and minimally-flavorful breads. In other words, breads that don’t necessarily spark culinary curiousity. Yet another factor that could limit one’s chances of having his or her sourdough “bread-phinany” is that the availability of artisan sourdough breads tends to vary widely between countries. In fact some countries go out of their way to keep their breads soft and not sour. As Chiew See of Autumn.Kitchen stated in her Meet the Baker interview, “We love our breads very soft in Asia, and with minimal tang. In fact erasing the slight tang from the finished products is a priority with many mothers in this region. Children generally reject ‘sour’ bread. My bakes are usually given away and tasters will give feedback.”
Growing up in the Philippines, this week’s featured baker had her sourdough “bread-phinany” while working in a restaurent in Manila prior to emigrating to the US. Ever since she arrived and settled in Tacoma, Washington; Inna Surita-Emmons has embarked on a journey towards learning as much as possible about what bread can be both as a form of nourishment and as a way of bringing people together. With a sense of humility, she has mastered baking in her apartment in order to bake loaves for less fortunate members of her local community and maintain an inspirational sense of culinary curiousity which she shares with her Instagram and Facebook followers.
So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Inna Surita-Emmons of The Flour Floozy
Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’d like to start with getting to know your cooking and baking background. What inspired you to start baking naturally leavened bread and how does your professional cooking background influence your baking?
Inna: I guess my professional cooking background influences a lot of things I do in my life, especially in my bread making. The most important thing I mean, i wouldn’t have chosen to be a cook if being around and making good food wasn’t my initial inspiration. Before doing it professionally, my father ran a tiny bakery, and I would help him make yeasted breads with an often malfunctioning industrial mixer. We would take turns hand-kneading massive amounts of dough while the other rested. Imagine this Scenario, 300-400 orders of Cinnamon rolls, broken mixer, 33C (91F) degree weather. It still gives me nightmares to this day, haha! But, hey, the upside is that large amounts of dough does not scare me, plus the fact that I have pretty good looking biceps.
Anyway, I had always been interested in sourdough, but never actually gotten the chance to taste one slice. Crazy I suppose, but sourdough isn’t really a thing for the masses in the Philippines and it’s not widely known or available beyond bigger and more expensive cities that have artisan / French inspired bakeries.
It’s actually a fun little story of how I had my first bite of naturally leavened bread…I was working as a chef de partie in Manila back in 2018 before moving to the US and it would be pretty hectic. Long order tickets and six-day work weeks with 10-12 hour shifts, were the usual. There was this one time Chef Shelly (@daischielle on IG), who was the pastry chef consultant for the restaurant that I worked at, dropped by and had brought freshly baked sourdough bread that he had made. It was for my bosses, but she had another loaf for me and my team as well. I sliced it up, slathered a thick layer of butter on it, placed it on the hot flat grill, took a bite and E X P L O S I O N. It was tangy, the crumb was soft, and the crust was crispy.. I never knew bread, as simple as it is, could be that flavorful.
It was probably one of the best tasting things I had ever put in my mouth. I mean it’s like that first bite was my “gateway drug” to my current sourdough obsession. I knew from then on, once i started my new life in the US, I would make my own sourdough starter and bread.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a home baker who focuses on locally sourced flour and ingredients. Can you describe how you source ingredients in and around Tacoma, Washington?
When I first started making my breads, the flours I was using weren’t local; they were in fact “whatever the baker’s in the Youtube tutorials I watched used.” I didn’t really know that much about sourcing local flour and ingredients, How should i? I was still getting used to being “the new local”, but I eventually got better and became more confident at making bread. So the more my curiosity peaked, the more I started experimenting with the locally available ingredients. So naturally, I prefer to use local flour as well.
It just appealed to me so much to be making food and bread that I had sourced around me, like modern day foraging. Flour is the most important ingredient of bread so for me, so bit makes sense to utilize and source local flour. I had a hard time finding a steady supply though as I was still getting used to the area. Plus the fact that the pandemic hit and all the flour from the shelves of every single store I visited was GONE. But thanks to Thomas from Fernhorn Bakery in Vashon, I was able to experience the beauty of Washington’s flour from Cairnspring mills.
He was a big help in the project I was yearning to Start. I wanted to help people by providing them with free, delicious, and nourishing bread; and I was able to do that with his gracious gesture of dropping bags of flour at my doorstep like a “flour fairy” that every home baker probably has had a dream about. I subsequently found a reliable source of affordable flour from a local milling company named Shepherd’s grain at the Smart food service store near me, and have been supporting that brand as well ever since. It’s been a good 5 months since i’ve been making and giving away free bread, and i hope to keep doing it.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): With bread being such an essential staple food item, baking healthy whole grain sourdough bread offers one the opportunity to help community members in need. In your case, you’ve chosen to do so through your “Free bread Friday” baking. What inspired you to start baking for your community and how has Free bread Friday grown over time?
Inna: I’ll start off by saying, I wanted to help in my own little way. Emphasis on the little because I am NOT that financially secure. I am a new immigrant in America, waiting on her expensive documents (that my husband and I had to save up for) to push through, no benefits, no job opportunities, no nothing, and coming from a “third-world country” too. So i know what it feels like to be vulnerable, and i wanted to do something for those who are experiencing vulnerability and food insecurity.
I support the cause of changing how we see and consume “bread” and how commercial and store bought bread has put a bad name in like what you said, “a very essential and staple food item.” I figured, I had all the time in the world and therefore might as well help out by providing REAL bread for the people.. right?
Barry (The Brewed Palate): One factor that I admire about your Instagram posts is that you present your baking experiences as a journey towards achieving the best end result for each of your breads. What would you say is unique about your sourdough recipe development and adjustment processes?
Inna: Thanks for appreciating that! Although I wouldn’t really call it unique, I wouldn’t be so sure if there wasn’t another person who goes through the same process as I do. However, I do take pride in the fact that I often think of flavor combinations, maybe that’s my inner cook shining through. Whenever I think of a certain ingredient, let’s say goat’s cheese; I immediately ask myself… “Would that be good in bread?”and “If so, what else can complement the flavors of it?, and that’s basically how i go about making my Recipes. I base it off my most basic known knowledge of tried and tested recipes, 10% of this or a dash of that, add the goat’s cheese, subtract from the total hydration since the cheese has its own moisture content, and edit from there…Knowing the basics is great, but experiments and flavor explorations are better!
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Baking at home on a “large” scale can be quite challenging. However, you’ve figured out how to prepare and then bake multiple loaves at a time in your apartment. I have two questions for you on this topic. Firstly, how often do you bake nowadays? Next, how have you adapted your baking to allow you to bake more than two loaves per batch in your apartment?
Inna: I went from baking bi-weekly for my husband and I’s supply of daily bread, which meant 3 to 4 loaves a month. First using a regular steel pot (which did not work out too well as I didn’t have any baking vessel) and eventually using a cast iron combo cooker. Then I went on to pushing for 12 to 24 loaves monthly. I rely heavily on kind donations and would like to do more, but that’s not too shabby for a home baker with a basic oven and non-professional equipment.
I searched for the best way to bake bread with what I had, and saved up for my current, a used cast iron camping grill with a typical turkey roaster filled with lava rocks for steaming. I’m able to fit in 4 loaves at a time, sounds like a dream but it’s actually difficult. It takes at least 50 mins each batch, and another 30-45 to get back to the right temperature again. Takes about 5-6 hours, a good chunk of my day, but it’s worth it. I also have to make sure I provide enough steam and rotate the breads at least twice for even browning of the crust. Sometimes the breads get too cozy and “kiss” because it’s a little cramped, and every now and then I get burnt. But hey, I like to think my new burn marks compliment my tattoos!
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Whether for dietary or religious reasons, many sourdough bakers choose to use plant-based substitutes for their enriched loaves. As a baker who often bakes vegan-friendly enriched loaves, what are some tips that you would give fellow bakers who are looking to similarly adapt their recipes?
Inna: I’m no Vegan, but I love eating and making vegan or vegetarian food. The most basic and simplest sourdough bread is VEGAN (and I had to explain this to people so many times)…I wanted to be more inclusive so I often try to “veganize” enriched and soft crumb breads. I am lactose-intolerant (with a slight tendency to be a masochist when it comes to dairy); so I often make milky soft breads using plant-based ingredients, no eggs, no dairy, and still achieve the same textures as I do with soft and buttery breads.
My advice? Always be on the lookout for new brands or companies that produce plant-based baking alternatives. There will always be a good “swap” for everything!
Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’ve enjoyed watching your Youtube tutorials recently and found them to be a great refresher course and reminder to always keep the basics in mind. How has the response been to your tutorials? and If you don’t mind me asking, what’s the nature of your partnership with Made Terra?
Inna: Thanks for appreciating! Those videos are actually sponsored by Made Terra and are a first for me! I started out as a customer, since their bannetons were the ones I was using when I started making bread. Eventually I got offered to provide content for them.
I am actually a selectively social and awkward person, so being in front of the camera is anxiety inducing (this is my FIRST interview!). But we all have to face our fears, especially if they are paid projects, haha! I’m beyond grateful to be given opportunities like this to learn from and better myself, and maybe help others learn too.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid home-cook I’ve enjoyed baking sourdough loaves with food pairings in mind. What are some of your favorite bread and food pairings? and How do you go about creating your pairings?
Inna: My food pairings are common. I suppose? Softened butter slathered on warm bread with crispy edges is definitely on the top of my list. My go to though is any type of sandwich, like homemade feta and black bean patties, house pickles, tomato, onion, cheddar and chipotle mayo.
Sometimes when I have the random urge to make baguettes, I would instantly think ham and havarti cheese would go great with it. So I plan my day…I’d take a trip to the nearby deli and buy a few slices of ham; all because I wouldn’t want my baguettes to get lonely!
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Aside from baking sourdough bread, do you ferment other foods and/or beverages on a regular basis? If so, what are they?
Inna: That question reminded me of people saying that sourdough baking opened the doors for their other fermentation adventures. For me, it was kimchi. I’ve been making my own kimchi since I was 19 and I’ve even got my parents to do it as well. Also, I’m nursing a kombucha scoby, sauerkraut, kimchi and other pickles of sorts. I think it’s acceptable to say that I am indeed a fermentation fanatic now. 🙂
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?
Inna: The term “living bread” for me signifies how almost all of humanity’s different civilizations relied on bread. It gave them sustenance and nourishment, enabling them to go about and live. It is made from simple ingredients and brought to life by, well organisms and life itself. Bread and food is energy, it’s exciting, it’s delicious, it’s culture. It’s so simple and yet so profound, life giving living bread.
Thank you Inna for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the your local community and the worldwide sourdough community at large! May your humble and artful way of presenting sourdough baking to your followers continue to bring you much success and be an inspiration to increasingly more of your fellow bakers.
The good bacteria on the salt-tolerant team are called Lactobacillus. Several different species within this genus are used to produce fermented foods. Lactobacillus bacteria convert sugars naturally present in fruit or vegetables into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that helps fight bad bacteria and preserves not only the flavor and texture of food but also its nutrients.
In stage one of lacto-fermentation, vegetables are submerged in a brine that is salty enough to kill off harmful bacteria. The Lactobacillus good guys survive this stage and begin stage two.
In stage two of lacto-fermentation, the Lactobacillus organisms begin converting lactose and other sugars present in the food into lactic acid. This creates an acidic environment that safely preserves the vegetables – and gives lacto-fermented foods their distinctive tangy flavor.
These are the easiest pickles to make! Vegetables, fruit or protein (i.e. eggs) are covered in brine (which is sometimes heated). Eaten fresh or stored in the fridge for weeks or months, these pickles tent to be crunchy as they are barely cooked and are easy to experiment with.
The taste: These tend to be acidic and are generally more subtle than other pickles due to the short time it takes to create them. You can experiment wildly when creating these!
The basics: Making quick pickles isn’t complicated – equal parts water and vinegar with honey to taste. Add a dash of salt and any flavouring ingredients you wish (hot pepper flakes, dill, garlic and ginger are all great). Bring to a simmer, toss vegetables (or anything else) into the brine, immediately remove from heat and cool! We do this often for dinner and eat pickles the same night we make them. If you’re not in a rush you can dissolve salt and a sweetener (if desired) in the vinegar, add the water and spices, and pour the mixture over your veggies (e.g. sliced red onions, sliced cucumbers, and par-cooked beets).
Key points: 1) The three recipes that I’ve chosen to share in this article were chosen because at their core, the methods used to prepare and ferment/pickle them can be applied to many similar recipes. I will break them down accordingly to drive this point home even further. 2) Because everyone has different sized jars or fermentation crocks, I’ve chosen to share each recipe as a series of steps rather than a list of ingredients followed by a list of instructions.
Recipe #1: Lacto-fermented Dill Pickles
In order to fully experience flavors contributed by the dill, garlic, and other common pickle spices, I feel that nothing beats a homemade batch of lacto-fermented pickles. However, while I haven’t tried making a vinegar brined “quick” version of this recipe; I’m quite certain that it would taste much better than store-bought “dill pickles.”
Step 1: Make your brine – For every liter of warm filtered water dissolved 2 tbsp of good quality coarse sea salt. – This brine can be used to simplify many of yourbasic vegetable fermentations. Others may benefit from a 2-3% by weight brine.
Step 2: Prep the cucumbers – Cut off a bit of the blossom end of each curby (pickling) cucumber. If you’d like to keep your cucumber whole you can poke each end with a toothpick. Doing this allows the brine to work its way into the cucumbers as fermentation progresses and some say it prevents you from ending up with mushy pickles.
Step 3: Gather your spices and seasonings – Because I’ve made these pickles so many times I tend to eye ball each ingredient. However, best practice would be to start with the following: 1-2 tsp of each of black peppercorns, white or yellow mustard seeds, and coriander seeds / 6 cloves of garlic (peeled and sliced in half) and 1 bunch of fresh dill (roughly chopped)/ 2-3 dried bay leaves. Then depending on how big of a batch you’re making, you can use more of less of each of the spices and seasonings.
Step 3: Assembly – Add a little bit of dill and garlic to the bottom of your fermentation vessel followed by pinch or two of each of the spices. Then add a layer of cucumbers and 1 bay leaf. Continue layering until you’ve reached about 80% of your vessel’s capacity. Then slowly pour in enough brine to submerged the cucumbers. If you’ll be use a fermentation weight to keep them submerged, I’d recommend leaving a little more headspace for brine displacement.
Step 4: Start of fermentation – Loosely cover your fermentation vessel to keep dust and wild yeast out and allow CO2 to escape. If you’re using a Mason of similar jar you can tighten the lid most of the way and loosen it (burp it) 2-3 times a day to prevent too much pressure from building up in the jar. The amount of time that it takes to see visible signs of fermentation (bubbles) tends to vary, but in most cases it takes 12-24 hours. Place your vessel in a relatively cool dark place. The warmer the spice, the faster fermentation will progress.
Step 5: Fermentation progress – One sign that fermentation is progressing nicely is that the brine will become progressively cloudier over time (usually after the first 2 days of fermentation). Next, when I first started making dill pickles I would try my first pickle after 4-5 days and I’d recommend that you do the same. If the pickles aren’t sour or flavorful enough then let them ferment longer. Lately I’ve been tasting my pickles on day 6 or 7 and have waited up to 14 days before putting them in the refridgerator.
Rinse and repeat: This brine recipe can be used for fermenting many other vegetables i.e. choose and prepare your vegetable/s and seasonings, make your brine, combine, and ferment away.
Recipe #2: Whole grain beer mustard
This recipe is quite versatile in that you can choose which beer, type of mustard seeds, sweetener, and vinegar to use and still end up with a mustard that goes well with lots of sandwiches etc.When searching for easy to follow recipes online I found this one and most recently made 1.5xthe recipe so that I could have yummy mustard in my fridge for a while (the beer and vinegar act as preservatives).
Step 1: Decide which mustard seeds (1 cup) and beer (5oz) you want to use – “yellow mustard seeds are more mellow, brown are spicier. If you’d rather not make a spicy mustard, use only yellow seeds. ” Both moderately hoppy and malt-forward beers can be used, but it’s easier to creat a balanced mustard with malt-forward (sweeter) beers.
Step 2 – Overnight soak – I’ve found that using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder to grind a portion of the mustard seeds helps ensure a smoother final texture. So I’d recommend grinding 1/4 to 1/3 of the seeds, mixing them with the whole seeds, and then pouring in the beer. Stir to combine, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
Step 3 – The final mix – Combine your vinegar of choice (8oz – apple cider, malt, red wine, distilled white etc), sweetener of choice (2 tbsp – brown sugar, honey, demerara sugar, agave syrup etc), sea salt (2 tsp), and any additional spices. Stir until sweetener and salt have dissolved and combine with mustard seed / beer mixture.
Step 4 – Overnight rest – While the recipe linked above calls for achieving your desired texture with a food processor prior to refrigerating the finished mustard overnight. My experiences have taught me to either grind a portion of the mustard seeds in advance or use a high powder blender that can grind the seeds efficiently. During the overnight the rest the flavors will meld.
Step 5 – Enjoy! – I’ve used my homemade beer mustard as a condiment for sandwiches, an accompaniment to fermented veggies and meats, and in sauces and marinades.
Recipe #3 Lacto-fermented sauerkraut
With a little big of “elbow grease” this simple two-ingredient recipebares no resemblance to store-bought (vinegar based) sauerkraut in both texture and taste.Two factors that separates one recipe from the next are the amount salt and whether spices are added.
Step 1: Chop and salt – While you can use any type of cabbage for sauerkraut, white cabbage is traditional. For my most recent batch I used Savoy cabbage, a firmer white cabbage…Remove the outer leaves of your head/s of cabbage (don’t throw them out) and cut into quarters. Then make a diagonal cut to remove the hard core from each quarter. Now you’re ready to thinly chop your cabbage into strips and mix with 1 tablespoon of coarse (kosher) sea salt per pound. Note, if you only have fine sea salt then use 2% by weight of salt.
Optional: I like to add spices to my sauerkraut. Most often I add 1 heaping tsp each of caraway and mustard seeds per head of cabbage.
Step 2: Knead and rest – To create your brine, knead the salt into the cabbage for 3-5 minutes or until it starts to release some of its water. Let it rest for 10 minutes (15 if you have the time) and then knead some more. Once you’ve accumulated about a cup worth of brine, transfer to your fermentation crock or jar, add your reserved outer cabbage leaves) and compress the cabbage until there’s 1/2 to 1 inch of brine on top. Then add your fermentation weights/s and compress a bit more. Note: If there still is not enough brine over the cabbage, you can make and then top it up with a 2% salt brine solution (e.g. 100g water and 2g of coarse sea salt (about 1 heaping teaspoon).
Step 3: Start of fermentation – Seal your fermentation crock or jar with airlock lid (following manufacturer’s instructions). Note if you only have standard ball (Mason) jar lids, you can use them. Just screw them on all the way and then loosen back a bit to let CO2 out. Place in a cool, dark place; 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C) is ideal. After a 1-3 days, the fermentation process should start and bubbles should be visible on around and on top of the cabbage. Keep an eye out for overflowing brine.
Step 4: Fermentation TLC – Once fermentation kicks off, keep an eye on it and open your fermentation vessel to push the cabbage back down below the brine if needed. As during the preparation stage, if brine level gets too low, you can top it up with more 2% salt water solution. However, be careful not to open your vessel too often, as doing so increases chances of mold growth. If mold does grow on the surface, carefully scrape it off and continue to ferment your sauerkraut. Note: Some sulfurous smell is natural, but anything truly offensive is a bad sign.
Step 5: Is it ready yet? – Your sauerkraut is ready to eat when it is reaches your preferred level of sourness, which can take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks. Personally, I usually taste my sauerkraut after 3 weeks and then let it ferment for another 7-10 days if it is not sour enough. Refrigerate in sealed containers for up to 6 months.
Step 6: Enjoy! – I love eating sauerkraut along side other fermented vegetables, whole grain mustard, and toasted sourdough rye bread. Though my favorite way to eat it is on a sandwich (sourdough caraway rye bread) with corned beef, whole grain mustard, and lacto-fermented pickles. Note: This method of brine production is also used when making kimchi.
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 cansell and how much money youcan 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.
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.
Have some sourdough starter discard? Try this easy honey cake!
With my rye starter smelling like honey lately, I was inspired to adapt this recipe for both discard and my personal taste preference. For my first honey cake this one turned fluffy, moist, and balanced in flavor and sweetness.
1 cup Sourdough starter discard
3 cups All Purpose flour – sifted
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 cup Vegetable Oil
1.25 cups Honey
1.5 cups Dark Brown Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Strong Coffee
1/4 cup orange juice
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the your cake pan(s) of choice. For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the add the starter discard, oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, and orange juice. Then sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
3. Using a strong wire whisk or an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl.
4. Let batter sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the discard to activate a bit.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s). Place the cake pan(s) on 2 baking sheets stacked together and bake until the cake springs back when you touch it gently in the center. For angel and tube cake pans, bake for 60 to 70 minutes; loaf cakes, 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, the baking time is 40 to 45 minutes. This is a liquidy batter and, depending on your oven, it may need extra time. Cake should spring back when gently pressed.Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Ever since I got my Challenger Bread Pan and watched Artisan Bryan’s video where he bakes demi-baguettes in it; I wanted to find and bake a simple baguette recipe that would help me learn how to both make use of the bread pan’s dimensions and master the baguette shaping process. Furthermore, in addition to having an ideal baking vessel, I made sure to wait until I had the tools that would make the baguette preparation process go as smoothly as possible before taking on this baking challenge. The tools came in the form of a transfer peel and baker’s couche from St Germain Bakery.
Test 1: Dialing in the recipe proportions
Choosing a simple baguette recipe to follow was quite easy as I looked over my browser’s bookmarked webpages and found The Perfect Loaf’s (Maurizio) “Sourdough Baguettes” recipe already there. My next step was to decide how long I would make the baguettes and after a brief glance at the Challenger Breadware website I decided to aim to make them 12 inches long i.e. the full length of the bottom portion of the bread pan. Lastly, after chosing the flours that I’d be using and adapting the proportions of Maurizio’s recipe to account for 2 inches less per baguette (for the 6 baguette batch) it was time to start preparing my dough. Click here for my adapted formula. Note: Base flour = Central Millng’s malted T85 flour and Beehive All-Purpose flour AND High Gluten flour = Janie’s Mill’s High-Protein flour.
Key components of Maurizio’s recipe: A) The levain ratio is 1:1:1 in order to keep the final acidity low. B) Aiming for a target final dough temperature of 79F/26C (prior to its cold bulk fermentation), speeds up the levain and initial warm bulk fermentation process. C) The overnight cold bulk fermentation results in added complexity and ends with visible signs of fermentation, but no significant rising of the dough. D) I’d recommend checking out his Kamut demi-baguette post (link below) for pictures of his recommended shaping process E) Keep your tray of proofed baguettes in the refrigerator while each subsequent set of 2 baguettes is baking. F) Due to these baguettes being smaller than Maurizio’s original recipe, I’d recommend checking on your baguettes towards the end of the uncovered portion of their baking in order to prevent them from getting too dark.
Test Results: For my first attempt at baking sourdough baguettes this batch came out quite good. Despite some proofing and shaping issues, their crumb was open, crust crispy, and flavor mild yet delicious at the same time. In terms of lessons specific to the Challenger bread pan, their 12 inch length was definitely too long. In turn, while planning for my next batch (Test 2), I used the ruler on my transfer peel to measure the bread pan’s inner dimensions and came to the conclusion that 10.5-11 inches would be a more appropriate baguette length.
Test 2 – All dialed in!
While I could have followed the same recipe for this batch, I decided to follow Maurizio’s Kamut demi-baguette recipe instead. However, I didn’t have any kamut flour on hand and therefore I substituted it with einkorn flour. In terms of adapting the recipe to the Challenger bread pan, I decided to keep the final dough weight the same as the previous batch, but made sure to shape them to 1-1.5 inches shorter (10.5-11 inches instead of 12). Click here for my adapted formula. Note: ABC Plus flour = Central Milling’s Artisan Baker’s Craft Plus flour.
Key components of Maurizio’s recipe: A) The levain ratio for this recipe is 1:2:1 i.e. “a stiff preferment to bring more control to the fermentation in this dough and add additional strength.” B) Put the levain in warm area (78-80F/25.5-26.6C) so that it’ll double in size within 4 hours. I used my Brod & Taylor proofer. C) “At 78-82°F (25.5-27.7C) ambient temperature, this (warm) portion of bulk fermentation will go for 2 hours.” C) As with the previous recipe (see its article), the length of this recipe’s cold bulk fermentation is flexible i.e. you can proceed with the rest of the process when it’s most convenient for you. D) Follow Maurizio’s shaping steps carefully in order to make the shaping process as simple and smooth as possible. E) Keep both ends of the couche supported at all times in order to prevent the baguettes that are not in the process of being baked from spreading out.
Test Results: While my baguette scoring skills need work, scoring a bit deeper after this batch’s first set of baguettes made a big difference in how much the remaining 4 rose during baking. With the length dialed in, the overall appearance of this batch was much more consistent (inside and out). In terms of flavor, the einkorn flour added a mild yet pleasant sweetness to the crust and crumb that was definitely distinct enough to differentiate from the flavor profile of the previous batch. Lastly, one factor that may be unique to my refrigerator, but I still feel is worth noting is the following. When I took both batches out to start the shaping and proofing processes there was some water built up on one edge of the mixing bowl. In fact, when dividing this batch I somehow ended up with 100-120 less grams of dough than expected. However, this may have been due to my placing the dough on the top shelf where it was colder than the bottom shelf i.e. where I put stored the first batch during its cold bulk fermentation.
Shape the baguettes to 10.5-11 inches (4.1 – 4.33cm) and between 275 and 325g in weight.
The Challenger Bread Pan allows you to start baking demi-baguettes covered like you would for your other sourdough loaves rather than setting up a steam pan.
Feel free to scale this recipe up or down. While I made six baguettes per batch, you can easily make less in order to shorten how much time you spend baking.
Score your baguettes carefully (deep enough and down the center) to make sure that they rise enough during baking. I transferred them onto an awaiting piece of parchment paper that I had placed on top of a plastic (OXO) cutting board, scored them, and then used the cutting board as a peel and carefully slid the baguettes into the bread pan.
Keep an eye on the color of the baguettes during the uncovered portion of the baking process in order to prevent them from getting too dark. Inverting the bread pan lid and placing the bottom portion on top can prevent over-carmelized bottoms.
What does it take to become a “bread writer?” With so many beginner sourdough books and blogs available nowadays, finding what makes one’s perspective on this growing hobby unique has become increasingly important. However, when authoring a cookbook, this factor can become discouraging. In my opinion, focusing on presenting one’s perspective and methods in a way that readers will relate to and benefit from is what matters most. Fortunately, many of today’s cookbook and sourdough baking book authors start off as bloggers. According to accomplished chef, food writer, food stylist, and cookbook author Alice Hart, this is “a good practice and a way to advertise yourself. These days, a publisher will want to know how they can sell, not just the food, but you the writer. By showing what you’re about and who your target audience is, you’ve just made their lives easier and yourself more hireable” (The Guardian).
Starting off as a nutrition-focused writer, this week’s featured baker developed a passion for writing about sourdough baking through the documentation of her “trying new baking techniques, grains, and flavors; photographing the baking process; and explaining to the others the science and artistry of sourdough.” Melissa Johnson took this passion and curiousity with her when she began working as a recipe developer and documenter of sourdough experiments for Breadtopia at the beginning of 2017. From kubaneh (Jewish Yemeni bread) to corn porridge and rosemary sourdough bread, Melissa has found a way to present her enthusiasm to her fellow bakers in a fun and approachable manner both on the Breadtopia website and in ‘Sourdough Cookbook for Beginners’, the recently released book that she co-authored with Breadtopia founder Eric Rusch.
So without further ado, I present to you Melissa Johnson of Breadtopia.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Being that you initially explored sourdough baking as an extension of your interest in gut health and fermented foods. How has your view of fermented foods changed since you began baking sourdough bread?
Melissa: I have a bigger appreciation for fermented foods since I began baking sourdough bread. I see how fermentation enhances the flavor of different grains and the texture of different breads. For example, I recently made a few batches of Eric’s Traditional Whole Grain Sourdough to mail to my son in college and for the rest of the family to eat at home too. It’s so soft and delicious, and it’s perfect for shipping across the country as it resists staling. In fact, it’s supposed to taste best on day three.
There are so many things I love about sourdough baking—how the tang of a long-fermented sourdough pizza dough complements different toppings, and how cinnamon rolls leavened with sourdough have a much more complex flavor than when leavened with commercial yeast.
Finally, and a bit unexpectedly, I’ve also found that using sourdough starter in two different chickpea dishes helps me digest them (farinata and homemade pasta made with a mix of chickpea flour and wheat flour).
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Firstly, congratulations on your recently published book Sourdough Cookbook for Beginners, which you co-authored with Breadtopia founder Eric Rusch. With so many beginner sourdough books available nowadays, what steps did you and Eric take to set your book apart from other similar books?
Melissa: Thank you. We really enjoyed writing the book and wanted to address the fact that many people avoid sourdough baking because they’re under the impression that there’s only one way to maintain sourdough starter and bake bread—and that one way is time-consuming, requires a lot of planning, and tends to be wasteful. Even with the uptick in sourdough baking due to Covid lockdown, I sometimes hear people say they won’t continue baking when life returns to normal.
Teaching people a simpler, more laidback approach to sourdough baking is why Eric created Breadtopia in 2006, and finding the website after baking two loaves of sourdough bread in 2016 is why I kept at it. I’d actually just tossed my starter because after trying a more conventional approach, I really didn’t think I could fit the complications of sourdough baking into my life.
So in the book, Eric and I explain the fundamental concepts that enable people to make sourdough baking work for their lifestyles and schedules. We also give immediate methods and instructions for beginners to start with and later modify once they gain experience gauging fermentation and gluten development.
Finally, we created a lot of videos on Breadtopia.com (click book cover photo) to accompany the book so people could see different techniques and steps in action.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): While reading through the initial chapters of the book I was pleased to find a starter troubleshooting guide. What you feel are the 5 key components of creating a comprehensive and practical sourdough starter guide?
Melissa: I think a starter guide is essentially a dough fermentation guide, and both should explain the importance of observation, the impact of different ingredients (flour types, water, salt, sugar, protein, fat), what happens at various stages of fermentation, how temperature and hydration impact development, and what to do when the most common problems pop up.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid home cook who enjoys cooking a wide variety of ethnic dishes, I admire your incorporation of complex flavor profiles into your cooking and baking. How would describe your perspective on cooking and how does it influence your bread baking?
Melissa: I love trying dishes and breads from all over the world, learning how the flavors and techniques traveled over geography and time, and seeing how different ingredients or techniques might achieve similar flavor goals. I’m grateful every day that I have access to information and recipes on the internet, and to different ingredients in the stores where I live.
I’m also a convenience seeker and shameless ingredient substituter, so the more I learn from different culinary traditions, the more tools I have at my disposal to mix and match, and not make one more trip to the grocery store.
In both cooking and baking, I’m trying to optimize the effort-to-outcome ratio. Truly, I’m willing to do very effortful activities, e.g. make 50 empanadas with two kinds of filling, if I feel like the end result is worth it. It is 😉 This is also why I love doing baking experiments: finding out how big of a difference a technique or step actually makes.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a baker who embraces the benefits of baking with freshly milled grains, how do you choose which grains to mill when developing your recipes?
Melissa: Usually flavor profile and gluten strength are my first considerations – how they will contribute to the style of the bread. Kamut and durum tend to be classic choices for Italian breads, for example, but I also like to test unexpected choices e.g. a soft white wheat grown in Arizona as a component of focaccia. We recently wrote a guide to flour and wheat types to try to help people understand the different flavors and characteristics of various wheat varieties.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Having been a homebrewer for the past 11 years, I enjoy delving into the more scientific aspects of sourdough baking. As someone who is married to a homebrewer, what advantages do you feel experienced homebrewers have when it comes to mastering the sourdough baking process? and How would you recommend that the average home sourdough baker incorporate scientific measurements such as dough temperature and pH into their established baking processes?
Melissa: From what I’ve observed with my husband, homebrewers are experts in optimizing yeast populations. You’re also used to following elaborate processes, and you’re familiar with different grains and the effects of malting or sprouting. When evaluating the finished product, homebrewers talk about mouthfeel and aroma in addition to oven spring, flavor, and crumb openness. And if you’re a homebrew judge, you probably have a very developed vocabulary and palate for describing flavors. Finally, you usually have some cool fancy equipment for temperature control.
I think that understanding the role of temperature is a fantastic asset to sourdough bread baking, and understanding pH is helpful for creating your own starter or modifying it for a heavily enriched dough like panettone.
If you need to produce identical breads on a predictable schedule, measuring dough temperature and keeping a steady ambient temperature are crucial.
I mostly respond to/make predictions based on ambient temperature rather than control it. I do appreciate having my homebrewer husband’s lagering refrigerator at my disposal for 55°F fermentation because I don’t always want the dormancy of refrigerating at 38°F or the speed of 65-80°F overnight (that’s my kitchen temperature spread across seasons). My husband also built me a thermoelectric cooler with a Peltier chip last winter so I could keep panettone dough at 80-85°F.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Similar to the process of malting grains, incorporating home sprouted grains into one’s baking can increase the digestibility and flavor of sourdough bread. How would you recommend that bakers take full advantage of sprouted grains?
Barry (The Brewed Palate): While sourdough bread may make gluten more digestible for those diagnosed with a sensitivity to gluten, there are those who prefer to bake completely gluten free loaves. What are some tips that you would give to those trying to bake gluten free sourdough breads?
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Other than your book of course, what are some of your favorite sourdough books?
Melissa: I’ve got quite a few sourdough books, but I tend to come back to Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice for a lot of technique and formulas. Even though his recipes primarily use instant yeast, I find it easy enough to convert them to sourdough. I have also learned a lot about recipes with ancient grains and porridges from Tartine No3 by Chad Robertson. Living Bread by Dan Leader and New World Sourdough by Bryan Ford are both interesting and gorgeous too. I’ve been meaning to get Sarah C. Owens’ Sourdough for ages, but haven’t yet. I also love to look at Maurizio’s recipes on the website The Perfect Loaf, and I get a ton of inspiration from various bakers on Instagram. Lately, I’ve been also watching YouTube videos of bakers from around the world making breads I’ve never heard of, and I’m learning more about how vast and beautiful the world of bread is.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?
Melissa: Living bread and living food mean to me that the ingredients have had minimal intermediaries and processing before my family eats them. Living food is slicing potatoes with the skin still on and making fries on a baking sheet with olive oil at 425°F in the oven vs. buying a freezer bag of skinless pre-cooked fries cut from the one variety of potato bred for a particular length and starch level, and then coated in dextrose, a blend of oils, and a preservative.
The same applies to bread; a loaf made from whole, sustainably-farmed heirloom grains, fresh-milled with my Mockmill in my kitchen and leavened with a live, wild yeast sourdough culture, bears no resemblance in flavor or nutrition to what you find on a grocery store shelf.
Living food can cost more time and money to prepare and consume, but as a society, we’re realizing that the hidden costs of convenient and less-nutritious foods are even higher. We have more and more people suffering from endocrine and other diseases that are linked to consuming ultra-processed foods. Now we need to work on educating people, prioritizing access to knowledge and ingredients – this is kind of the underlying quest behind my work.
Thank you Melissa for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! May your educated and artful way of presenting sourdough baking to your readers continue to bring you much success and be an inspiration to increasingly more home bakers.