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3 Artisan Bakers & A Novice Walk Into A Winery…….

“Bread takes the effort of kneading but also requires sitting quietly while the dough rises with a power all its own.” ~ David Richo

Artisan Bread


I have always baked from scratch with my family, but it was game on after I moved into my own place, way back when. Calling the family and asking for recipes we enjoyed together. As I improved at making pies and bread, I was bold enough to change up those recipes. Pulling out the leather-bound journal from my backpack, logging important details of pie crust recipe specifics, studying leaven and fermentation, all while converting measurements from standard to metric units was imperative.

That first year in Sonoma County, I researched bread recipes, flipping through page after page of cookbooks in the local library while my son took swimming lessons next door. I would sit at the table in the cooking section - learning all the variations of how to make the best sourdough starter. After all, I was visiting the Wine Country public library system and couldn’t get over the sheer volumes of material related to bread and culinary everything. Could I find suitable flour, salt, and water purifiers to create a fantastic loaf? What was Friendship Bread? Why did Aunt Mary mail me that recipe? It was hilarious; I used packaged yeast, all-purpose flour, water, and salt for my first loaves of French baguette and laughed about it years later. But we all have a starting place, and mine was at the helm of my friend’s Wolf Oven, named “The Beast.”

Then, one day that close friend and professional baker handed me a life-changing cookbook, The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown. I read that book twice before even preheating the oven. I remember that day as she left with her husband for an assignment in Hawaii. We stood in her kitchen saying goodbye, and gently she slid the book down her butcher block countertop toward me. Never a word was spoken but a long hug and wave out the door with my newfound project in hand. Why wouldn’t I take advice from one of the “Best Bakers” I knew? She has the track record to prove it, and the utmost respect for her amazing Persimmon-White Chocolate Bread Pudding and Pumpkin Scones-just ask Martha Stewart. Her hand pies are the best!

Back then, I could barely bake a cookie or pretzel. But I knew showing up to a dinner party with freshly baked bread and a pan of my Risotto needed to be impressive. The food culture ran deep in Sonoma County, and I worked hard to improve my craft. I was elbow to elbow-with some of the most talented chefs and foodies. I would go to the grocery store with my list on a cut-out recipe paper as I needed to remember specifics. How would I make this bread taste rustic? I had no idea. I used the formula to reconcile for errors as I clumsily made my way down the baking aisle, pretending to know which flour, cheesecloth, and salt to purchase.

Finally, a woman happened to look at my recipe and offered me some free advice. She pointed me toward a restaurant and wholesale-based miller/distributor in town. I didn’t know what organically milled flour was in the early 2000s. Little did I know I could have been making leaven at home with patience, practicing a lifelong craft. But in my early thirties, I didn't always have time to wait for fermentation and leavening! I was a busy woman on the move in Wine Country - emerging onto the mom social scene. I needed to showcase my well-rounded self through baked goods and sales pitches. I was a novice wine snob and wouldn't dare tell a soul about watching Uncle Buck and my grandfather make hard cider from his cold cellar, filling 50-gallon repurposed oak barrels with pressed apples and juice, on cool Fall nights in New England. My palate was in development mode, for sure. I liked the new me, a mom, Bay Area commuter turned foodie and novice baker.


The Power of Patience

As time passed, my tastes matured, and I became a student of intelligent and innovative chefs throughout Wine Country. I moved within a group, where we explored wine regions, paired bread, cheese, and vintages; while tasting straight from the barrel. Later, I would discover the importance of dinner parties and good organic bread to clean the palate. Like anything, wine and breadmaking require patience, with much trial and error.

As my skills improved, I experimented with the new flora, fauna, and leaven. The many combinations of flour and water, secured mason jars produced a stink that wafted through my kitchen. I dated each jar with the last modification notes and what I added or subtracted. As hard as I tried, I tirelessly attempted the weekend warrior approach to large-batch bread baking, pizza dough, and pretzels. My son, his friends, and our neighbors were happy to be my taste testers.

Producing leaven is a rich process of measuring, note-taking, and management. Your sourdough starter will take about 5-9 days to produce, and it is essential to note what you did, from the list of materials to temperature records. Set up a template in your notebook, and write with a pencil. Note what you need to do, step-by-step, with each level in production. Make sure to weigh in grams; Truckee Sourdough makes an excellent cultured leavening agent for their famous Ciabatta. When toasted, the product presents a delicious and crunchy texture on the outside and softness within. Today, Tartine and the Perfect Loaf are essential books on my shelf.

People enjoying baked goods and coffee

Organic Flour

Out in northern Utah, there lie a group of organic grain farmers and millers who grow rustic, artisanal grains, taking the time to manage the quality and purity of each product. Central Milling is an employee-owned, fully integrated Miller that sells high-quality flour and grains to consumers and professional bakers throughout the United States. In the Midwest, Janie’s Mill is offering Organic, heirloom, and ancient grains throughout Illinois. Each of these businesses cares about their products, innovation, and growth. Professional bakers are focused on producing pure products for their customers and need reliable artisanal producers to bring forth specialized grains and the opportunity to CoPack.

Milling begins after harvest when the wheat berries are sweated, which means they are dehydrated and ready for milling. The farmer then separates foreign objects, sticks, and other items unrelated to a pure product. Water is then added to the product for tempering, which takes 12-24 hours of wetting while preventing microbial growth. There are three main types of mills, Stone, Hammer, and Roller; each mill performs a different grinding. Once ground, the miller might add a small amount of barley flour to stabilize fermentation. The flour is named by Type; for example, Type 70 and Type 85 are closer to whole grain flour. Some of what is essential are gluten strength, % of protein, fineness, and type.

Preparing Dough

Bakers Rely on Quality and Differentiation For Their Recipes

Anything good having to do with bread takes patience and effort. Therefore, building friendships and sharing recipes is vital to successful loaves and many late-night dinner parties. I started following Maurizio Leo when he was a software engineer in San Francisco. Of course, I was one of those converts waiting on line for limited-batch loaves at Chad Robertson & Elisabeth Prueitt’s bakery. Remember Brooks Taylor and Corey Hinkel on 2408 7th Avenue South in Birmingham, Alabama. Artisan baking is a culture requiring dedicated organic farmers, millers, and bakers to foster good food.

Baking is both scientific and artistic, and they strive for quality. The perfect loaf should be impeccable, with a crispy crust, moist dough, ample air holes flowing throughout, and earthen and malted - nutty caramel flavors. Sourdough Croissants made with French Cultured Butter allow for layers of malted barley within the dough and cultured dairy. When baked, the high-fat content allows for depth in flavor and texture. The Pain au Chocolat is made with that same sourdough starter, layers of cold French Cultured butter, adding two to three semi-sweet Belgian chocolate batons—a perfect small plate breakfast with strawberries.

Rustic country loaves are a favorite of bakers near and far, but it is vital to understand better what each flour product is used for and what it contains. Tartine uses rice flour in their country bread. While some use more rye flour, coupled with an organic unbleached product containing a higher percentage of Barley Malt for caramelization.

Slice a warm loaf of bread on a cool morning while brewing your coffee to get your senses flowing. Taylor Farms Rise and Shine Blend is a delicious accompaniment to fresh bread. Take that thick slice of bread, add whipped goat cheese and figs, and drizzle some Clover honey over the top for a morning flavor bomb. Apricots are great too! Cut a slice of that bread and add whipped creme fraiche, a generous amount of smoked salmon, and a few capers topped with fresh dill. Yummo!

After a couple of days, your rustic loaf can be cut on the bias, drizzled with clarified butter, sprinkle with cotija cheese, and baked at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until crispy light brown. Add them to a plate of raw oysters with hot sauce. The recipes are countless; use what you have in your region for toppings and fillers. It pays to source local and regional food products.

Country Bread Round

Wrapping It Up

When Fall hits in Northern California, you can smell “Crush” in the air; wine grape leaves turn from green to orange and then red along the roadway. Today, I drive the backroads of rural Alabama, exploring shellfish and eclectic food in and around New Orleans. No matter where I am or what I seek to experience, someone's food story is begging to be told. It makes me feel good to be part of that storytelling community.

Food makes us feel warmth, comfort, and safety. At the end of the day, we know it has a backstory and history all to its own. That story must be told, handed to our children, and shared with the community. As you drive down your back road, look for that Artisan Bakery along the unbeaten path. Better yet, open your window and check for the scent of earthen, rustic, French Country bread in the air. And make sure to pull over for a quick foodie immersion into their kitchen, taste up a small plate storm, and learn their story. ⧫

Toasting at a winery

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