Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rolling in Dough

Almost everyone who uses the kitchen for more than reheating take-out will eventually try to bake bread. It is one of the most basic and satisfying forms of cookery. The transformation of flour, salt and water into a stretchy, pliable dough is magical; the aroma that fills the house as it is baking is so comforting that real estate agents often ask home sellers to put a loaf in the oven just before a showing.

In my nearly three decades of adult cooking experience, I have baked many loaves. Until about a year ago, my primary guide was the classic whole grains Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. Then I decided to try a sourdough recipe from Sandor Katz' Wild Fermentation. After feeding the starter for a week or so, I baked a brick. I don't blame Mr. Katz. It's possible I didn't properly follow his instructions, but I think it's more likely that my house was too cold for the starter to fully ferment and I should've let it grow more before baking.

Since I really have no need to bake (as the evidence below will demonstrate), I gave up on sourdough until this past summer, when the lovely La Brea Bakery book caught my eye. The first recipe, for a basic country white loaf, is about 28 pages long, including instructions for a 14-day process of growing a culture, or "mother". The resulting bread was a huge hit with my family, and I quickly moved on to some of the more complex recipes.

However, for the past few months my "mother" has been sitting, almost completely forgotten, in my fridge. This is why:

First, the bread rack at Oryana, my neighborhood natural foods co-op. Nearly everything pictured here is local. We have whole grain organic sourdoughs from Pleasanton Brick Oven, the sophisticated sourdoughs from Stone House Bread, as well as Bay Bread, my friend Pearl's Old Mission Homestyle, Oryana's own PapaDoc bagels, and L'Chayim bagels from Beulah. Confronting this during every shopping trip had already caused me to question my decision to take up home baking. I was, more often than not, stashing my "mother" in the fridge because I just picked up one of these excellent loaves.

Most of these bakeries have their own storefronts in town. Stone House, for instance, opened a café at the end of my street this past summer. Sometimes I think Traverse City should be renamed Bakers City!

And then, this past November, came the final, crushing blow to my bread-making aspirations. Just two blocks from my house, Jen Welty moved into a little shop on Front Street with her 9 Bean Rows Bakery. I had already been buying her bread and fabulous croissants at the Farmer's Market, but now I could be supplied five days a week! My "mother" hasn't been out of the fridge since.

Now 9 Bean Rows is starting a CSB (Community Supported Bakery), basically a bread-of-the-week club. A year's subscription costs roughly $3.25/loaf and gives a 20 percent discount on all other bakery items.

And what items!

The croissant basket.
The pastry case.

Croissants, pain au chocolat, cream puffs, eclaires and more!



  1. Their apricot pastries remind of something you would find in Germany. Croissants are outstanding. Yup, no need to knead anymore.

  2. You're making me hungry! And I'm gluten-free now, but still so new at it that I haven't tried elaborate breads. A CSB sounds like a fabulous addition to a CSA. Does she include any gluten-free products?

    Ha! - Guess what my word verification was. BRAD. One letter off!