Let’s be honest. Bread baking is an art, and a science. It’s an artsy sciencey thing, if you can say that.
We knew that the sourdough-bread-baking part of our business was critical.
After all, our shop name is Sourdough Cuppa Joe!
The sourdough bread had to be consistent. It had to be great. There was only one problem…
Everything Was Ready, Except…
When everything else was ready for the grand opening, our bread wasn’t.
What do you do when your name is Sourdough Cuppa Joe and you can’t make sourdough bread yet?
We did the only thing we knew to do. We contacted a local bakery who already made sourdough and other varieties of bread every day, and asked them to sell us their bread wholesale.
Partnering With A Seasoned Bakery
We sold their bread, under their name, for three months after opening, and it was good, but we weren’t satisfied.
We really, wanted to make our own!
We practiced, experimented, and had intermittent successes and failures. But we kept trying and learning more and more about our craft.
There were so many variables to consider. The ultimate hurdle was how were we going to mix, raise, loaf, raise, and bake bread every day to ensure bread that was sold today was baked today. That was where we wanted to be, and it took lots of figuring to get it right.
As we approached the three-month mark after our grand opening, we were starting to see some repeated success from our efforts with the sourdough bread.
That’s when it happened….
The local bakery we had been getting bread from decided to raise their minimum order from no minimum to a nine-loaf minimum, and their delivery fee from $5 to $20.
We had about two weeks before these new policies took effect!
That was all the incentive we needed to start making our bread ourselves every day.
One of our bakers had experience in sourdough bread baking, and she was crucial in helping us in this. (We love you, Chelsea!)
The hardest part, as I said before, was figuring out the intricate timing of raising and baking bread on the day that it would be sold. Since all sourdough starters are different, the only way to get this part right was to make bread every day and keep varying our practices until we found a formula that worked.
There are simply too many variables to consider to sit down and write a process that will produce your desired result without any real-world experience to back up that knowledge.
What ended up working was a two-day system which utilized a retarding of the second rise in the cooler, until the time was right to set the bread out for the second rise.
We found that an overnight rise with the set out time varied according to the building temperature was just about right.
After that, it was into the oven and (ideally) we would end up with beautiful, fresh-baked bread every day.
So, it went something like this…
- 5:00 AM – 6:00 AM Bake loaves set out to rise from the previous evening.
- Sometime during the morning – Mix new batch of bread and prepare it for the first rise.
- Feed the sourdough starter.
- 2-3 hours later, when first rise is complete – Loaf the dough and place in the fridge to retard second rise.
- If more bread is needed for the current day, leave out the appropriate number of loaves to complete the second rise now, then bake when the second rise is complete.
- At the end of the day, determine how many loaves will likely be needed the following day, and set out that number of loaves from the fridge to rise overnight.
- Feed the sourdough starter again.
- Start the process over the next morning.
Our shop is closed on Sunday, but we found that the retard in the fridge would keep the bread from over-rising, even over a 24-hour period, so we just swing by the shop Sunday evening and set out the bread for Monday each week.
Nothing is Perfect
Oh, how I wish that I could tell you this always goes perfectly!
We have learned many of these tips and tricks through trial and error, and we do have mishaps less and less frequently.
However, this is a sciencey, artsy thing, remember.
Sometimes, for no apparent reason at all, our bread will not rise, or it will have a large air bubble just under the surface of the crust.
Or the starter will start acting, for lack of a better word, weird.
Overall, however, we are able to produce bread that we are proud to serve.
Bread making is a fickle friend, especially when you are making something you would like to be able to sell. I have found that it is a great lesson in humility.
Sometimes, no matter how much you think you understand everything there is to know about it, bread-making will prove you wrong. It will show you that you don’t know all there is to know about something, and that can be a very good thing to remember.
Lessons I’ve Learned, or Re-learned
- If you’re lost, get help.
- Never stop trying.
- Never stop learning.
- Don’t allow failure to define you.
- Know when it’s time to make your move.
- Do it, even if you’re scared.
- Don’t get cocky.
- Embrace the things in life that don’t always turn out the way you think they should.
Ok, ok, let’s not get too deep here, but there are definite learning opportunities that go way beyond combining some flour and water here, so embrace them.
Are you a bread maker? Looking for tips on sourdough? Have something to offer to the conversation? Subscribe to our blog. Comment on this post. Reach out – we all have things to learn and to contribute!