This sourdough roll photo is a thumbnail of my life. This takes me back to childhood in Cupertino, CA and stopping at Le Boulanger to buy sourdough rolls. The thought of their delicious tang connects me to a long-standing love of bread and bread baking.
Buying and selling bread at Le Boulanger
As a teenager I worked at Le Boulanger in Cupertino, CA selling bread and sandwiches, making espresso drinks, and filling display cases with pastries. It was a time of increased interest in fresh food, fine cooking, and artisan bread. The bakery was a wonderful place to learn about bread and professional baking. Le Boulanger loaves came shaped from the main facility in San Francisco and were slow fermented on-site in refrigerators until the morning bake. The baker took loaves out of cool storage and baked them in a rotating-rack, steam-injected oven. In early morning the bakery was infused with smells of baking bread. Customers watched the bread through a window in the oven as they picked up pastries on the way to work. I loved making cappuccinos and talking with customers. We usually sold out of our large San Francisco sourdough loaves and the beautiful rye miches by the afternoon.
Baking bread in a conventional oven
Later as wife and mother I baked bread in a conventional oven in our apartment, reading everything I could; reading and re-reading Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb as a tutorial.* I learned to make consistently good bread, but there’s only so far you can go with the heat and space in a home oven. Peter discovered (as I did later) that the oven makes a difference in the quality of the finished bread. A gas or electric oven, even a professional grade gas or electric one, can’t attain the temperatures of a wood-fired oven. A wood-fired oven gets really hot. Artisan breads respond to high heat and produce steam which causes the bread to spring up. Plus, a wood-fired oven can inject “a smoky quality into the bread…that no home or even professional oven could ever match.”** His story about discovering wood-fired baking caught my attention, launched my dream.
Dream come true
Peter describes what happens when you start baking good bread in your conventional home oven. “As you begin turning out bread from your home oven that is good beyond belief, you may, however, find yourself dreaming about your own wood-fired brick oven radiating at 800°.”*** I followed the path of other bakers in wanting a wood-fired oven to bake bread that can’t be duplicated in any other oven. Also, I wanted to bake year around without heating up the house. It gets hot in Texas!
I realized the dream after we moved from Caifornia to Texas and met master oven-builder Dave Eberhardt. He built our 40″ firebrick oven in 2011, and we had the pleasure of watching it come together. Dave and I work together now as Texas Oven Co. We advocate wood-fired cooking and help people fulfill their own dream of owning a wood-fired oven.
I’ve come a long way from saving 30¢ for a sourdough roll to baking them in my own oven and helping others to do the same.
Community bread baking
Dave and I are passionate about the oven as a center of community. We often host a First-fire™ service for our customers where they invite friends and neighbors to inaugurate their ovens. We are launching a community-bake program in 2015. (Watch our FaceBook page for details.)
* Also read excellent books by Chad Robertson, Bernard Clayton.
**Crust and Crumb, Peter Reinhart, p. 102
*** Same, p. 103