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Home-baked sourdough bread is a simple thing in theory, requiring just a few tools, a starter, experienced hands for shaping and heat for baking.

Yet how many of us have the time to stop by a bakery on a regular basis, let alone bake our own bread?

Nosing around their hometown of Sonoma, Ian Conover and his fiancé, Tara Williams, decided there was a need for another local baker to feed the bread appetites of locals. And instead of opening a bakery, they are delivering it from their door to yours.

“We talked for a long time about Sonoma needing another bakery ... something for the local community,” Conover said. “People who live in Sonoma don’t live their life on the Square.”

So in the fall of 2017, the graduate of the SRJC Culinary Arts program started experimenting with baking his own bread, selling and delivering about 20 loaves a week to friends and colleagues while holding down a job as a prep cook for The Girl & the Fig in Sonoma.

“It took off with four loaves a day and kept me busy and engaged,” said Conover, 31. “We were also trying to make extra money for our wedding (scheduled this June.)”

Having spent last summer biking through Sweden with his fiancé, Conover was inspired to turn his hobby into a full-time baking and delivery service, Relax and Eat Bread.

“In Sweden, we met lots of people who didn’t see barriers to the things that they wanted to do,” he said. “And the bread there was delicious ... we would get a loaf of bread, and it would last us three days.”

In December, Conover decided it was time to ramp up. So he quit his job, purchased a Cottage Home Food permit and started baking in earnest, delivering three varieties of bread — either by vintage bike or by car — on weekdays to customers in Sonoma, Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

It’s a labor of love, stretching from his home kitchen to your front porch.

His tools include two stainless steel bowls, two carts, a butcher block, proofing baskets and a couple of baking stones to line his $600 electric oven.

“It’s really low-tech, “ he said. “Which is what is so great about bread.”

Each loaf takes him about 36 hours to make, from start to finish. He wakes up at 5 a.m., turns the oven on, and starts baking the dough that he already mixed and shaped the day before. While it bakes, he mixes and shapes a new batch of dough, which is left to rest in the refrigerator overnight.

With his own fresh bread — he’s partial to the caraway rye — Conover likes to smear some cream cheese on top and add a soft-boiled egg or some canned sardines. Once it gets stale, he will turn the leftovers into crostini and croutons, further prolonging the life of the loaf.

Conover sources his organic flours from Central Milling of Utah, distributed by Keith Giusto Bakery Supply of Petaluma. His sourdough starter, which needs to be fed flour and water every day, is a blend of a starter he got from SRJC Baking Instructor Cathy Burgett and the 20-year-old starter he got from his mom, a retired educator.

“The starter changes based on the environment that it’s in, so they both had become ‘my starter’ at that point anyway,” he said.

When he was growing up, Conover spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his mom, who used to bake the communion bread for his father, a Presbyterian minister.

Even as a kid, Conover enjoyed making his own pizza, moving on to tackle focaccia and other yeasty projects.

“Baking bread was always fun,” he said. “It’s ever evolving and always a challenge.”

At the online Relax and Eat Bread store, the most popular flavor is the semolina sourdough, which he bakes five days a week, followed by the seeded sourdough and the caraway rye sourdough. With the rye’s popularity on the rise, however, Conover has started to add more supply to satisfy the demand.

The high quality and the sheer convenience of the delivered, fresh-baked loaves has been a hit with Sonoma residents like Sheana Davis, a cheesemaker and caterer with The Epicurean Connection.

“It is so great to wake up Wednesday mornings with a warm loaf of bread on our front porch,” Davis said. “We love the fresh baked flavors and texture.”

While Conover does all the baking and delivery, Williams helps behind the scenes, updating the web page, marketing the business through Facebook and monitoring orders.

The small-production bakery takes orders solely through its website (relaxandeatbread.com). There are no standing orders — customers need to re-order at the beginning of each week.

“We post the menu on Mondays and update the dates for delivery,” Conover said. “Hopefully we sell out before we post the next menu. That’s been the pattern so far.” At $6 a loaf delivered, the bread has been one of Wine Country’s best-kept secrets thus far. But Conover said he will probably raise the price in March.

“The goal is to produce enough so that we do sell out,” he said. “If we’re selling out, that tells me we need to up the price a little bit to equal out the supply and demand.”

Although he had managed a few bike shops in his 20s, Conover had to learn how to run his own business, picking up new skills along the way such as building a website. But the hardest part of the enterprise, he said, is dealing with the fact that dough is a living entity and is never the same each day.

“There are changes in ambient temperatures and the humidity in the air,” he said. “So I’m always learning about that and trying to figure out what happened and what to do next.”

In the future, Conover said he would like to find a commercial kitchen and perhaps a retail space that would be small but manageable for his lifestyle.

“I love making food for people,” he said, “But I need to figure out a schedule that would work for me.”

And he’d like to get a bigger basket for his delivery bike, a vintage, single-speed Whitcomb, hand-built in the early 1970s. It was his father’s first racing bike.

“I deliver on bike in Sonoma when it makes sense,” he said. “It’s good for around town.”

The following recipe is from Sheana Davis of The Epicurean Connection, who developed it to showcase the new olive oil and balsamic vineger she has launched under The Epicurean Connection label (available at Sonoma’s Best in Sonoma).

Winter Bread Salad with Greens

Makes 4 servings

6 slices bread (from Relax and Eat Bread), cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tablespoons olive oil from Sonoma County

— Sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 small Belgian endives, sliced lengthwise and then into ½-inch slices

1 small head radicchio, outer leaves removed, sliced ½-inch thick

1 small head frisee, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces

1/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped coarsely

— Sprinkle of chile flakes

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 cup Moonside Creamery Lunetta cheese, grated (see note)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss bread with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine endives, radicchio and frisee. Add walnuts and chile flakes and toss with croutons. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Garnish with grated Moonside Creamery Lunetta.

Note: Lunetta is a new, cow’s-milk cheese made by Jennifer Kirkham, cheesemaker at Moonside Creamery in Sebastopol.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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