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.