Sour Is Sweetest
These bakers converge around one dough
By Tessa Marguerite Outland
Baking sourdough bread is not just for professionals and pandemics. For many Sacramento home bakers, making sourdough is therapy, even a necessity.
It’s a cool October day. A fresh loaf of sourdough with golden crust cools in the kitchen as the aroma of warm baked bread and melting butter swirls in the air. As Alison Clevenger says, “Nothing beats fresh bread with some homemade jam on it and some salted butter.”
Clevenger, executive pastry chef for Selland Family Restaurants, started baking bread at home when she was about 10 years old. “My first batch of bread was really sad,” she says. “I took my mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook and attempted to make a sourdough baguette.”
The failed loaf didn’t stop her. After graduating from Oregon Coast Culinary Institute, Clevenger landed a job as a bread baker. Now she makes bread at home to relax. “It became therapeutic for me,” she says.
For Citrus Heights resident Eduard Andrusyak, curiosity and an appetite for something better than store-bought bread was all he needed.
Andrusyak is owner and creator of Urbane Coffee Cart and Station Coffee Roasters. He started experimenting with sourdough in 2019, before it was fashionable. He got his first sourdough starter from friends at Masullo, the artisan pizzeria in Land Park. “It looked like scraps at the bottom of a container,” Andrusyak says. From those scraps, he learned to make his own loaves of delicious sourdough.
“My first batch was really small and dense,” he says. “The folding technique was new and working with dough, it’s really sticky.” On his baking journey, Andrusyak picked up recipes and techniques from two YouTube personalities, Mike Greenfield of Pro Home Cooks and Joshua Weissman.
After several months, Andrusyak began posting practice loaves on Instagram. Soon he was selling extra loaves or giving them to friends. “I like the process,” he says. “Once I started making it I liked it a lot and I kind of don’t like other bread now. Sourdough has a superior taste, a balance of taste and texture.”
For former Sacramento resident Elvira Conty Nieves, the pandemic and a food allergy activated her bread making.
Conty Nieves, baking fanatic at heart and coffee lover by trade, embarked on a sourdough journey at the beginning of 2020. Due to her soy allergy, Conty Nieves found it easier to cook and bake at home. But before the pandemic, she never attempted bread.
“I love sourdough and with everything being closed and limited, I thought, why not make bread at home and try a new challenge?” she says.
Taking advantage of Faria Bakery’s flour and sourdough starter kits, Conty Nieves picked up a baby starter from the Oak Park bakery. She used recipes on kingarthurbaking.com and from a cookbook called “Living Bread” by Daniel Leader and Lauren Chattman.
In addition to crusty loaves, Conty Nieves loves making sourdough waffles. “I even bought the tiniest waffle maker to make them at home,” she says. Because her 2-year-old daughter, Artemis, is obsessed with blueberries, Conty Nieves makes a sweet blueberry coulis to drizzle on the warm, crispy waffles.
Gregory Berger has been experimenting with sourdough for several years. Berger lives in the Arden-Arcade area and is an award-winning independent baker with five blue ribbons from the California State Fair.
Berger recently published his second cookbook, “Bread Baking Basics: Recipes for Mastering Bread, Dough and Flour.” The book explores how to make and keep a sourdough starter, yeast and non-yeast recipes for breads, crackers, pizza dough and suggestions for leftover bread.
“I like sourdough in general. I think it’s the best tasting bread,” Berger says. “But I also like the idea that the yeast came from your kitchen. You created that and you’re keeping it alive by feeding it and nurturing it.”
“Bread Baking Basics” is available at Whole Foods, Sam’s Club and on Amazon. Follow Berger’s Instagram account, @thefreshbreaddaily, for recipe tips and foodie pics.