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“She homeschooled us in her basement and we would take lunch breaks when the bread machine was done. We would smear it with peanut butter and jelly when it was still warm. They were these thick slices of whole wheat and the peanut butter was just oozing off the sides.”

Stephanie, Bonny Breads

 
 
With such a vivid and fond childhood memory, it should come as no surprise this seed planted in Stephanie has grown to something of a calling.  She calls it a happy accident, working at coffee shops out of college and while traveling, until taking a job as a barista at an enchanting neighborhood bakery north of Boston.  As Stephanie describes it, “It is this little alleyway bakery and inside there is this room that just seemed to emanate warmth. I just wanted to be closer to and be a part of whatever was going on in that room.”  As luck, or perhaps fate would have it they were looking for a bread baker.

Stephanie makes the most with little space, challenging the belief you need a big fancy kitchen to make amazing food.

Stephanie describes how early on she especially loved the shaping of the loaves, which was almost “sculptural”.  She recalls always being super tactile, and she jokingly recounts her mom telling her to ‘stop touching everything’, even when walking around a clothing or furniture store.  “Then there was the movement of the job and the timing of it all, demanding that you’re always moving on to the next thing and the next thing. After all the planning, mixing, proofing, shaping, and baking, you end up taking out this product from the oven that you put all this care into and then the next day you get the chance to start all over again. And, it’s never perfect.  There’s always something you could have done differently, which keeps you moving forward, always with new things to try, new things to explore.

Stephanie describes how early on she especially loved the shaping of the loaves, which was almost “sculptural”.  She recalls always being super tactile, and she jokingly recounts her mom telling her to ‘stop touching everything’, even when walking around a clothing or furniture store.  “Then there was the movement of the job and the timing of it all, demanding that you’re always moving on to the next thing and the next thing. After all the planning, mixing, proofing, shaping, and baking, you end up taking out this product from the oven that you put all this care into and then the next day you get the chance to start all over again. And, it’s never perfect.  There’s always something you could have done differently, which keeps you moving forward, always with new things to try, new things to explore.

Naturally fermented breads use a starter that is nurtured through continuous feeding and use.
Stephanie uses local, freshly milled flours such as this one from Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA.

In observing Stephanie when she bakes you can see how well suited she is for the craft she has chosen, or that has chosen her.  Her hands almost seem designed for the process itself as she moves between mixing, to shaping to scoring to baking. Even when seemingly focusing on one task, you can tell that she is checking in on the whole process in her mind, reviewing the whole picture, assessing, looking ahead.  In watching her hands work, you understand the limits industrialized bread has. A machine couldn’t possibly do what human hands can. And there is something much more to that point that is hard to put your finger on, but when you listen to Stephanie you start to get it.

“Every part of it is complicated but it’s also extremely simple.  It’s 3 ingredients. Both the simplicity and the complexity are almost like a nugget of life and it sustains life.”  

This is bread that makes you pause. This is food meant to be savored, appreciated and valued. 

When I first tried Stephanie’s bread I was floored.  When you have amazing bread it speaks to you in a way that, the other stuff just can’t.  When I met Stephanie, then went back to her bread, the experience came full circle.  I could now tie the emotions her bread evoked with Stephanie the person, her stories, her energy, her history.  This is what food can be. And this is what human connection around food can create. 

Above the vintage couch the door to a century-old bread oven in Stephanie’s apartment.

Stephanie and I talked of how the world can tend to wax poetic about such ‘simple’ things like her bread.  As we talked we realized perhaps this comes from a place in us missing or maybe even yearning for a time when bread like hers, when food like hers was the normal, even if it’s a world we’ve only heard about.  This was just the way things were not too long ago. I think there is poetry in Bonny Breads that would resonate with any generation past or future. 

Food made this way by people like Stephanie will always be worth celebrating.

6 thoughts on “Chef Spotlight: Bonny Breads”

  1. Victor Mahdavi

    Great post, Aran! Love to read about Bonnie’s background and story, especially since I have enjoyed her sourdough so much these past few weeks!

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