Welcome to The Sourdough People, where the love for sourdough bread brings us together! Today, we’re delighted to present an exclusive interview with Judy, the remarkable artisan behind the popular Instagram account @ohfortheloaf. Judy began her sourdough journey amidst fertility treatments, finding solace and joy in the intricate process of sourdough baking. From her first unsure steps to becoming a beloved figure in the Instagram baking community, Judy’s story is as heartwarming as it is inspiring. Her account is a delightful blend of humor, culinary creativity, and a deep passion for sourdough. We invite you to follow Judy on Instagram to explore her beautiful and delicious sourdough creations. Now, let’s step into Judy’s world and discover the stories and skills behind those amazing loaves.
Can you share with us your personal journey into the world of sourdough bread baking and what initially inspired you to start this craft?
I started learning sourdough bread baking in October 2022 to keep my mind occupied during fertility treatments. While starting the IVF process, many recommended I find a distracting hobby that would occupy my time. I got the idea of sourdough baking because my colleague at work mentioned baking sourdough during IVF. I wanted to try something I had never done before (and by ‘never done before,’ I don’t just mean sourdough– I mean baking!)
Prior to learning sourdough baking, I never baked. Okay, I may have burned the occasional Pillsbury cookie dough or boxed brownie once every decade or so. I consider myself to be a better cook— I don’t like to measure, I’m terrible at math, and I like to play with a little bit of this and a dash of that.
Being based in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region known for its unique sourdough, how has this location influenced your baking style and the recipes you develop?
To be honest, I don’t consider myself an expert sourdough baker who’s well-versed in the science and technique, and therefore the unique sourdough of the Bay Area hasn’t quite made an influence on my baking style, however, the food culture has influenced the flavors I use and grains I try.
I was born in Taiwan and moved to California at the age of 5. At the time, my dad and his colleague were starting up a now well-known chain of Asian supermarkets. Naturally, I’ve always been surrounded by Asian culture and food. As the business expanded from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area, we planted roots in the SF Bay Area. My dad has an incredible sense of adventure with food, so family dinners always consisted of trying global cuisines. That’s where I found my love of different and bold flavors.
Sourdough baking is quite distinct from other forms of baking. In your perspective, what sets it apart, and what do you find most rewarding about working with sourdough?
I’m struggling with this because I don’t know how to bake anything else other than artisan sourdough loaves and maybe a couple more things that I’d have to meticulously follow a recipe for. What I find the most rewarding about working with sourdough is watching the impact of seasonal changes on fermentation. I started this journey at the end of fall last year, so I struggled quite a bit in my first 6 months due to cold weather.
When you’re creating a new sourdough recipe, what is your process like? How do you experiment with different ingredients and techniques?
I love flavor. Bold flavors, subtle flavors, contrasting flavors, nostalgic flavors, comforting flavors, seasonal flavors, regional flavors. I draw influence from reading menus, watching travel shows, upcoming holidays, my childhood, and the baking community on Instagram. I will try new flavors and ingredients and make incremental improvements as I go. Most of the time they work, but sometimes they fail horribly—like the time I tried to put about 10 cloves of minced fresh garlic in my dough.
Instagram is a visual platform. How do you plan and execute your content, like videos and photos, to engage and educate your audience about sourdough baking?
I post a lot of sourdough with inclusions or flavors, what my friends and family enjoy eating, and content that brings laughter to people. I started on this platform as a way to document my progress in something I’ve never done before, and in many ways, it continues to be this. My goal was never to gain followers, though I have admittedly met some of the most fabulous friends and connected with very cool small businesses. The human connections have been the most rewarding part of this experience.
While I might sporadically create some educational content by sharing tips, I’d say that’s not my main focus. I’m here to freely share what I’ve learned and share my recipes with anyone who is interested. I do make every effort to answer every question I get, so when people learn something in the process of watching my reels, reading my captions, or conversing with me in DMs, the human connection is the icing on the cake…. Or rather, the butter on the bread.
Social media has become an integral part of many culinary arts. How has it impacted your journey as a baker and artisan, and what role does it play in your daily baking life?
I have never in a million years thought that I would have more than 1 bag of flour in my pantry. Before last October, I only knew of all-purpose flour. It still blows my mind the variety of flours that exist. The bakers I see on social media are always working with these amazing flours/grains from around the world, which influences me to buy different flours and grains. I have about 150 lbs of flour in my pantry right now—which might seem normal for some folks, but keep in mind I don’t own a micro-bakery or sell my bread. I just bake to occupy my mind during IVF. My neighbors, family, and friends are the recipients of my bread therapy.
You’ve collaborated with various brands and used different products and tools in your baking. What criteria do you use to choose these collaborations, and how do they enhance your baking and content creation?
Ah, this one took a little bit of experimenting. At first, I just said yes to everything, but I quickly learned that I wasn’t having fun being a salesperson for products that I didn’t need, use, or enjoy.
The brands I partner with today are the brands that I personally use, love, and feel honored to support. They are high-quality, practical products that I have and will continue to invest my money in, and products that I would share with my family and friends. I love small businesses led by purposefully passionate people and flours/grains made from regenerative farming or sustainable practices.
Could you share a memorable experience from a brand collaboration or partnership that was particularly successful or fulfilling for you?
Mike Vaona from Rosehill Sourdough invited me as the first brand ambassador guest on his weekly Instagram Lives. I was incredibly nervous because I had only been baking for about 7 months and I wasn’t sure what folks would ask me. As he was introducing me to the audience, he shared a hilariously awkward series of first interactions we shared after I placed my first order of Rosehill Sourdough products. The fact that I had completely forgotten about the exchange, while he remembered it in such detail made me laugh so hard that I cried. It was fulfilling to know that our interaction stood out to someone so influential in my learning process. Not to mention, my nerves just melted away after a good laugh.
Sourdough baking can be challenging for beginners. What are some of the common hurdles you see people facing, and what advice would you offer to overcome them?
The question I get the most is “why doesn’t my <score/bake/crumb> look like yours? I’m following your instructions step by step.” To which I will usually respond, “it could be anything from your starter to your environment.” It’s hard to troubleshoot a problem with such a broad question, so unless you are willing to spend the time to describe your environment, flours, and process step by step, most bakers will give you a similar response. It’s like asking a complete stranger “why do I feel ‘off’ today?”
The best advice I can give is to invest in a sourdough book or religiously follow a baker with tons of educational content/resources. The process of sourdough is challenging when you don’t understand the basics of how different factors impact your outcome. Also, consider taking notes so you can go back and reference what you did on bakes that you want to replicate. I logged every detail of my first 150 loaves so I could go back and reference what I did for successful bakes. Once you understand the fundamentals, it becomes easier to experiment and troubleshoot. The books I started with are: The Perfect Loaf, Tartine Bread, and Baking with Rosehill Sourdough (eBook).
The choice of flour and other ingredients plays a significant role in sourdough bread’s flavor and texture. Could you elaborate on how different ingredients impact the final product?
I’m laughing because the first thing that comes to mind is my very first 20% buckwheat loaf. I love buckwheat soba noodles and buckwheat pancakes, so I was sure I’d love a big-bellied artisan buckwheat loaf. I was so puzzled by the resulting flatbread in my Dutch oven that I thought I forgot to put the starter in it. I attempted the same bake again with the same result. It was then that I realized not all grains are created equal. Some grains are gluten-free, some have weaker gluten structures, and glutinous does not mean high gluten. I started researching different grain characteristics before I bought flour and grains!
Do you have a particular sourdough recipe or a type of bread that you’re most proud of creating? What makes it special to you?
Jiggly focaccias are kind of my thing. I get a good giggle out of jiggling big, juicy focaccia bubbles and pairing it with ridiculous music. Laughter is the best music 😊.
For those just starting their sourdough journey, what are some essential tools or products that you would recommend to help them get started?
- Wide-neck mason jar with straight sides (not tulip-shaped) a fermentation lid for your starter. Mason jars with straight sides are much easier to stir and scrape.
- Rosehill Sourdough wood-pulp proofing baskets and TheBreadMat. The wood pulp baskets wick moisture from dough, creating a drier surface that is firmer and much easier to score. TheBreadMat helps evenly distribute heat and steam, while creating a barrier between your dough and dutch oven.
- WireMonkey bread lames. A short and a long one. UFO lames are great for details and sharp turns, but if I had to only choose one, I would choose the WireMonkey Goose lame with a long neck. It’s versatile and saves your hands from dutch oven burns!
- Cast iron or enameled cast iron baking vessel.
Looking towards the future, what plans or goals do you have for your Instagram account, @ohfortheloaf, and your baking career?
I plan to continue learning and growing, sharing recipes/tips/laughs, connecting with great people from around the world, and supporting brands I love! I see baking as a hobby, not a career.
Finally, what piece of advice would you give to aspiring sourdough bakers who are inspired by your work and wish to embark on a similar path?
Learn the fundamentals, connect with great people, and most importantly, HAVE FUN!!
We hope you enjoyed this insightful conversation with Judy from @ohfortheloaf. Her journey highlights not just the culinary delight of sourdough baking, but also its therapeutic and community-building aspects. Judy’s story is a beautiful reminder of how our hobbies can transform into passionate pursuits that connect us to our heritage, our communities, and each other.
For more engaging stories, expert tips, and all things sourdough, remember to follow The Sourdough People on Instagram at @sourdoughbread.ca. Your support and interaction are what make our community so special, thank you!
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