Welcome to The Sourdough People’s exclusive interview with Laila, the passionate sourdough baker and creative mind behind @theearlyrisesf on Instagram. Laila’s journey into the world of sourdough began at a unique and challenging time – the birth of her twins coinciding with a city-wide lockdown. This story of resilience and passion unfolds as she shares her experiences, from reviving an old sourdough starter to mastering and sharing her unique recipes. In this interview, Laila offers an intimate glimpse into her life as a baker in the Bay Area, an area with a rich sourdough heritage. Join us as we explore Laila’s journey, filled with insights, challenges, and the warm, comforting world of sourdough bread. Be sure to follow her inspiring baking adventures on Instagram at @theearlyrisesf.
Could you share how your journey with sourdough bread baking began and what inspired you to start @theearlyrisesf on Instagram?
I gave birth to twins the same day that our city shut down due to Covid. After recovering from birth, I revived my starter, which I got from Pizza Hacker, a really yummy restaurant that serves sourdough pizza, and started making bread again. Soon I started posting pictures for fun, and somehow my account grew! The Early Rise was just a fun name we came up with.
How has living in the Bay Area of San Francisco, a place with a rich sourdough history, influenced your approach to baking and recipe creation?
The Bay Area has so many amazing sourdough bakeries, and I never buy bread from them! I think the biggest thing is that the weather makes it so easy to bake year round, lots of active spores in the air from the ocean, mild temps, and nice humidity. I find inspiration from the wide range of bakeries at farmer’s markets, love to have breakfast at Tartine, and feel lucky to have so many local businesses to check out and support, even if I only buy dishes to eat and pastries. I don’t remember the last time I bought a loaf of bread!
Sourdough is known for its unique characteristics. From your perspective, what makes sourdough baking different from other types of baking?
I’m pretty passionate about living my life as chemical-free as I can. While I understand it’s simply not possible to avoid them at all costs, I am passionate about eating as many fresh-grown foods and whole foods as possible and slow-fermenting bread lines up with that mentality. Good food takes time and care, and that’s the core of sourdough baking. The time it takes also means deeper flavors and prebiotic-rich food, and that’s how I want to feed my body and my kids.
Can you describe your process for experimenting with and finalizing a new sourdough recipe?
I keep a list of breads I want to make recipes for and when I have time, I give it a shot and make a lot of notes. Once it’s tasted, I tweak it to figure out what can be better- did I overhydrate a bit? Was the fermentation on point, or does it need adjustment? Is the level of flavor from separate ingredients working together, or are they fighting each other? Once I tweak and bake the recipe again, I have to make sure I’m totally happy with the final result before sharing the recipe with the public.
As a content creator on Instagram, how do you plan and execute your posts, especially your videos and photos, to engage your audience?
To be honest, this is something that I need to work on! I am a full-time mama to three young children, I cook almost all of our meals, and my husband has a fulfilling but demanding job. In order to keep myself happy, I prioritize my mental health and physical well-being, so my posts are sporadic and somewhat disorganized. I kind of just post what I’m feeling, and I’m pretty honest, and no frills on my account. No staged backdrops or fancy video editing over here! I’m just myself, and some people like it.
How has your journey and experiences on social media platforms like Instagram shaped your career as a sourdough baker and artisan?
To be honest, it has skewed me in a way that is not realistic. Having a lot of followers does not equal selling a lot of bread, and that was hard to learn. Living in the most famous sourdough city in the world also does not help me sell! If anything, I’m currently learning how to make money online rather than as a micro-bakery. In 2024, my kids will enter full-time (free) public school, and that will change a lot for us. I’m hoping to organize my content, create a blog and online store, and help more home bakers bake consistently delicious and different breads.
When incorporating products, tools, and brand collaborations into your content, what factors influence your choices?
I only promote products that I have been using for a long time that I love. When a brand approaches me to try out their product, I am upfront in that I will not use it in reels/posts unless I really like it and feel that it’s something worth buying. I do not support buying things just to buy them, continuing a culture of overconsumption. I feel that having some nice tools to make baking easier and more fun is great, but that buying gadgets that sit around is irresponsible. A scale, lame, banneton/bread form, bread mat, and baking vessel are what I use in my regular baking, and I love the products that I use, but I’ve also made a reel using only home items so people don’t feel they have to buy additional things to make cheap and healthy bread at home.
What are the most common challenges that newcomers face in sourdough baking, and how would you advise them to overcome these hurdles?
Not understanding how a sourdough starter works. Watching the clock instead of their dough. Inconsistency when learning how to make a loaf- if you always do it differently, you’ll always get a different outcome and won’t learn. Following my base recipe, where you feed the starter a higher ratio (which promotes starter health and balance) and using it consistently, will help people make good bread every time. It’s important to learn how the dough should look and feel instead of reading the recipe and following only that. Making bread has a lot of variables- flour used, the temperature of the environment, your individual starter, these things will all change the outcome of the bread and it’s important for people to learn how to make bread in THEIR kitchens. Consistency and practice is key!
In your baking, how do you select your ingredients, and what impact do they have on the flavor and quality of your sourdough bread?
I only buy high-quality organic white flour (bread and all-purpose) from a mill one hour away from me. The rest of my flour, I get to mill myself! I buy the berries from a farmer who grows and sells his berries only 3 hours away from me and am lucky to be able to support my local grain economy. I also recognize that this is a privilege that I have, and I believe that people can make great bread with whatever flour they can obtain- while it may not be as fresh as what I’m using, it’s important that we acknowledge that baking bread for your family in any case, with any flour, is a win.
Is there a particular sourdough recipe or a type of bread that you are especially proud of creating? What’s the story behind it?
I regularly make an all whole grain rye and spelt bread with caraway, fennel, and coriander seeds. It reminds me so much of the bread I ate in my home country of Austria when I was a kid and it took me a long time to get right. I am very proud of it, and I make my mom and dad 2 loaves every 10 days so they can taste the bread of their home. You can’t find it anywhere, even in San Francisco, like this!
For beginners in sourdough baking, what essential tools or products would you recommend to get them started?
As I said before, all you REALLY need is the ingredients and a way to produce steam in your oven. If you can learn how to eyeball, you can even make it without a scale, though that would be the one special tool I’d suggest people invest in. A metal bowl and sheet pan can create steam. But, if someone wants to invest in a few key products, a bread lame to help score so you don’t accidentally cut yourself, (Wiremonkey is my favorite and the owner is lovely) A dutch oven or couche (they create even heat and trap the steam, so even an old oven that heats unevenly and has hot spots will bake your bread well). Bench scraper– it’ll really help you shape the bread, and can be used in dozens of other ways in the kitchen. Scale- all professional and hobby bakers have them, using cups to measure flour is very inconsistent. More and more recipes are written using weights. A bread mat- these are great to keep your loaves from burning and also to transport your dough into the preheated vessel you’ll be baking it in. So easy to drop it with ripped parchment paper, and reduces waste. A small thing is a flour shaker,I like to use it to dust my loaves before shaping, to keep baguettes from sticking while resting, and to dust a loaf before doing a decorative score.
How do you find inspiration and continue to innovate in your sourdough baking practices?
It’s all the lovely people! Sometimes I get down seeing tons of accounts go viral, and some reels just TANK and have no views. But generally, people are so kind and encouraging, getting a DM thanking me because I helped you bake something you’re proud of, there’s nothing like that feeling. I love people and community, and my little corner of the internet brings me happiness. There are so many kind and interesting people that I’ve met!
Looking forward, what goals or aspirations do you have for your Instagram account @theearlyrisesf and your sourdough baking journey?
In 2024 I hope to organize my online presence, make my recipes in a blog format so it’s easier for people to find them, and offer some online products (starter, shirts, ebook).
How do you balance the artistic and creative aspects of sourdough baking with the business side, including collaborations and content production?
I don’t! I fly by the seat of my pants and try to keep my head above water. This all just blew up without my planning, and I’m now trying to figure out where to go next. I am so grateful for all of the followers and community I’ve gotten, and now it’s time to grow and build a business from this!
Finally, what is one key piece of advice you would offer to someone who has just embarked on their own sourdough baking adventure?
Make sure you keep it fun and don’t let social media fool you into thinking everyone bakes perfect loaves with the perfect, open crumb every time. Make the bread you want to eat, and be kind to yourself- all bakers choose the nicest picture to share.
Thank you for joining us in our enlightening conversation with Laila from @theearlyrisesf. Her journey is not just a narrative about sourdough baking; it’s a story of passion, resilience, and community building in the digital age. We hope this interview has inspired you in your own sourdough baking adventures, whether you’re just starting out or have been kneading dough for years.
For more inspiring stories, tips, and tricks in the world of sourdough, don’t forget to follow us at @sourdoughbread.ca on Instagram. If you have a sourdough story to share or ideas for future features, we warmly invite you to submit them through our intake form. Additionally, to become an integral part of our thriving sourdough community, subscribe to our email newsletter.
Keep baking, keep sharing, and let’s continue to grow our collective passion for sourdough bread together!