- words and photos by Tootie & Dotes -
Ahhh, fresh bread. Is there anything like it really? Straight from the oven, still crackling and warm, perfectly crunchy and yet soft all at the same time. If this is making you hungry, you’re not alone... We first spotted Fire & Flour’s handmade, naturally fermented, community bread on Instagram where we drooled over the prospect of attending a bread drop. However, once we made contact with owner Chris Boles and heard the passion behind his description of the process, we knew we needed to meet him and watch the magic happen in person. So one sunny Saturday, we pulled up to his lovely suburban home to find kids playing in the cul-de-sac and the smell of fresh bread filling the air.
Not only was Chris’s family adorable and incredibly welcoming to us, they were also super supportive of the bread factory that had temporarily taken over their kitchen that day. Chris wakes up as early as 1:00 AM some days (whaaat?) to get the bread rising and ready for an upcoming bread drop. Quality ingredients, time tested processes, and his commitment to freshness all drive him to make bread that he is proud to share with his community as a way of bringing people together while also bringing them back to the slower, finer things in life. What impressed us the most (besides how seriously amazing this bread is) was Chris’s dedication to his craft. Weaving it into the fabric of his life like it was always supposed to be there. As many parents holding down full time jobs and busy social lives know, it can be almost impossible to also pursue your own passions. Thankfully for us, Chris figured out how to pursue his. Hopefully you all are fortunate enough to catch him at the next bread drop, unless we beat you to it… in which case all the bread will be gone (just kidding… but seriously). Enjoy!
How long have you been baking bread?
I have been baking bread off and on my whole life, but did not start digging deep and pursuing bread until about 14 years ago.
What is your background how did you get into making bread?
I grew up in a very food focused family and my mom did quite a bit of baking while I was growing up. Instead of going to sporting events, we would tour the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago and I remembering touring the old Italian bakeries and being amazed by the smells and the equipment. My passion for bread did not really start until about 14 years ago when I started working at Turtle Bread. During the few years I worked at Turtle Bread, I lost my fear of bread and started to appreciate it as a living and breathing organism. After leaving Turtle, I took some time off from bread and baking, but it was always on my mind. For my next baking experience, I worked at Rustica Bakery and it is there my passion for naturally leavened bread took off. After I left Rustica, I kept exploring naturally leavened/wild yeast bread and with that, Fire & Flour Bread was born.
What types of breads do you make?
Currently I have three loaves with one rotating special/seasonal.
Daily Bread: This is my most robust loaf with a high percentage of culture and a good amount of whole wheat and rye flour. This is the bread I eat every day, hence the name.
City: This is a mellower, buttery, milky loaf. It has a lower percentage of culture and only 5% whole wheat flour. This is my wife and kids’ favorite bread.
Seeded: The City loaf with toasted sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds. Special/Seasonal: The rotating special is a beer bread made with an Indeed Brewing beer and the spent brewing grain from whatever beer I am using. The Seasonal loaf I made was for two bread drops I did at Holidazzle 2015. It consisted of fresh orange zest, cardamom and figs.
What makes your bread different than what’s on the shelf at my local grocery store?
This is a great question with many answers. My bread has a heart and soul. It is bread that is cared for from start to finish. All my bread is made 100% by hand and naturally leavened/fermented. I use non-GMO organic heritage wheat and rye. All my bread goes through an extended fermentation process, anywhere from 8 hours to 15 hours. The extended fermentation process adds depth of flavor and nuances. I look at wheat and rye as others may look at wine, beer, cheese, chocolate, etc. (any unique fermented product). How long did it take you to really master your own slow baking process? I have yet to master my slow baking process, but over the past two to three years, I have really honed the process. It probably took me about a year to feel comfortable with it and to learn the ‘schedule’ of my leaven culture and baking out of my home. Making bread by hand allows me to know each loaf from start to finish. To pull out as much flavor from the grains, slowing down is the only way to go. Mixing by hand is very relaxing and meditative. I love feeling the mass of dough go from a loose shaggy mess to something taught, smooth and supple.
How are you sourcing your ingredients?
All my flours are sourced from Sunrise Flour Mill LLC. Any other ingredients I use I seek out organic and local.
What exactly is heritage wheat?
Wheat that has flavor, a history and personality. Wheat that has not been genetically altered.
Why is it important to you to bake with heritage wheat?
Better wheat produces better tasting bread. Even though I am only one person, I want to do something to preserve a bit of history and to show others that wheat is not bad to consume. Modern wheat has no flavor and can be consistent from bag to bag. Heritage wheat has a flavor profile and each 50# bag of flour I purchase will have its very own personality. I like the mystery of each bag and finding out how loaves from each will turn out.
You describe yourself as a wild yeast wrangler, what is this and how do we start?
All I do is mix flour and water together with my starter culture and in about 4-8 hours I have a very active and happy culture. To wrangler in all the wild yeast that is floating around, all I do is provide it with a food supply and comfortable living situation. Fresh milled heritage wheat and rye have so many vitamins, minerals and valuable nutrients that wild yeast and bacteria are very happy to take up residence. To wrangle in wild yeast and start a sourdough culture, all you need is fresh milled whole grain wheat or rye and clean water. Starting with whole grain flour is recommended because they contain a higher percentage of nutrients, wild yeast and beneficial bacteria.
How can people support what you’re doing?
Bread Drops are how I sell my bread and I do drops all over the Twin Cities. Individuals who are interested in ordering and purchasing my bread can find out about dates, times and locations of future bread drops on my website or social media. Bread drops typically run as follows: date, time and location are posted, individuals can preorder bread, I show up at chosen location (1-2hrs), we can talk bread, fermentation, technique, etc. and try some amazing bread. Bread Drops are not only a way for me to sell my bread but also a way for me to educate individuals about heritage wheat, natural fermentation and all other things bread.
What’s next for Fire & Flour?
That is a wonderful question. My main goals are to increase production, sell at Farmers Markets and to teach others about heritage wheat and wild fermentation. When I originally started Fire & Flour, my dream was to have a wood fired oven (hence Fire in the name) in our backyard and bake all my breads in the oven. Past health codes would not permit that so I started baking out of my home oven. Times have changed and now the option of a wood fired oven has come back to the forefront. My hope would be to have a wood fired oven in a year or two. Once we have the oven, my desire is to not only bake bread out of it, but use the oven as a teaching tool and have community pizza parties. Teaching would involve hands-on classes and the parties would be a way for me to serve others in the community. I have thought about baking out of a commercial kitchen but doing that takes me away from my family and would cause me to change my licensing.