One of the first things that you notice about Sean O'Mahony is
the soft timbre of his voice. It's his voice that tells, with passion, what he
means and what he means directly. Mr. O'Mahony is the owner and proprietor of
Breads on Oak, one of the premier bakeries in New Orleans. A first generation
Irish-American, he has built his life around the business and craft of baking.
Breads on Oak was the premier bakery in New Orleans pre-Katrina,
but they tragically lost their starter in the flooding. So, like many Americans
are doing right now, O'Mahony and his bakery started fresh, in much the same
way that New Orleans did. O'Mahony said, "It's in us, and we have to get it out of us." The bakery
named their new starter Dumas, after their favorite author.
This is a perfect segue into how to tackle the product of making
bread and beginning your own starter. There are a number of ways to do so, and,
as such, there is no one set way, and there are fundamental similarities in
every process. First, you combine water and flour. It's really that simple. You
add 2 tablespoons of water and 3 tablespoons of flour, stirring two to three
times a day, then add the same amount of these
ingredients each day for five days. The rest is just waiting. At the end of
five days, you have a yeast to work with, and you can begin to make your own
bread. But this goes much deeper for New Orleans.
One of the oldest bakeries in the country was founded in New
Orleans: the Francinques, which is an iconic bakery having been profiled in
Baker's Review. The goal of Breads On Oak has been to
pass down the art of baking to a new generation. This is what each of us will
be doing when we make our own bread at home.
There are a number of ways to follow the yeast creation with a
bread starter. It's up to the reader to decide whether they want a sourdough
starter or something a bit more personal. The choice in flour can also shape
the yeast, but the thing about yeast is that it is a natural living thing that
needs oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide.
As you maintain your starter, you can slow the growth of the
yeast by refrigerating it and adding to it once or twice a week, but you will
need to take out around half of your mixture. (When using a casual amount of
yeast, perhaps half of what is in one glass mason jar should be removed.) Fill
it back to its previous level, using the same proportions of flour to water.
This should start you on the journey through the art of baking,
and if you need more inspiration, the internet is full of recipes for you to
start making your own bread and pastries.