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.