January 28, 2016
With winter weather in full effect, it's the perfect time to heat up the oven and get baking. We recently chatted with Sarah Owens, owner of Brooklyn micro-bakery BK17 and author of Sourdough, a collection of rustic recipes for breads and baked goods featuring fermented sourdough starter. While adding a fresh, zesty flavor to baking, sourdough also boasts excellent health benefits; like many fermented foods, it offers beneficial bacteria for healthy digestion. An avid gardener and former curator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Sarah's recipes are influenced by the seasons and the garden's best offerings. She's sharing her story and some favorites for winter baking, below.
terrain: To start, can you tell us a bit about your garden?
Sarah: I split my time between Kentucky and Brooklyn, where I was formerly a curator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden specializing in roses. Wherever I am, I always have personal garden to experiment and grow unusual or exotic ingredients. This year, I tried out new herbs, specifically those indigenous to South America. I'm very inspired by spices and flavors from around the world; when I'm in New York, I go into spice shops and wander the aisles until something catches my eye. One of my recent finds is a South American herb called papalo. It's a beautiful plant that grows really well and is able to withstand hot weather. It tastes just like cilantro, but has a much longer growing season as well as beautiful blooms and seed pods. I love to grow edible plants that also have ornamental value, like statuesque herbs and beets with lush foliage.
terrain: How does your background as a botanist inspire you as a baker?
Sarah: Sourdough is a wild culture that's formed from a combination of different yeasts and bacteria, which live symbiotically with fermentation cultures. To nurture a sourdough starter and keep it alive, you have to be really sensitive to the nuances of time, temperature, and humidity that influence its behavior. As a gardener, you're also very much living with those variables, so working with sourdough fell very naturally into my life. Being inspired by the seasons, weather, and what I'm cultivating in the garden led to a curiosity about adding new ingredients in the kitchen, for example incorporating scented geranium into a jam loaf.