When making sourdough bread, the best part is slicing through a crisp, finished loaf and its warm scent wafting in the air. Sure, flour is everywhere; it is a messy, sticky, involved process, but after a couple of tries, sourdough bread can become a staple in everyday living.
George Relyea loves baking bread, but it was not a part of his life until later. When not working as a systems analyst for the Ascension Information Systems national office, he spends his time in the kitchen, baking bread at the Downtown home he shares with his wife of more than 20 years, Ange Humphrey.
While he can bake many types of bread — baguettes, brioche, ciabatta, challah, pan de agua, rolls, and more — and other creations like pizza dough, crumpets, English muffins, pancakes, waffles, pretzels, and bagels, his current favorite is the two loaves of sourdough bread he makes per week.
“I love the taste of sourdough, but the rolls are quickly becoming my favorite,” he says. “I try to make everything out of sourdough.”
He does not sell his bread — though he has offered them at friends’ fundraisers — but he did teach a cooking class how to make white sourdough bread at Thyme in The Kitchen in February 2022. Relyea cooks his bread in a standard gas oven in his home on Main Street and then toasts it for peanut butter and jelly or marmalade, or he makes a sandwich or croutons for a salad or soup.
After his sister sent him a 200-year-old sourdough starter from King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich, Vermont, Relyea started baking bread in 2018, learning new techniques from YouTube as he went. Relyea even cuts roses or other designs into his loaves by covering a portion of the shaped dough with rice flour and carving a shape into it.
The hardest part of baking sourdough is “getting the formula right,” he says.
Since Relyea started working with sourdough, his progress has not been linear because no two loaves — even with the same ingredients at the same temperature and humidity — come out identical. He’s still searching for a good recipe for sourdough baguettes.
“I don’t think I’ve perfected my sourdough bread yet,” Relyea says.