I feed it every morning. Despite the fact it smells like dirty socks and over ripe fruit. Even though sometimes it betrays my devotion and sinks instead of floats. I look forward to gazing at its bubbly surface. It is mine and I love it. My bread starter.
Ever since my discovery years ago of a then little-known San Francisco bakery called Tartine, I have been in a serious relationship with bread. Tartine’s bread baker, Chad Robertson, was rumored to take his starter with him when he camped and surfed on the weekends so that he could feed it at exactly the same time everyday and stir it with his hand, which he believed gave it a unique flavor — the romance!
And now, here on the East Coast, I find myself once again falling in love. Bonny Breads.
It was through Alexis Harwood of Helen’s Bottle Shop that I first tasted bread from Bonny. It was gorgeous. So much flavor. Deeply deeply yummy. I looked online and was thrilled to see that Stephanie Modhal, the baker behind Bonny Bread, sold loaves right out of her kitchen in Beverly. Joy.
Stephanie, who honed her baking skills at A + J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, approaches bread with a philosophy she learned from her father, Erik, who has spent his life working with coffee. He instilled in Stephanie the idea that anything you do needs to take in to account the whole. Who are you working with? Where does it come from? What is its impact? With this in mind, Stephanie decided to offer breads using only organic whole grain flour. Refined flours remove the germ and the bran before milling. This process takes away not only flavor, but also valuable nutrients and fiber. Whole grains are just that — whole. As they were meant to be. These whole grains are then stone ground by skilled millers. Stephanie works with local farmers who are not only growing awesome organic wheat and milling it, they are also good stewards of the land. These include Wild Hive Grain Project, Maine Grains, and, in Essex, Alprilla Farm. This lovely organic whole grain flour is then mixed with only water and salt. The loaves are slowly fermented with wild yeast, yielding a deep and toasty richness.
When I first met with Stephanie she was still baking out of her studio apartment. She shared with me that she was thrilled to be looking ahead to opening her own brick and mortar bakery. Starting small with breads as the centerpiece but with assorted pastries and other goodies on occasion. However, as the idea grew and the details began to come together, something wonderful happened. Stephanie’s father decided to join her. Bringing his love of coffee and community into the mix, he would be actualizing his dream to finally start his own coffee shop as well. Together they found and purchased a perfect space in Beverly.
And so Bonny Bread + Beantrust Coffeebar opened its doors in October. Harmonizing in the small space, Stephanie and her father bring to life the most delicious breads and pastries coupled with truly exceptional coffee. Erik was positively giddy showing me a pour over. The passion and the dedication for creating a positive space where he can finally share his coffee is palpable. Just beyond Erik, Stephanie was happily braiding bread. Robust baguettes, chocolatey swirled babkas, golden braided challahs, and of course her signature sourdough loaves were piled here and there looking insanely delicious. Stephanie moves about her work with an ease and lightness that makes you just want to roll up your sleeves and start kneading. There is a sense of belonging. Friends came and went in the back, saying hello, or grabbing a loaf of bread or a warm baguette. Erik commented on this by noting that it is all about community. The community you support (the coffee growers, the millers) to the community you create in your space, to the people you gift with your offerings. And then there is this. From Erik, “I enjoy working alongside my daughter Stephanie. I am so proud of her.”
So yes bread. It makes us happy. It hugs our favorite sandwich ingredients. Warm out of the oven with butter it can make your whole day. A visit to Bonny Breads + Beantrust Coffeebar lets us experience this most basic and wonderful joy. In addition, seeing Erik and Stephanie celebrating not only each other, but a shared belief in cultivating community, from the soil to the glorious products they bestow upon us, is inspiring. It is as simple as flour, salt, and water — it is pure goodness.
You can visit Erik and Stephanie Modhal in at 151 1/2 Hale Street in Beverly.