“I heard a story about it on NPR recently and it struck a nerve,” said Joanne Sherif, owner of North Park’s Cardamom Café and Bakery. “I know some of my customers dabble in baking and baking sourdough and I thought it would be great to give them the confidence to embrace it.”
Friendship bread, as NPR explained, is the chain letter of baking that some say have its origins among the Amish, but might actually date back to pioneer days.
The way it works is that you make a starter, divide it up, keep some for yourself, and share the rest with others. They, in turn, do the same. The beauty of this is that when you are cultivating starter, every week you feed it by tossing part of it and then adding flour and water to the rest. By sharing that discarded starter, which is perfectly good, you don’t waste it and someone else can enjoy it.
“It’s a good way to utilize spent starter,” Sherif said. “I hate waste and I love to share. So this is perfect for what I do at Cardamom.”
Sherif is a huge fan of Pasadena-based flour mill Grist & Toll. She uses a blend of their freshly ground grains—50 percent rye, 25 percent red fife, and 25 percent hard white—and filtered water. The mixture collects wild yeast from the air and soon begins to bubble. The scent of the fully ripe starter is satisfyingly yeasty.
From this starter Sherif makes a range of baked goods—some unexpected. In fact, if you think the only thing you can make with a sourdough starter is bread, you’re so wrong. So far Sherif has been incorporating it in cornbread, banana bread, scones, and her legendary squaw bread. She’s planning on making sourdough corn pancakes with it. She will be baking some sourdough bread, too.
Each Friday morning, Sherif has starter in containers ready to give to whoever wants it. She’s around to answer budding bakers’ questions, as well. Leave your email address and she’ll shoot you a newsletter each week with directions for how to feed your starter and share it, plus links to all things bread, and a recipe, like this one for sourdough cornbread.
Now, most of us don’t have access to Grist & Toll’s flour to feed the starter or bake with, so Sherif said any AP flour will work, but encourages participants to use a good quality whole grain flour, like King Arthur, which is easy to find at local markets. Sherif is, however, working on a project with the urban flour mill to sell retail-size bags of their flour at Cardamom.
The first Friday the project launched, 10 people participated. Sherif is curious to see how it grows. She knows how intimidating the idea of bread baking can be and wants to ease the fear of failure with these accessible baking projects. She also sees it as a project that fits right in with her philosophy about creating community.
“For me, it’s all about community,” she said. “This friendship bread project is another way of connecting with my customers.”
But, Sherif said, it’s also a practical primer for customers to help them better understand the time and effort that goes into baking the breads and pastries she serves.
“The more people you expose to the baking process, the better they understand what we do and the time it takes to create the flavors and textures they enjoy.”
Cardamon Café and Bakery is located at 2977 Upas St. in North Park. Sherif shares her sourdough starter on Friday mornings starting at 7am.