Autumn Eats: Artisan Bread, Stone Milling and American Grain at Sub Rosa Bakery
Amid autumn’s flare, American poets Charles Wright and Robert Lowell capture the spirit of the season, penning lines like “umber and burnt orange under the spoked trees” and “burnished, burned-out, still burning.” This autumn, here at Machine Era, we celebrate the flair of our own pair of Richmond bread makers who hone their craft at their self-started, wood-fired, rustic stone milling and bakery operation in historic Church Hill, Virginia. In addition, we take a look at Virginia’s Bloody Butcher corn kernel transformed by these artisans and talk about why Richmond, Virginia, is the place to be for artisans sharing their craft.
A Modern Take on Masa
It’s November (finally), and at Sub Rosa Bakery located at 620 N. 25th St. in historic Church Hill, Virginia, a timeless craft is being given modern root. Thoughtfully-sourced, organic, regional and heirloom grains are stone milled and sifted or kept raw, then worked into spectacularly baked, crafted loaves of bread out of Sub Rosa’s dual-level retained heat brick oven.
The wafting, sweet smell of wood fired bread from Sub Rosa Bakery permeates a radius of blocks in Church Hill, just east of downtown Richmond, Virginia. Sub Rosa is known for its rustic breads with hearty crusts and sweet richness emanating from the light, creamy interiors. Organic, regional, and heirloom grains – all stone milled in house by brother and sister team Evrim and Evin Dogu – are transformed through the timeless craft of bread making.
Using only grains, water, and salt, the team naturally leavens their bread loaves and bakes in a dual level wood fired masonry oven. During November and December, they herald in the holidays with a specialty bread loaf: the Masa bread.
The Masa loaf is a rustic, hearty, crusty bread made using Virginia Bloody Butcher corn that, when broken open, smells like classic stone ground corn tortilla. The smell is like warm earth, and the rusticity of the bread brings this traditional flavor into an entirely new manifestation.
Mesoamerican cultures made masa because corn ground and kneaded by itself won’t form a dough. Sub Rosa Bakery uses this traditional Mesoamerican food making process of transforming maiz (corn) into masa by cooking Virginia Bloody Butcher corn kernels in wood ash. They then use that corn to form a dough, naturally leavened and baked in their own wood fired masonry oven.
Using traditional techniques, Evrim and Evin Dogu of Sub Rosa Bakery show respect for tradition and the purity of their craft while modernly innovating. The Masa loaf perfectly ushers in the end of year – a bread for November and December celebrations – to give thanks and share with family and friends the warmth of the seasons.
(If you would like to carry a Masa loaf to your Thanksgiving celebration – and be the hero of whatever feast you attend – they will be baking Masa on Wednesday, November 23, just before Thanksgiving. You can call ahead to reserve Masa or any of their breads; their number is 804.788.7672 and their website is www.subrosabakery.com)
Firing the Oven
Every day (except Sunday – Sub Rosa Bakery is closed on Monday), wood stored by the mill house behind Sub Rosa Bakery is chopped and carted into the bakery to be fired in the stone masonry oven.
The oven at Sub Rosa, a masterpiece in itself, was designed by William Davenport of Turtlerock Masonry, Burlington, VT, and built by Antoine Guerlain. It is a dual level, custom built, wood fired brick oven.
The bricks are heated by wood fire in late afternoon the day before anything is baked. Quietly, as the fire dies and embers glow through the slats of heavy metal oven doors, heat is transferred into the sturdy brick that comprises the oven that is built into Sub Rosa’s rustic space, above which the two owners, Evrim and Evin Dogu, confidently reside.
The next day, breads, croissants, and tarts are cooked from heat retained in the bricks of the oven. Flatbread and pastries enter the oven first at around 450 degrees. Bread loaves – Classic, Miller’s Wheat, Polenta, Masa, Light Rye, and Sesame Rye – enter the oven by noon. By the end of day, the oven will drop to around 325 degrees. Whole Rye loaves happen to be the last loaves cooked at this low temperature.
The Heart of the Craft
Stone milling is at the heart of the craft of bread making at Sub Rosa Bakery. Evrim Dogu chooses to stone mill at an astonishingly slow speed (150-200rpm) using a mill custom built by Fulton Forde of Boulted Bread in Raleigh, NC. Slow stone milling preserves bran and germ, which means not only nutrition but also flavor.
Why mill on your own? Evrim says that he “went to a friend’s bakery, Farm & Sparrow, near Asheville, NC, and decided to mill based on that experience.” He added that there he also “realized that specialty milling could be its own business.”
Transformation happens at the hand of a master craftsman, in this case with the aid of natural helpers. Bread loaves at Sub Rosa Bakery – naturally leavened – are made using only stone milled grains, water, and salt. Natural leavening – ambient, naturally cultured yeast – occurs by “no use of commercial yeast,” says Evrim. “Nothing is added but a ‘starter’ consisting of nothing more than flour and water fed multiple times a day and kept fermenting at room temperature.”
Evrim and Evin Dogu started from humble roots themselves. Prior to opening Sub Rosa Bakery in 2012, Evrim Dogu learned to bake bread out of his family’s restaurant ovens in Washington, D.C.
He sold his breads in a community subscription through local farmers markets in Charlottesville and Richmond. They continue this tradition at Birdhouse Farmers Market (1507 Grayland Ave) in Richmond every Tuesday, May through November.
Today, from their bakery and stone milling space in Church Hill, Evrim and Evin painstakingly apply their craft for the community of Richmond and beyond. “We are an open secret,” they say (the Latin phrase, Sub Rosa, means “Under the Rose” and indicates a level of secrecy).
“Everything we bake comes from our wood fired masonry oven. Whenever possible we first use organic fruits, meats, & vegetables grown on Virginia soil. We use certified organic flour & sugar. The wheat, corn, & rye that we freshly stone-mill in house is also organic and we strive to use locally grown, heirloom varieties.”
A Community: Resilience, Resurgence, and Renewal
The brother and sister team had setbacks, however. In the spring of 2013, a fire (not due to the oven) shut down the Bakery until January 2014. When they reopened, their commitment to Church Hill strengthened.
Today, their mindset toward their work in Church Hill is “evolutionary,” says Evrim, advancing the community through the work they are doing. Locals and travelers alike flock to their door for delicious, thoughtfully-sourced, hand-crafted breads and pastries.
And all this is taking place in Church Hill, a historic community just east of downtown Richmond, Virginia. Richmond – a city known for summers on the James River, its flow of beer and whiskey, its entrenched position in America’s history – will be adding world-class bread making to its resume, this is for certain.
The question is whether artisans both forthcoming and established can see how valuable Richmond is as a hub for entrepreneurship. In 2017, we hope to see Richmond grow even further as a city for those with heart to pursue their craft.
The team at Machine Era is in good company with Richmond businesses like Sub Rosa, that are dedicated to their process, their products and their people. In 2016, at this end of year, we proudly feature Evrim and Evin Dogu, a resilient brother and sister team whose rustic, wood-fired, stone-milled, community-evolving bakery continues in the timeless tradition of bread making while innovating by bringing traditional bread making processes into modern manifestations.
Long last loaves timelessly crafted!
[Photography Credit: Rob Jefferson]
Brad Pace is part sommelier, part writer, and part epicurean guide. He has a passion for good food, good beverages, and good time spent with people. Most importantly to us, he is a strong friend to the Machine Era team.