Science on the SPOT: Secrets of Sourdough
Freshly baked sourdough bread by Eduardo Morrell of Morrell's Bread
One Saturday morning last summer, my husband and I stopped by the Berkeley Farmers' Market to buy some seasonal produce. After filling our bags with fresh vegetables, we decided to try a loaf of bread from Morrell’s Bread. I can't recall what type of bread we ended up choosing, but we both remember that it was the best loaf of bread we'd ever had. So as I began to research this story, I tracked down Eduardo to learn more about his wonderful bread – and eventually profiled him in Science on the SPOT: Secrets of Sourdough.
“It all really started when I received my master’s degree in filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute," says Eduardo. "And through the Art Institute, I knew plenty of artists and stuff that were doing residencies at the Headlands Center for the Arts. I would go up to visit them every now and then to check out their studios…I had worked in restaurants to make money even while I was at the school…And at one point, the Headlands ended up hiring a new chef, Jessica Prentice, a very good friend of mine who now [helps to run] Three Stone Hearth…And I went and volunteered one day at their open studios. And lo and behold, there’s the brick oven and there was a French baker there who was using the brick oven: Laurent, who was leasing the space and baking bread. Both [were] really kind of were my first two culinary inspirations.”
Eduardo observed Laurent as he worked and began to develop an understanding and appreciation for how to mix and ferment doughs. He then left California for a year to work as an assistant for former Duke University professor and author Reynolds Price and baked bread for Mr. Reynolds on a weekly basis.
“Reynolds was always happy to wake up and have the smell of fresh bread in the house…It was kind of fun, and that’s really where I started to develop this kind of the interest in the science of it more. I started a sourdough culture in North Carolina, I brought this one from California, and I would bake at different times and see if the one from California was changing…When you’re baking on small scale like that, that’s when I really started doing all my R&D, you know, for eventually what would become Morrell’s Bread.”
Upon Eduardo’s return, both Jessica and Laurent had departed to begin other ventures, so he made the suggestion to the Headlands Center For the Arts to lease the kitchen so he could bake his bread. Morrell’s Bread has grown steadily since then and has been in business for 10 years.
Using a wood-fired brick oven (constructed and designed by the renowned Alan Scott) takes an incredible amount of planning and effort in order to bake all of the bread for his weekly appearances at the Berkeley Farmers' Markets, but he loves both the romance and the sustainable aspect of using it. “I really like baking out in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and burning wood there. It is actually a very sustainable form of heat. You have one wood-fired brick oven in a biome for trees, and all the trees pretty much act as one big carbon scrubber. So there’s very little pollution that happens when you have a single fire happening in this big, open area.” Eduardo also feels that, “both gas-fired ovens and wood-fired ovens produce excellent bread. I think it’s a question of what your personal preference is and how you want to be perceived as a baker and how you want to be a baker. And so I really like the whole preciousness aspect of it, and it reminded me a lot of my career as a filmmaker in that I really liked working with film. I didn't like working with video. I felt that film was precious…And I think it’s a similar process with baking bread.”
To learn more about Morrell's Bread, check out this slideshow of Eduardo Morrell's typical day at the Headlands Center of the Arts: