Baking enthusiasts around the county will be hard pressed to find yeast or specialty flour at the local grocer, but they can still find fresh bread baked with locally grown wheat at Etna's Grain Street Bakery.

Flour and yeast are in short supply as home baking becomes popular during the current coronavirus pandemic. Baking enthusiasts around the county will be hard pressed to find yeast or specialty flour at the local grocer, but they can still find fresh bread baked with locally grown wheat at Etna’s Grain Street Bakery. There might even be a little bit of sourdough starter laying around to get home-bakers started on their own sourdough culture.

“It is a golden age for bread making,” said Grain Street Bakery owner Eric Ryberg. People are developing a taste for the flavor and complexity of artisan breads, he said. Even in the small town of Etna, demand is robust for the hearty whole wheat loafs and sweet pastries.

“We should start getting hikers about now. You get the really crazy hikers who are trudging through snow. And they are a big part of our business. The (coronavirus) travel ban for Europe hit right when they would be coming.”

Customers also come from Etna, Salmon River, Callahan and Yreka; but, since the shelter-in-place order, Ryberg has had to furlough two of his three employees. The shortage of wheat and other baking supplies has hit him hard as well.

“The biggest problem, aside from the lack of customers, is flour,” he said. “We would have had four kinds of flour here for our mixes.”

“Now we are taking whatever we can get,” Ryberg said. “Butter is another problem. We can get butter, but not good enough for croissant. I shoot for 83% fat in the butter. Eighty percent to 83% is a big difference in butter fat content. This stuff we had to get was pale, all water. You can’t make croissant with that.”

For his most popular bread, the country french loaf, Ryberg uses 50% white flour and 50% sprouted whole wheat flour sourced from the Scott Valley from Running Rabbit Mills. In addition to the french loaf, Ryberg usually has another two or three breads for sale depending on the day. Croissants, kouign-amann, tarts, cookies and sandwiches are also on offer.

“It’s been hard to predict business,” said Ryberg. “We are selling out of bread more often. If you are coming from Yreka, call ahead. Really the best thing to do is call the day before, but definitely the day of.”

Ryberg also has Running Rabbit Mills wheat for sale in small amounts and offered to pass on some of his starter to home bakers in need of it. Home baking, he said, doesn’t need to be complicated.

Said Running Rabbit Mills owner Dave Krell, “If people out there start looking into home baking, they will never go back to store bought bread ... Once you’ve made and tasted decent bread you don’t go back. There are so many recipes on the internet.”

Krell’s current favorite is a no-knead recipe that consists of the following steps. Mix three cups of his whole wheat flour, ¼ teaspoon instant yeast, 1 ¼ teaspoon salt and at least 1 ½ cups water into a shaggy consistency. Then let the dough sit overnight, he said.

“The next morning or at 5 in the evening before dinner, if you begin the process in the morning, turn out the dough and quickly shape it in a ball,” said Krell. “I drop it in a pre-heated Dutch oven (~450° F), put a lid on, and cook for a half an hour. After a half an hour, I take the lid off and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Baking bread is basic and doesn’t have to be store bought.”

Running Rabbits Mills flour is available in Yreka at Nature’s Kitchen and in Etna at Grain Street Bakery in amounts of 2 ½ and 5 pounds. For larger quantities contact the mill directly at www.runningrabbitmills.com. If you want to test your homemade bread against the real deal, visit Etna’s Grain Street Bakery Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. till 3 p.m. and from 8 a.m. till 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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