As a child in Paris I loved it when we stopped at the corner bakery on the way back from school and my mom got my favorite: a baguette from which she broke off one of the heels (a real treat as it was both my parents’ favorite too and I didn’t always get it.) Some things have changed since these early years and some haven’t: I still love to stop at bakeries but while I can never resist a beautifully fermented baguette when one comes my way, I can’t say baguettes are my favorites anymore. I have many favorites nowadays and in fact when I visited Josh Raymer at Bakery Joju in Fredericksburg, Texas, last April, the list suddenly grew appreciatively longer.
Like several other bakers I have met over the years, Josh didn’t start out in the profession. “I have been in a restaurant my whole life. My dad used to own one.” Originally from Austin, he trained in Colorado with chefs he describes as really “cool,” including Bradford Heap, a proponent of simple bistro fare based on high quality ingredients, who believes that superior taste begins at the farm. Another big influence was Chef Heap’s chef de cuisine, Mathew Bousquet : “He truly ignited my passion for food, we worked all day, we worked all night, we laughed too much, we drank too much.” The way Josh puts it with a huge grin, back in Colorado he worked for nothing but he got a lot in return. Later, Chefs Jeff Blank and Becky Fischer also had an outsize influence. Their mantra was: “Buy the best local ingredients you can afford, charge what you gotta charge, but make it great!”The lesson hasn’t be forgotten. To this day, Josh sources everything he can locally: “If there were a commonality between these chefs/restaurants, I believe it would be quality in sourcing, and quality in preparing our own cuisine from whole foods rather than prepackaged, precut, pre-everything.” And so it is that having done charcuterie for years at a restaurant in Austin, now that he has found a local source for pork, Josh is curing pork belly and making sausages to use on the pizzas he bakes at the market in his mobile wood-fired oven. He tops those pizzas with farmers’ market veggies and a topnotch local goat cheese and drizzles on them a Texas olive oil which I tasted and can only describe in superlative terms. In fact I am so smitten with it that I wish I could get it where I live. I wish I could also get here the scallion-pecan bread that Josh makes with the local pecans. Since I can’t I will have to source some Texas pecans and make it myself (Josh kindly shared the formula which you will find below.)
I asked Josh what an Austin guy like him was doing living and working in Fredericksburg (which is located in the wine country, not very far from Lyndon Johnson’s Texas White House.) As is wont to be the case, love came into play. Josh moved back to his home state when he met his wife Julie (also a Texan). A florist designer by trade, she worked in Austin as well. But when they become pregnant for the first time, she thought living in the country would be a better choice for their family. Josh gave it six months before they headed back to the city. That was a decade ago. Today their two boys are in elementary school and Julie helps out at the bakery. Because she now shoulders part of the load, Josh’s schedule has become a little less crazy. Regularly working thirty to forty hours over two days was just too much. With her help, they both hope he might be able to regularly finish work by early afternoon and spend time with the boys too.
Josh started baking for the same reason I did: because he craved good bread and couldn’t get it where he lived. Like myself and countless other bakers, he began with Nancy Silverton’s La Brea bread book. As he learned, he started making bread for the restaurant where he worked and became obsessed. By now he was baking from Jeffrey Hamelman’s book: he went through the book, moving from poolish to levain and loving it. Then he broke his collarbone and stopped all bread-baking for two years, concentrating on running the restaurant. When he picked it up again, he decided that bread was his calling. He gave himself one year to transition from chef to full-time baker and never looked back.
Today Josh makes between five hundred and six hundred loaves a week and uses twenty thousand pounds of wheat a year, baking for farmers’ markets and for restaurants in town. In the summer he bakes Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, his bread can be found at a coffee-shop on Main Street (Ranch Road Roaster,) on Wednesdays at the farmers’ market in Kerrville, on Thursdays at the farmers’ market in Fredericksville.
For the restaurants he bakes 1,200 g- loaves which come out of the oven burnished and smelling divine (I know, I was there when he took them out.)Named after Prince Frederick of Prussia, Fredericksburg is still very much a German town (I later learned that its inhabitants spoke German at home until well after World War II and that the town newspaper was in German until the 1960’s.) German restaurants abound and one of them asked Josh for a German-like bread. The bread he came up with is made on whole rye starter (from Barton Springs Mill’s rye) and flavored with a German bread spice that Josh makes himself (one part coriander, one part fennel and one and a half-part caraway): he toasts the whole spices then mills them in a coffee grinder. Not surprisingly the resulting bread is very flavorful. (See formula below)Josh currently mills three days a week but he is getting a new mill from Elmore Mountain Bread, mostly because his old mill doesn’t mill fine enough.He is getting the model with the 26-inch millstone and plans to build a mill room to better contain dust and noise. Josh works with James Brown, the miller at Barton Springs Mill, to promote a local organic grain economy. In this spirit he has established close ties with farmer Shawn Sattler in neighboring Doss. In fact he bought the seeds Shawn needed to grow grain this year: Red Fife, Sonora white, Yecora Rojo, and he will buy him a seed cleaner.
Barton Springs being a certified organic mill, it cannot mill Shawn’s wheat until Shawn gets certified. So when his new mill is up and running (some time later this year,) Josh will mill Shawn’s wheat, use it in his own bread and return flour to him to sell at the farmers’ market. In what he describes as “an honor system co-op,” he won’t charge Shawn for the milling and bagging. Small farmers have no money. It is a struggle to make ends meet. For a local grain economy to take off, it is indeed essential to help the farmer make a living wage. (By the way, that includes paying a fair price both for the flour and for the bread made with these local grains.)
Josh offered to take me meet Shawn and see the farm. I was delighted to accept. Soon enough we were motoring along on one of these Texas roads that seem to take you in a straight line to the sun. It was the end of April and already the landscape was shimmering with heat.
We chatted as he drove. Fredericksburg is located in the heart of what used to be la Comanchería (Comanche territory). Because of the violence, land was cheap in the mid-19th century and the German settlers came in droves to farm it. The Comanches mostly left them in peace because the Germans never broke the treaty that had been signed with the various tribes. Hence the growth of the town. Today the wine industry is exploding (as evidenced by the construction of new vineyard estates along the highway into town), changing Fredericksburg almost overnight from a German family town into a fancy retreat for wine-lovers.
There is nothing fancy or gentrified about Shawn’s farm however. It is just breathtakingly beautiful. It has been in his family since 1876 although he himself only started working it five years ago. He used to grow mostly veggies but now also grows wheat, corn, barley, maize and buckwheat. He doesn’t use pesticides. When he took over, no organic matter was left in the soil. The land had been mercilessly used for hay. All the stuff that would normally have fallen back to earth and decay had been carried away. The first order of business had been to put it back in. Hence the goats, sheep, cows and cover crops.
Now the hay goes to feed the cows. By law it takes three years to transition from conventional to organic farming but Shawn gave it five and now he is ready to go although the fight against native grasses and weeds still goes on and the machinery still gets clogged up from time to time. It is indeed an uphill battle: this year the Sonora wheat crop will probably be saved for seed only. Due to an invasion of thistles, the plot just didn’t yield enough. (Although I visited in late April, at the time of this writing half of Shawn’s crop is in.)
But Shawn isn’t discouraged. He bought a tractor and a cultivator and he will plant again next year on the adjoining acreage. The way he sees it, like Josh in Colorado, he didn’t make much but he sure learned a lot. As for Josh, he is sending a few pounds of grain to Kansas to be tested. I bet both he and Shawn will be awaiting the results with some trepidation.
The farm is seven hundred and fifty acres, certainly not big by Texas standards but still, in Shawn’s own words, “one step above a hobby farm.” While Doss is a beautiful little town though, it has been abandoned and there are no stores. To sell what he grows, Shawn and his wife Shelly must go to the farmers’ market in Harper.
Austin has enough elevation to make it possible to grow wheat (the climate is cooler and dryer than some other places in Texas – although there is always the risk that rain might ruin the crop at the end of summer) but an endemic problem for organic small-scale farmers is the lack of an infrastructure. Because of its buying power, Barton Springs Mills’ arrival on the scene is a game changer. So is bakers’ growing interest in working with local grains.
I feel deeply moved as we leave the farm: By the palpable mutual love and trust between Shawn and his animals (and, I am sure, between him and the land,) by Shawn’s passion for organic farming (he and his wife run educational programs on organic farming and gardening for school children), and by the good will of three men determined (with the help and support of their spouses – let’s not ever forget the spouses) to solve a problem by becoming themselves part of the solution: Miller James Brown (whom I hope to meet when I next visit Austin), Farmer Shawn Settler and of course Baker Josh Raymer (on instagram as @jojubaker). In Josh’s words, ” It is exciting to me that instead of fighting the system, we are simply building a bridge over it, making our own way.” Together James, Shawn and Josh are indeed a Grain Gathering in action and I salute them.
Thank you for your warm welcome, Josh, and thank you for generously sharing your formulas. Much appreciated!
Josh Raymer’s German Bread
Rye levain is elaborated out of 100% hydration white flour starter
Mix rye levain, DDT (desired dough temperature) 74°F 8-10 hours ahead, rye levain should be fragrant and very active.
DDT (desired dough temperature) 76°F. Mix flours, *water, mix to combine autolyse 40 minutes
Add spice: equal parts toasted and ground caraway, coriander, fennel. I tend to use 1.5 caraway 1 coriander 1 fennel, to each his own taste
Add salt : this looks like a lot of salt, but its 2.2% when you factor the rye levain
Add honey (optional) you can add a rye mash as well up to 8 percent at this time without changing the overall character of the bread. It adds nuance and some more of the honey aroma, but it isn’t necessary, the quality of this bread relies on the quality of freshly milled rye, and freshly milled wheat flour, the honey, spice and mash are just an elaboration on that.
FINAL MIX and BULK
M to fully incorporate, don’t worry about gluten development at this time,
Two to three folds at 20 minutes, looking for the dough to be springy and alive, it will be a wet and sticky dough, use water on your hands before stretch and fold
About 2 hours total bulk, but let the dough be your guide
There is still plenty of bread flour in this dough, I would treat it as a rather sticky pain au levain, and not a true rye dough, so we do a pre-shape, 15-20 minutes rest then shape boule or batard.
Flour banneton or couche and immediately put into a 45-degree cooler. My suggestion would be to always keep the dough on the young side if you are going to retard overnight, or do the bulk in the cooler overnight then shape in the morning. This is a forgiving dough, but the rye is very active and can over-ferment if it gets too warm. It is easier to put the underproofed shaped dough in the fridge, you can always give it a little countertop time before you bake. Finger poke will tell you when it is ready
We bake large 1200-gram loaves @500°F then turn off the burner, they need to bake at least an hour
680-gram loaves bake @550 then set temp to 480, they need 45 min. minimum
All ovens are different, so I would focus on baking time rather than oven temperature, this is a wet dough with a fair amount of rye, it needs a long bake to avoid a gummy mess.
*The hydration is high when you account for the levain, but fresh milled flours are thirsty, we are looking for wet, but not soupy, so you may want to hold back 5% of the water for the autolyse then pour in a stream after salt and levain have been added, I like a well-hydrated dough, so I usually go for a little extra water. This is not soupy or weepy dough though,
Josh Raymer’s Pecan-Scallion Bread
Levain build levain 8 hrs ahead, 76 degrees
Flours and water mixed, 40 minute autolyse, add salt, levain
Mix to just combine, four folds at 30-minute interval
2-2.5 hr ferment.
Load the oven at 500°F, add steam if available. Set the temperature to 470°F for a minimum of 45 minutes, ideally 1 hour, perhaps a little more, the lightness of the loaf, a hollow knock on the bottom are still very good ways to tell if you have a well-cooked loaf.