Tuesday, August 21

Student’s love of baking blooms into sourdough bread business

Second-year English student Margaret LaGaly holds two loaves of her home-baked sourdough bread. LaGaly founded Winslow Bread Company in January 2016 and sold her bread to her UCLA floormates and her brother's friends. (Shelby Scoggins/Daily Bruin)

Second-year English student Margaret LaGaly holds two loaves of her home-baked sourdough bread. LaGaly founded Winslow Bread Company in January 2016 and sold her bread to her UCLA floormates and her brother's friends. (Shelby Scoggins/Daily Bruin)

At the start of the day, Margaret LaGaly feeds her sourdough starter using flour ground from the wheat she plucked from her backyard. This is the start of the daylong cooking process.

She waits for the dough to rise and places it in her home oven to bake.

“I love the simplicity of the 24-hour cooking process,” LaGaly said. “Making something so simple but insanely beautiful with three ingredients is really special.”

LaGaly, a second-year English student, founded Winslow Bread Company in January 2016. She would cook at home and sell her bread to UCLA floormates and her brother’s friends.

LaGaly’s love of baking began at her dinner table, where she would join her family every week to enjoy her mother’s baked bread. LaGaly was always in the garden, tending to her seven fruit trees and small square of wheat stalks.

“Food was always a huge part of our family,” LaGaly said. “I had a foundation in baking from my mother, but not nearly to the extent that I have now.”

LaGaly was later inspired to bake sourdough after a trip to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, where she fell in love with the preparation, baking and consumption of sourdough bread.

Using Tartine’s cookbook as inspiration, LaGaly developed sourdough recipes for classic country, sesame, olive rosemary and seeded loaves. After launching Winslow Bread Company, she gradually built her business online with Google forms and a Facebook page where customers can place orders.

One of her customers and former floormate Akash Raman said after he ate one of her olive rosemary loaves, it was clear LaGaly had a knack for baking. LaGaly once used the faculty-in-residence’s kitchen to bake bread, much to the delight of the entire building, said Raman, a third-year economics and Spanish student.

“Margaret really makes an effort to make every loaf fresh, you can honestly taste the passion,” Raman said. “It’s not often you can get bread as fresh as hers.”

By March, LaGaly was baking 12 loaves a week in her home kitchen, selling each for $12. She said it took her a while to eventually reach a number she was comfortable with.

LaGaly said she fell in love with baking and consuming sourdough bread after a trip to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. She now looks to the bakery's cookbook for inspiration to develop different sourdough recipes. (Shelby Scoggins/Daily Bruin)

“I thought if I’m going to to make four loaves I might as well make eight,” LaGaly said. “Then eight became 10 and 10 became 12. I was adding too many baking hours to handle.”

However, business came to an abrupt halt at the end of winter quarter. One morning she made the leaven at home and left, but when she came back from school to check on the dough, something was wrong.

“It looked very weird,” she said. “The smell and texture were very off.”

With an order for 12 loaves due the next day, she began testing different possibilities for why the recipe was off. Was it the flour, was it the water? She couldn’t complete the order, so she sent her customers blueberry muffins as an apology.

“It was definitely a very humbling experience because until then I was in my little routine thinking, ‘Yeah I’m on such a roll right now, people are loving this,’” she said. “That’s such a sourdough thing. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.”

LaGaly hasn’t sold bread since. LaGaly is focused on restarting her business and obtaining her cottage food license, which would allow her to legally sell to her customers directly, as well as eventually sell indirectly through cafes and other restaurants. However, she isn’t too eager to operate her own commercial bakery.

“I wouldn’t run my own bakery until I’m out of college,” she said. “Right now I like the intimacy of my business; being able to see my customers every week is something I really enjoy.”

LaGaly said preparing bread the same way it has been prepared for centuries with just yeast, flour, water and salt is a grounding experience. She said she’s not interested in the money; rather, her business is more of a way to fuel her baking zeal.

“It’s not exactly a high-profit-margin kind of business,” she said. “Every time I pull a loaf out of the oven, I’m amazed; it’s the most beautiful, naturally occurring bread you will ever see.”

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