If the first year of the pandemic launched an army of passionate home bread bakers, the second year has seen the most passionate among them turn pro.
Stephen Robinson may have been first out of the gate with his Calverton-based Newlight Breadworks, but here comes Scott Knobler, who has been selling Scott’s Sourdough loaves at the Long Beach farmers market since June.
Knobler’s signature loaf is a country sourdough ($10) made with 100% natural starter — that is, with no commercial yeast —that’s crunchy of crust, moist and holey of crumb and entirely delicious. He also sells a few varieties of olive-oil-rich focaccia ($8) and a not-too-sweet Irish soda bread ($6) that, radically, is baked in a loaf pan. The market opens at 9 a.m.; within 90 minutes he has usually sold out of sourdough. (Savvy customers call ahead to reserve.)
He attributes his new career almost entirely to COVID-19. "I was laid off from my job in ad sales at the beginning of the pandemic," he recalled. "Then my girlfriend and I moved from Astoria to Long Beach." During those first dark months, he found himself craving the sourdough bread he used to buy at the Astoria bakery Phoenix Bakehouse. And, having little else to do, he started trying to replicate it home.
"I was terrified at first," he said. "And there were a lot of duds." But, eventually, with the help of YouTube videos and Facebook groups, he began to get the hang of it. Knobler’s learning curve was a familiar one: the purchase of multiple Dutch ovens, the development of loaf-shaping skills, the struggles with parchment paper, the discovery of bannetons (wooden proofing baskets) and rice flour (peerless for dealing with dough stickage).
The greatest challenge to a sourdough baker, though, is the care and feeding of the sourdough starter itself. Knobler keeps his at room temperature and feeds it fresh flour and water every day. It has taken on the role of a demanding pet in his life: He and his girlfriend had to take it on a recent vacation to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks where, alone in the motel’s humid bathroom, it exploded all over the sink.
Making bread killed Knobler’s old KitchenAid and brought into his life a new Ankarsrum stand mixer that can handle 10 quarts of dough. And soon he’ll be decommissioning those Dutch ovens because a professional steam-injected brick-floored oven is on order. The new setup will allow him to triple production.
During the winter , Knobler started giving bread to family and friends and, pretty soon, selling it to strangers. With his Instagram account, @scottssourdough, he built a small following in Long Beach for a bread-delivery service. In June, he debuted at the farmers market where he plans to be through the end of November.
For now, he has no plans to return to the world of corporate advertising. "Making $1 from my bread," he said, "is more rewarding than making $10 in ad sales."
Scott’s Sourdough is at the Long Beach farmers market (59-83 W. Park Ave., Long Beach) on Wednesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reserve a loaf at 516-522-0411; facebook.com/Breadsbythesea/