MONTPELIER — Paul Markowitz lends true meaning to being a cottage industry with his homemade bread-baking business.
He has set up shop in his Victorian home at 4 Pearl Street in the Meadow neighborhood in the Capital City, using his former home office as his prep room to mix the live yeast and dough ingredients and the home’s electric oven to bake the bread. His business is called Paul’s Olde World Sourdough.
Markowitz cooks three rounds of eight 2.5-pound loaves that take 50 minutes to bake in eight-inch diameter Dutch oven pots.
On Thursdays, people who have placed orders online can pick up their bread while other random sales can be purchased at his home between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. A loaf costs $7.
Markowitz said he has been baking bread for a long time, but it took him about two months to turn his “passion” for homemade bread into a home industry before he was ready to go public with his private enterprise.
“I’ve got it down now and now I’m comfortable getting the word out,” he said.
Markowitz said he has given up full-time work after seven and a half years as a community engagement specialist with Efficiency Vermont to begin the business.
He is married to Deb Markowitz, a former Secretary of State and secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources who now works for Ceres, a Boston-based a nonprofit where she is the vice president of initiatives and campaigns, and oversees its climate and energy, water, food and forests, and capital market system programs.
“She said, ‘This better not cost us any money,’” he said, with a laugh.
At their home this week, Paul Markowitz was busy filling the Dutch oven pots with the dough he prepared the day before that had been proofing overnight.
“The cast iron, enamel Dutch ovens recreate the effect of a thermal-mass oven, like a clay or brick oven, because with an electric oven you just have the convection currents which is very different,” he said.
Markowitz says he begins the baking process with the lids on the Dutch ovens to help the dough retain moisture and then removes them during the bake process to allow the tops of the bread to brown.
He also uses a French lame, a traditional bread-making tool, to score the top of the loaf before baking to produce an attractive-looking crust.
“I’ve been baking bread for 40 years and I left my job at Efficiency Vermont six months ago and said, ‘Ok, what do I want to do, what are my passions?,’” Markowitz said. “Bread making and sharing my bread has always been a passion, and I thought, ‘Well, could I bake bread out of my house.’”
Markowitz said he met another bread maker who helped inspire him.
“He’s called The Hidden Baker up in Morristown, also known as Hank the Baker, and he’s doing it out of his house with super-low overhead,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘Can I go from being a person that bakes two or three loaves to now (scaling up). I said, ‘If he can do it out in the middle of nowhere, I can do it.’”
Markowitz got to work, setting up his prep station in his office.
“It was my office and I took out my computer and that’s my desk,” he said pointing to a desk that now has three butcher-block boards on which he preps the dough and kneads it before separating it into loaf sizes, wrapping them in cloth and allowing the dough to cure overnight in the fridge.
“Everything is done by hand but I am thinking about getting a mixer because it’s a lot of work,” he said.
A chart on the wall lists all the organic ingredients and measurements for the wheat and rye breads he bakes. Also in the room is an antique till his wife found that he uses to ring up sales.
In the fridge is the “mother” live yeast that he said is 38 years old, a culture “starter” that he continually added to over the years that gives the bread its true sourdough flavor character. He said he has shared some of his starter with “hundreds” of people over the years, with instructions on how to keep it going.
“I started it in Hinesburg in 1981,” he said. “I was baking regular bread (with dried yeast) and then I started doing sourdough and I never went back because it’s so much richer and moister.
“The other thing is that it helps break down the gluten, so it makes it more digestible,” he said.
“The process is you make a sponge in a big bowl, where you add some of the starter and water, and it’s like thick soup. Then you add the rest of the flour and the salt and make it into a dough, fold it to give it more aeration and then make them into loaves and stick them in the fridge overnight where it doubles before pulling them out to bake,” he added.
Markowitz said he started selling bread in August and built an instant following.
“It’s part of this thing where you get to meet the person who makes your food or grows your food,” he said. “People are looking for that personal connection.
“The other thing is people get to come and see the bread sitting on the bread boards and choose their loaf,” he added.
Markowitz has received some glowing testimonials.
He said one customer said her daughter declared,” This bread is better than cake!”
Also, one of the owners of the Hippie Chickpea in Montpelier quoted, “‘I could eat a whole loaf,’ Dante, aged 7.”
Markowitz has used Front Porch Forum and other social media to promote his sales.
To order online, visit www.tinyurl.com/paulsbread