POCATELLO — Matt Sanger mixes just three ingredients to make his basic sourdough: flour, water and salt.
Sanger, whose Round River Baking recently opened a new location in Old Town, explained his minimalist style is known as “lean dough.” His recipes lack enrichment, containing no fat or sugars. In the case of his sourdough, he also adds no yeast, allowing the loaves to leaven naturally.
Yet with few ingredients, he bakes artisan loaves a loyal following of customers have come to prize for their flavor, freshness and quality.
A few years ago, Sanger gave up a career as a professor with Idaho State University’s College of Education in order to build a bakery in the basement of his Pocatello home. He opened the cottage business in May of 2017, selling from a few locations including the Portneuf Valley Farmers Market.
Keeping up with demand has been a constant challenge, so he’s chosen to scale up production in a commercial kitchen. A few weeks ago, he celebrated the soft opening of a new commercial bakery, located in the former Great Harvest Bread building at 250 N. Main St. He’s currently open just one day per week, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I’ve increased production a number of times and the constant refrain is, ‘You’ve got to make more bread,’” Sanger said, adding that he’s sold out during the past Saturday’s at his new location.
Sanger aims to work out the logistics of the business and wait until he can consistently deliver fresh, warm bread that meets his lofty quality standards before expanding his schedule.
“The growth all depends on being able to expand while controlling the quality,” said Sanger, whose wife Hannah has been helping him run the bakery in her free time. “Once I get a better handle on a few more things we hope to start hiring a few people, which will help us expand our production and be open more days.”
The bakery sells T-shirts bearing the words “crusty sticks of joy,” referring to his exceedingly popular French baguettes. Baguettes are made with purchased yeast, which makes for a delicate crust more appropriate for the style.
He also offers double-chocolate salted rye cookies and is working to add scones, croissants and chocolate croissants. He’s selling coffee supplied locally by Leapknot Coffee Roasters.
Eventually, he aims to offer Roman-style pizza and sandwiches.
Round loaves of sourdough bread, baked without a pan, represent the heart and soul of his production. The long and slow natural fermentation he uses lends the loaves a desirable texture and flavor, as well as an open crumb — referring to the air pockets within the bread.
He bakes on a stone hearth.
“With industrial bread, time is money. Ingredients are money. ... They put in a lot of yeast and blow it up really fast,,” Sanger said, adding industrial bakers use high-gluten flour to withstand intensive mixing while his flour is more delicate. “This is the opposite approach.”
Sanger discovered a passion for baking while in graduate school in Missoula, Montana, working at a cafe. He’d stick around after finishing his work to assist the bakers and visit with them about their craft. He became an avid baker and enrolled in professional baking courses through the San Francisco Baking Institute.
He explained his style of baking started gaining wide popularity within the U.S. in the early 2000s. At the time, he said the nation was undergoing a “pretty serious bread revolution,” with more consumers wanting naturally leavened bread.
“A friend of mine called it the alchemy of the oven. You take these simple ingredients, mix them together, treat them right and put them in the oven and it’s kind of magic what happens,” he said.
Sanger’s chosen business model involves buying locally sourced ingredients, using certified organic ingredients as often as possible. He buys organic flour from Central Milling in Utah.
“The idea of local grain economies was attractive as a business model because we live in wheat country and have one of the oldest artisan mills in Logan, Utah,” Sanger said.
Sanger makes a unique quinoa forage bread with locally grown quinoa, sourced by American Mills in Ammon. American Mills also sells him local oats. Sanger has been in discussions with a small mill in Bellevue and may also start buying grain sourced from Southeast Idaho to mill some of his own flour.
Sanger bought his building about a year ago and had planned to open in February prior to the COVID-19 crisis. He had a trial sale before opting to remain closed for a while longer due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. For a two-month period, he offered bread subscriptions and made home deliveries at no extra charge to about 60 households.
“A lot of my regulars are in at-risk populations,” Sanger said.
While operating out of his basement, Sanger often gave any extra bread to friends or dropped loaves off at a local fire station. Now that he has a certified commercial kitchen, he intends to give unsold bread to local charities that offer food aid to those in need.
“During the last three years I’ve felt really well supported by the community, and I look forward to expanding the community we serve,” Sanger said.