Making that dough

Mary Oliver/Baby’s Breads

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

As an infant, Mary Oliver teethed on the heels of hard, crusty sourdough bread loaves from a San Rafael bakery. As she grew up, the Bay Area native developed a passion for baking, inspired by her mother. After moving to Chico and retiring from a job in the tech industry, she began sharing her love for fresh-baked sourdough with family and friends. But it wasn’t until after winning Best of Show at the Silver Dollar Fair last year that she launched Baby’s Breads—“Baby” being the nickname good-natured, older co-workers gave her as a teen. She sells her bread on a limited basis and hosts workshops to teach people how to make and bake their own. Next up: Feb. 8 and 29 at Christine Mac Shane’s studio, 561 E. Lindo Ave. Go to to find out more.

How did Baby’s Breads launch?

When I moved up here about 16 years ago … really good sourdough was not something that was easily available. I tried my hand at a sourdough starter [multiple times] and failed miserably. About two years ago, somebody had posted on Facebook that they were selling sourdough starter, so I was like, That’s it! She helped me a little bit with how she made her bread, and then I did a lot of research online and just kind of came up with my own recipe. I had bread coming out of my ears. I was giving it away to friends and family and they were like, “Oh, my gosh, this is amazing!” Everyone was like, “You really should sell this bread—it’s really good.” And then I thought, well, maybe I could teach [people how to make] the sourdough … then they can take it home and bake it.

What should participants expect?

They each get their own little jar of starter to take home. I give them a demo of how to feed the starter. I [also] prepare the dough for everybody, so the 36-hour fermentation process has already been done at my house. And then we do our first stretch and fold. It’s basically sourdough’s version of kneading. And then … comes the shaping. We talk about how to score the bread, which is cutting into it, which tells the steam where to go. Then we start talking about how to bake it, some of the tricks that I’ve learned on how to get a nice golden crust versus a dry loaf.

What is it about sourdough that you love?

Sourdough is healthier for your body [when] it’s done with a long fermentation [process]. It’s easier for the body to digest, it doesn’t spike blood sugars and it just tastes so good. I’ve had a lot of my friends who have diabetes or blood sugar issues come to the workshops so that they can learn how to make this bread at home. It just warms my heart when I can impart that wisdom to somebody else [and] it’s going to be so much more healthful for their body.