Above: Photographs by Douglas Merriam.
FROM THE OUTSIDE, Jim’s Automotive looks like your run-of-the-mill mechanic’s shop, but the aroma wafting from the front office is more reminiscent of a bakery. “It always smells like bread in here,” says owner Jim Maddox. That’s because, in addition to wrenching on cars, Maddox is an ace baker who makes three to six loaves of bread a day in the same Albuquerque location where he works, a garage where Lead Avenue and Zuni Road merge. No, he’s not kneading dough next to the car lift or measuring flour by the cash register. He uses a room next to the front office that’s equipped with a sink, an oven, myriad baking pans, supplies, and ingredients.
On a typical day, Maddox is proofing yeast and measuring flour around 8 a.m. He takes a large white container from the corner of the room, uncovers it, and reveals a thick, light brown liquid. It’s his week-old sourdough starter that’s been taking on a funky, fermented scent. Since September 2018, Maddox has turned out more than 800 sourdough loaves. At this point, he’s no longer beholden to a recipe because he long ago memorized it.
“This is the best time for me to spend a few minutes to mix the dough,” he says, working a Danish dough whisk through the dry and wet ingredients.
Maddox, an award-winning technician who’s been in the business since 1976, wears a mechanic’s shirt with his name on it. He’s in his element in this tiny kitchen. Having learned to bake from his mother, Jean Maddox, when he was a child, Maddox developed an interest in artisanal bread just two years ago. He fell in love with its crunchy and slightly tough exterior and soft interior—the kind of bread that pairs well with soups and chowders, he says.
Above: Maddox's sourdough bread crinkles on the top after cooling.
To develop his sourdough recipe, Maddox gathered a basic understanding of it from the internet, then added his own expertise. Though relatively new to the craft, he won third place in last year’s sourdough competition at the New Mexico State Fair. This year, he won first place.
Maddox’s dough rises twice before he sticks it in the oven. By noon, a couple of loaves cool on the counter, and the garage smell delicious. Some customers get a sample or even a whole loaf to take with them, because Maddox is generous. Like any baker, he’s also willing to talk bread with anyone who asks about the yeasty scent.
Jim’s Sourdough Bread
Makes three 5-by-9-inch loaves (or two 4-by-13-inch French-style loaves or five baguettes)
- 4 cups warm water
- 1 1/3 cups sourdough starter
- 6 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3/4 tablespoon yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil (less produces great chewy bread, more lends a soft and delicate texture)
- Nonstick spray for pans, especially the top edges
- 3 5-by-9-inch bread pans
- “Per Mom,” Maddox says, “always proof the yeast! So I do.” Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to water, mix in yeast, and set aside. If the mixture does not foam and bubble, the yeast may be dead (or the water was too hot).
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. After yeast has proofed, briskly whisk the oil into the yeast mixture until well blended. Add this mixture to the flour and salt, along with the sourdough starter, and stir with a large spoon until combined. Dough should form a sticky ball. Cover the bowl with cloth or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free space for 2 hours.
- After the dough doubles in size, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface (dust the dough with flour, too). Knead for a few minutes, fold into thirds to make a log, then cut into three equal-size pieces. Knead, form into loaves, and place them in the lightly oiled bread pans.
- Let the loaves rest 30–60 minutes in a warm environment until at least double in size, filling the bread pans to the upper edge. Preheat oven to 425° when the loaves have risen close to the tops of the pans.
- Bake 22–25 minutes or until crust is desired color.
Fast-Lane Sourdough Starter
This is a quicker and lower-maintenance take on the classic sourdough starter recipe that does not require you to constantly “feed” it. It takes 12 hours of fermentation time and keeps for a week, then can be discarded.
- 4 cups warm water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons yeast
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1 medium peeled russet potato, quartered
You will need a clean 1-gallon container or larger. A porcelain crock is best. (Glass cracks, and plastic can affect flavor.)
- Using a stainless-steel or stiff plastic spoon, or a whisk, mix sugar and yeast thoroughly with warm water. Stir in the flour to a smooth consistency. After the mixture blooms and then settles down, about two to four hours, mix it thoroughly again and add the potato quarters.
- Set in a warm place (above 70°) covered with a tea towel or crock lid (do not seal or cover tightly, because the mixture is alive and needs to breathe) for at least 12 hours. Stir. At this point, the starter is ready to be used. It can be refrigerated at any point, but that will stall the fermentation and souring process. In an unrefrigerated state, the starter will continue to ferment and smell sour, and alcohol will start forming on top. If mold appears, discard the batch. If there’s a dramatic change in color and smell, discard it.
- To recharge, add equal amounts of water and flour to replace what was taken out. If you use 2 cups, add 1 cup water plus 1 cup flour. This starts out thick (like pancake batter) and thins with age to the consistency of buttermilk and can be used in any recipe where milk is called for.