Unless you have been living under a rock during the pandemic, sourdough bread should be more than a buzzword to you by now.
At the very least, you would have heard of the shortage of baking supplies islandwide earlier this year due to a sudden baking frenzy.
With more time on their hands, more people were turning to baking – from homemade bread to the trendy Basque burnt cheesecake – during the circuit breaker period.
On the other hand, there is Rosmardiana June, a stay-at-home mum with three kids who has been baking before the pandemic hit and suddenly could not find the regular supplies she needs.
While she has started baking sourdough late last year simply as a passion project, friends and family encouraged her to sell it after trying her breads this year.
“I was, in all honesty, just baking for myself,” says June. “But when COVID-19 hit and home-based businesses started to flourish, I felt it was an opportunity to try my hand out at starting the business,” she adds.
So, even though her livelihood was not necessarily impacted by the pandemic, she got bitten by the business bug which led her to launch JuneBug in May this year.
Mastering the art of sourdough baking
Sourdough baking is a laborious process that is famously hard to get right.
But for most home bakers like June, making a good loaf of sourdough bread feels like striving for the World Cup or an Olympic gold medal.
It is the challenge to top all challenges and takes real commitment, but it is also something that is completely achievable.
Essentially, sourdough bread is made of water, flour, a sprinkle of salt, and time (lots of it) to allow the starter, a fascinating alchemy of fermentation between wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria, to take place.
For most of us who just love to eat sourdough bread, we appreciate it for its tangy flavour, rustic crust and moist porous interior, especially when it is freshly baked.
Truth be told, we get overwhelmed just by reading detailed sourdough recipes online so we respect bakers, especially home-based ones like June who do this daily.
“I already started baking sourdough months before the lockdown in April, and it took me a while to nail the process,” shares June. “I was very lucky to have friends and family who share feedback on my initial bakes, and while it took me many trials and failures, I’m happy with the recipes that I have now.”
June’s sourdough baking journey is all the more impressive given the fact that she does not have the luxury of working in a commercial kitchen with fancy equipment and roomy storage space.
On average, June is churning out close to 50 loaves every week these days, compared to 15-20 when she first started.
Even with over a thousand followers on her Instagram now, June reckons that she is still not meeting demand to 80-90% of them, most of which are waiting to place orders.
“As a home-based business, I am unable to do big productions as I am limited by space and equipment,” June shares.
“I don’t mass produce (the breads), but rather focus on small-batch, custom orders.”JuneBug
Rising above the competition
This more personalised approach to baking is not necessarily a bad thing for June. In fact, it has allowed her to create relatively more unique breads that are typically uncommon in retail bakeries.
June observed that such bakeries typically offer plain sourdough such as country or wheat loaves that are made from different flour and grains only.
Whilst such basic breads are undeniably easier to make in huge productions, the lack of variety might make sourdough unappealing to consumers.
But that is exactly where smaller bakers like June is filling in the gaps.
Because she bakes on a preorder basis, it gives her more flexibility to offer more unique variants with fillings that include anything from savoury ingredients like jalapeno, sundried tomato, cheese and mixed herbs to sweet options like cranberry and chocolate.
At the time of writing, June has close to 20 flavours in her menu.
According to June, this is perhaps the edge most home bakers like herself have over retail bakeries, and customers flocked to them because of it.
And flock to her, they did. Especially when she began partnering with The Good Fat, a home-based business specialising in artisanal butters, in limited-time only bundle promotions aptly called Bread and Butter.
“I am friends with Nur (from The Good Fat), and we started on our home-based businesses roughly around the same time,” June recalls. “When she gave me a sample of her butter to try, it dawned on me that our products are complementary so we began planning for the Bread and Butter promos that have been going on till now.”
This co-marketing strategy is not unheard of in the home-based business community; many businesses form partnerships to market the offerings they already have and indirectly promote each other to their own followers.
Jalapeno-Cheese Loaf, $15
This loaf is certainly a step up from the chain bakery variety sourdough in terms of flavours: herbaceous, smoky, and mildly spicy.
The filling is primarily made of pickled jalapenos and a mixture of different cheeses, giving the sourdough a warmth that has an almost focaccia-like characteristic.
June grates the cheese blocks, so bits of cheese in the loaf are a pleasant discovery.
The bread is truly good on its own, but if you want to put butter on it, we recommend The Good Fat’s Spiced Miso Butter to raise the spicy level even higher.
Charcoal Seeded Loaf, $16 (The Halal Eater pick!)
Our personal favourite, if only for the impressive scoring design that stands out on the bread’s black base. We admit, it took a lot of willpower to finally cut the bread.
Beautiful exterior aside, the loaf cuts open to reveal very satisfying, airy, cross-section crumb views.
The loaf is made form a wholewheat charcoal sourdough with a mixture of seeds (golden flaxseeds, fennel, pumpkin, and black & white sesame).
The loaf’s texture is probably the most perfect in any sourdough we have tasted. The crust has a significant crunch factor which we appreciate, and once our teeth got past that, they sink into soft, pillowy bread.
The flavour is very, very subtle on the palate, which is why it goes remarkably well with Kombu or Black Garlic Butter, also by The Good Fat.
We thoroughly enjoyed JuneBug’s sourdough breads, and they stayed pretty perfect even after refrigeration, as long as you toast before eating.
Admittedly, we are total noobs when it comes to sourdough so we could be easily swayed by anything.
However, we would like to think the busy mother’s rendition of this painstakingly made, pandemic-famous bread can only get better from here on now.
So what’s next for JuneBug?
For one, she is planning to revamp her kitchen to turn it into a micro bakery of sorts, and also invest in three new equipment: a bigger oven, a bigger mixer, and a fridge dedicated to just her breads alone.
These changes would hopefully allow her to increase her capacity and cope better with demand.
If that is still not enough, June does not rule out the idea of moving into a central kitchen and hire help, although that goal will have to ferment for a little longer while she saves the funds needed for expansion.
To place an order, fill up the order form on @junebug_dough2crumbs
Photos by JuneBug unless otherwise stated.