Ethos Bakery in Richland has been baking up creative sweets and treats for the Tri-Cities area for years.
In response to COVID-19, their Pay-It-Forward program is a collaboration between the Ethos team and the local restaurant and agricultural community to provide loaves of bread, pastry boxes, meals, coffee donations, and more to community groups such as Meals on Wheels, Boys & Girls Club, Soza Food Bank, and their local 911 dispatch office.
We asked Angela Kora, owner and head baker at Ethos a few questions about the program, sourcing local ingredients and baking as self-care.
Can you give us a recipe for something people can bake at home?
One of my favorite recipes featuring seasonal fruit is our Olive Oil Polenta Cake. With strawberries in season right now, my favorite combo is a strawberry sage variation—it seems unusual, but the sage adds a depth of flavor without being overbearing (especially if you fry the sage first in brown butter). Rhubarb and rose also pair well together, and fresh lavender is a perfect complement to mix with ripe blueberries!
We are so excited and inspired by Ethos Bakery & Cafe's Pay-It-Forward campaign during lockdown. Who does the program support and what has been the most popular item so far?
The simple Bread Loaf Donation has been the most popular. For $5, we’ll match the customer donation and deliver two loaves to community members in need. We’ve donated over 150 loaves to date! We’ve also partnered with other restaurants led by our friends at Dovetail Joint Restaurant, who have coordinated and streamlined meal donations to area medical centers including Kadlec & Lourdes.
Ethos Bakery works closely with local farms to source ingredients. Why do you think it’s important to source ingredients locally? And if people in communities want to support local farms, how can they do that?
We live in one of the most agriculturally rich areas in the country, which means we have access to so much great produce! Working with local farms not only means that we get to support our farmer neighbors (many of whom have also become friends), but it also means that we can enjoy fresh, peak-of-season produce through reduced transit time from field to bakery, test out unique varieties that may not make it to the conventional markets, and truly cook and bake seasonally.
We’re so excited that farmers’ markets are starting up again, and shopping at the markets is the easiest way to support local farms. This year, also look for farms who may be offering direct pickup or delivery services, such as Hayshaker Farm in Walla Walla, Flatau Fruit Farms, or Schreiber Farms. Farmers also have to get creative this season on how to provide produce to their community when area restaurants that may typically be their primary customer are not operating per usual due to coronavirus activity.
Why do you think baking has been such a big part of people’s self-care during the pandemic?
Baking is predictable. In a time of so much unpredictability, baking, even more so than cooking, follows a formula. Measure this, mix in that, add a little of those, and voilà , you have a pie. Or cookies. Or bread.
It’s tangible as well – something that uses all of your senses – feel, taste, smell, sight. We’ve been forced to find creative ways to use our senses when our typical means of distraction aren’t available, and I think that’s a big reason why people have turned to baking and cooking.
We also like to talk about 'breaditation' at the bakery—especially when making bread, there’s a rhythm to the measuring, the mixing, the kneading, the shaping, the baking. There’s a little bit of magic involved as well—it never gets old to bake a loaf of bread, or a cake, or muffins, and to see them rise in the oven. I think there’s also a sense of nostalgia and comfort for many people when they bake – memories of childhood in Grandma’s kitchen, holiday cookies, or a celebratory birthday cake.
Flour has become a hot commodity these days but Ethos was ahead of the curve. What made you decide to mill your own flour?
Fresh-milled, locally grown wheat has been part of our operations since we opened. I still remember the first time I tried muffins baked with freshly milled wheat, encouraged by a friend of mine about nine years ago who had a tabletop mill. It’s like trying coffee brewed with freshly ground beans for the first time – the flavors and aromas are so much more distinct!
And, I was so excited to be in a community where we would be able to source one of our primary ingredients directly from a local farm. In recent years, much more effort and research has gone into developing better whole grain recipes as well as breeding different wheat varieties that offer desirable properties for farmers, brewers, bakers, chefs, home cooks, and more. Wheat and grains are kind of like the final frontier for the farm to fork revival, and encouraging and supporting regional grain economies provides not only a renewed connection to an ancient crop that has sustained human life for thousands of years, but also builds resiliency within a community by encouraging more growing, milling, brewing, and baking at a local scale.
What do you think is the most common mistake home bakers make?
Being afraid of a recipe! I’m a perfectionist which means that sometimes the idea of "messing up" a recipe will make me not want to try it or give up part-way through. But, while baking can be intimidating especially to people who like to cook by feel versus by recipe, baking actually can offer a great opportunity for creativity, especially once you understand some of the basic fundamentals (and get to work with great produce).
And even if you make a mistake, most "mistakes" typically come out pretty tasty. ( Unless, you forget the sugar. Been there, done that… ) Oh, and if you’re really getting into at-home baking, buy a scale. It will change your baking life! Measure ingredients by weight, versus by volume, for even more predictable and consistent results.