Food

Behind the Dough at Seven Stars

In the kitchen with Seven Stars' lead baker Jim Williams

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Lead baker Jim Williams co-owns Seven Stars Bakery with his wife, Lynn. In 2001, the duo moved to Rhode Island and opened Seven Stars Bakery. Thirteen years later, he is still doing what he loves, and satisfying our cravings along the way.

Where did the name Seven Stars come from?
My wife thought that she might want to be a cheese maker. So she went and spent six months on a goat cheese farm in England in a little village. There was a little pub called Seven Stars Inn. She got there and after a couple of hours she realized that she was not going to be a goat farmer.

What’s your philosophy behind the recipes?
Everything we do has been an evolution of places we’ve worked, the things we’ve wanted to do and the way we wanted to do [them]. A lot of times with baking it’s not necessarily just the recipe; it’s the method and the way you go about it. So, we had a lot of ideas of how we wanted to do our own thing and that is how things have evolved over the years. Most of it is ours; we created it from scratch.

What’s your favorite thing to bake?
Bread, for sure. I like bread. There’s something about bread. If I never mix another muffin again, I am very content with that. But bread is totally different. And bread is a funny thing, people that are really into bread get it, people that aren’t, don’t. It’s a great thing.

What is there to get about bread?
There’s something about it. The whole process, the fermentation process, the way you can manipulate it. There’s a ton of science behind but you don’t necessarily need to know it. If you know how to make bread you don’t really need to know the why. I don’t know a ton about the science of it. What I know is what I see and feel. The more you learn, the more there is to learn. You never stop learning how to make bread. Maybe that’s what I like about it, it’s simple yet complex at the same time.

What are some of the basics behind the baking?
We don’t use any bread flour here; we use all-purpose flour. The big difference is that bread flour is super strong. For really wet, long fermented breads, like we do, we wouldn’t get the same kind of texture, hole structure and volume that we’re looking for. Whereas bread flour would be better for bagels and really fast breads. If you are really fermenting for long periods of time you really need a low protein flour.

Why would you ferment for a long time?
That is where you get flavor. The flavor of the bread is from the fermentation. We use very little honey or sugar. We rely on the fermentation for the flavor. Most of our breads are flour, water and salt. That’s it.

Can you explain the difference between using a yeast versus having a naturally leavened (risen) bread?
Some of our breads have yeast in them. Others are naturally leavened. They kind of do the same thing, they ferment a dough. The difference though is that the sourdough is perpetuated over time. With a commercial yeast, which you buy in a block and it looks like a brick, you just weigh out what you need. The sourdough (or natural) yeast starts with flour and water; we mix them together, let it sit for awhile and it starts to naturally ferment. So, we keep building on it. So now, every day, we take a piece of it, and we add more flour and water to it, and then tomorrow we’ll make bread with that. Then the next day we’ll pull a piece o! of that and we just keep going.

So, you’ve used the same sourdough strain all these years?
Yes, and it sounds crazier than what it really is. You hear about these 100-yearold yeasts but it doesn’t mean anything because it really becomes your environment. Once you have it established you just want to keep it alive.

How much do you bake each day?
Tonight – which is the slow time of year – we’ll have baked 3,540 pieces of morning pastries – all of mu"ns scones cookies – and 1,800 loaves of bread. During the busy season, early fall through the holidays, we’ll do roughly 4,424 pastries and 2,413 loaves of bread. Anything we have leftover gets donated. All three of our stores deal with di!erent organizations, mostly to local churches. So, we don’t throw anything away. Feast | Behind the Dough Rising to the occasion with Seven Stars’s lead baker. 820 Hope Street 521-2200.