HAYS — As a regular customer of Cathy’s Breads, a Hays microbakery, Nancy Cook knows her family’s favorite.
“Orchard bread is a weekly must,” said Cook, who attended a workshop on breadmaking Thursday at the Hays Public Library.
About 30 people filled the room for the two-hour workshop taught by Cathy Drabkin, owner and founder of Cathy’s Breads.
“My mother used to make cinnamon rolls,” said Cook, describing some of her fascination with breadmaking. Sampling a slice of Drabkin’s bread after the class, Cook tried to explain what’s special about the homemade bread that Drabkin sells from her home bakery at 1509 Elm.
“There’s so much flavor,” she said. “There’s a freshness that you can’t get in the store. It’s a treat to have a specialty item like this in our neighborhood.”
Richard Packauskas, an entomology professor in the Biology Department at Fort Hays State University, attended in hopes he could get some tips.
“I took a sabbatical a year ago and told everyone I was going to learn to make rye bread,” Packauskas said. Instead his time was taken up with making garden boxes and installing soaker hoses, and he ended up buying Lithuanian rye bread off Amazon.
“I think for a good one you’ve got to do a sourdough starter,” Packauskas commented before the class began. “I like light and dark. Dark rye comes from Lithuania.”
Drabkin explained to the crowd that she’d be showing them how to make a basic artisan bread dough that anyone can do at home, versatile and useful for making many different kinds of breads.
“Are you going to make it from scratch?” Packauskas asked.
While she has baked for years, Drabkin started selling her bread six years ago, at first at the Downtown Hays Market every Saturday during the summers. As customers wanted the bread year-round, she hit on the idea of an in-home, online bread service.
Now she takes orders through Tuesday morning, bakes on Fridays and customers pick up at her house Friday afternoon. She makes everything from the savory to the sweet, crusty artisan breads, from baguettes and sourdoughs, to rye breads, braided egg breads and croissants, as well as fine-crafted tarts, pies and cakes.
“I’m sure some of us have bread from the grocery store that we thought tasted, if not like Kleenex, maybe like cardboard, and that is just a crying shame, because for heaven’s sake we live in the middle of wheat fields,” Drabkin said. “This is Kansas. First, we ought to be eating amazingly delicious bread. Second, it should be fresh, there should not be ingredients listed on our labels that are unpronounceable chemicals, and ideally it should be made with local ingredients, which we have access to.”
The basic artisan bread Drabkin stirred up Thursday evening is the foundation for everything from baguettes, pizza, pita bread and raisin-walnut wheat loaf, to focaccia, garlic bread, jalapeño-cheddar loaf and seeded wheat loaf.
“It is a lean dough, so it has four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast,” she said. “It develops its flavor in the fridge.”