A Rising Passion Reflects History

This article originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune Good Eating section.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
A rising passion reflects history
Hewn bakery in Evanston is forged with artisan ideals


Ellen King learned the textbook version of bread baking at the Seattle Culinary Academy, but she discovered the mysterious complexities of handcrafting loaves of bread and baking them in a wood-fired oven at a sustainable farm school in Washington state.

“That experience began my journey of becoming obsessed with bread;’ says King. “Bread is a living thing that is temperamental, and you need to learn to work with it. It’s almost like having a little pet.” The results of her passion now line the shelves of Hewn, the bakery she opened in Evanston in June with business partner Julie Matthei.

King sources organic flour milled from wheat grown on small farms in the Great Plains and uses a wild yeast, or levain, that some call sourdough. “I started it several years ago and it’s almost like part of my family,” she says. “I can tell when it’s ready to be used and when it needs more time because it moves more slowly on cold days and really fast on hot days. So I’m always modifying the baking schedule to work in tandem with it.”

She mixes the bread by hand in wooden bowls. “The dough reacts well with wood that lets it breathe as opposed to stainless steel, which allows it to get oily and wet,” she explains. The loaves are baked in a hearthstone oven with steam injection to create a crisp crust on the bottom and the top. “The oven gives the bread a nice crunch and the score (the slit cut in the top of a loaf) opens up as if to say ‘hello,'” King says.

The warmth of the decor of the bakery reflects the heritage of the Midwest and the handcrafted quality of King’s breads. Matthei repurposed metal from an old barn to cover the walls. She had cypress pickle barrels transformed into wood panels and a door, and she used wood salvaged from a white oak tree that had to be cut down to craft the counters and shelves.

Artisan baguettes ($2.95) and round loaves of country bread ($6) are everyday staples, joined by a changing array of specialty breads ($7-$8) such as an aged white Cheddar loaf that is reminiscent of a grilled cheese sandwich when toasted. Another, flavored with herbes de Provence, has picholine olives folded into the dough that impart a buttery taste. Among the sweet and savory pastries, the chocolate croissant ($3.15) is a best-seller. King, ever mindful of the importance of healthful foods, also offers a limited number of seasonal salads ($9.99 per pound) and vegetarian sandwiches ($7.99) to go.

King, who studied historic preservation, says the bakery’s name, Hewn, remained engraved in her memory after she discovered a handcrafted beam when she was examining the building techniques of an 18th-century house.

“The word ‘hewn’ is a way for me to connect back to my love of history and the craftsmen who took pride in what they did and helped shape our country,” she explains. “I’m not cranking out loaves of bread to feed everybody. I’m passionate about creating something that takes time and depends on my hands. It’s like walking in the footsteps of those who came before us.”

Hewn, 810 Dempster St., Evanston, 847-869-4396; hewnbread.com