by Emily Spectre
“We make bread the way it used to be made,” said Julie Matthei. She should know. As co-owner of Hewn Bakery in Evanston with Ellen King, she bakes it all day long.
Full stop, that’s the essence of Hewn. Call it a motto or call it a way of life, but Matthei and King started the bakery in 2013 utilizing locally grown heritage varieties of wheat, and employing an age-old philosophy that handmade truly is better.
In real time that means it takes Hewn’s bakers two days to make a loaf of bread. The ingredients are mixed by hand (although Matthei said as they’ve become busier, some ingredients are mixed with mixers), the bread is shaped by hand, and the loaves are left to rest overnight. “It’s a scientific process. It depends on the weather, but that is the beauty of bread making,” Matthei said.
Making many things by hand is one way Hewn sets itself apart from other bakeries, but another way is how it sources its ingredients. Instead of relying on commercial yeast, the bakery makes all its bread with a house-made, naturally fermented starter. King created the starter about eight or nine years ago and has been feeding it ever since to keep it active.
“It’s the perfect pet,” she joked.
While using a wild yeast is in keeping with their homegrown philosophy, King said that it also naturally breaks down gluten, making their bread easier to digest. The wild yeast acts as a natural preservative — the acidity in the yeast actually helps preserve the bread. That means Hewn’s bread can stay fresh for four days on the counter in a loose paper bag.
Hewn also partners with small farms in the Midwest to source its flour milled from heritage grains. The bakery also uses spent grains from North Shore breweries such as Sketchbook, Temperance and the Pekish Pig, that would otherwise be thrown out.
“It is just a way of recycling something that tastes great, and it adds a lot flavor to the bread,” Matthei said.
The bakery offers a wide variety of bread, including the country loaf, a good everyday bread naturally leavened and made with whole wheat flour, which is a best seller. The heritage varieties also are popular with customers, as well as specialty loaves such as cheese bread or beer bread, made with beer from local breweries.
Come holiday time, Hewn also offers up some unique goodies. Right now the bakery is selling three types of jarred mixes — chocolate chip cookie, gingersnap molasses cookie and lemon ginger scones — that makes cooking at a home a snap.
“It’s totally easy and makes a great gift,” Matthei said.
Also for sale for the holidays are take ’n bake morning buns. These croissant pastries filled with vanilla sugar on the inside are prepared and frozen, ready to be baked whenever need-be during the holidays. They are available to be pre-ordered for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Hewn also bakes up some very special pies just for the holidays. Cherry pie, and a bourbon pecan pie made using Evanston’s very own Few bourbon, are available for the holidays. On the savory side, a brie en croute, which is a wheel of brie topped with a fruit compote and enclosed in a homemade pastry, is also available just for the holidays.
In addition to its famous breads, Hewn also makes pastries such as croissant, scones and muffins, as well as brownies, cookies and sandwiches. And if that isn’t enough, on weekends the bakery also offeres monkey bread and sticky buns.
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