A Raleigh educator’s passion for sourdough turned her into a social media star
by: Addie Ladner / photography by Taylor McDonald
“My most natural state is when I’m a student,” says Hannah Page.
The Mississippi native went through early college at Millsaps, got a Master’s of Arts in Teaching at Duke University, then attended the University of Georgia to study public administration. Today, she’s a community liaison and history teacher at Raleigh Charter — where she unexpectedly became a student of sourdough.
It happened when a coworker gifted her a Dutch oven for a wedding gift. Inside was a handwritten recipe card for a crusty bread. She made it, and she was hooked. “I fell in love with that method, then read more about bread baking and everything was saying to create a sourdough starter,” she says. She made two starters, started documenting her progress, and, in the midst of the pandemic, found herself an Instagram sensation.
HOW DID BAKING BECOME A HOBBY?
I started baking every day. I’d bring a loaf to work and share with my co-workers or friends. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, somewhat of an addiction. I’m an introvert and sourdough baking is the perfect hobby for someone who doesn’t mind being at home. It’s not necessarily a lot of hand
DO YOU STILL BAKE EVERY DAY?
In the early days, I was. Then I wasn’t, but since the pandemic, I’m back to that. It’s a way to connect and take care of my friends and community now. Since I’m splitting my time between school and Zooming — a new, different part of my job — I try to fit it in early. I’m a naturally early riser, so I get up around 5 a.m. and bake just about every day.
IS THIS PART OF YOUR DAILY RITUAL?
Yes, I am a ritual person, definitely. It’s a stress reliever, tactile in all different stages. Each one offers something different: folding, scoring, mixing, cutting, making designs.
2020 WAS THE YEAR OF BREAD-MAKING. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Bread helps build and nourish the community and there’s this personal satisfaction. Bread is fundamentally nourishing. If someone is going through something hard, they’re pretty much going to be okay with a loaf of bread. I think I take to it also because of my love of theater. I see the bread-making process as the stage. People often ask if I get sad when I cut a loaf, and I don’t think I ever have once — I always know another one’s coming! It’s like striking a set: You might have a moment, but it’s being appreciative of this never-ending cycle. I don’t necessarily remember specific loaves, but different styles of bread make me think of different memories.
DO YOU HAVE AN EXAMPLE?
A few years ago I thought it would be cool to make a loaf of miche, which has to be about 1,000 grams of flour.
IS THAT THE HUGE ROUND ONE YOU SEE IN FRENCH BAKERIES?
Yes! The very first time I made one, the power went out in our apartment building. I brought it down and put out huge chunks with apricot butter and left a note saying something like, If you trust me, please enjoy this bread. Each piece got eaten.
HOW DID YOUR INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT EVOLVE?
Back in 2015, my friend Mary, who is much savvier than me on social media, said, You’re taking pictures every day, just put them up! So I just started posting. The name, Blondie + Rye, comes from my first two sourdough starters. So many people think that because of my Instagram handle I have blonde hair — but I don’t! Then an image got picked up by a food site, and I started getting a ton of traction during the pandemic, which is weird and makes you pensive. It’s not something I necessarily want to celebrate, but it’s neat. I’m enjoying that people are seeing my bread. People are searching for something to make them feel fulfilled, and learning about bread is their means to that.
PEOPLE LOVE THE ARTFUL DESIGNS ON MANY OF YOUR BREADS. WHERE DOES THAT INSPIRATION COME FROM?
You know, I think I saw one day online someone had baked their loaves with a few flowers on them or herb sprigs and I thought, why not do a whole landscape? It’s all self-taught. I really don’t have artistic talent, I can’t paint or draw, but I felt like I had a canvas for expressing myself through bread. I love art and William Morris. I’ll stare at his prints and leaves, and use my tools to score the loaf with similar designs.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR FLOUR?
I feel strongly about King Arthur brand all-purpose flour. When I buy rye, spelt, and sprouted whole wheat, I go to Whole Foods. When I order specialty flours, I use Carolina Ground, which has amazing flours.
HOW MANY LOAVES OF BREAD DO YOU THINK YOU MADE IN 2020?
A conservative estimate would be 200.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT BAKING OR WORKING, WHAT DO YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND LIKE TO DO FOR FUN?
We love being around our neighborhood: getting coffee at Cup A Joe, heading to Nice Price Books & Records or Reader’s Corner. Pre-pandemic, we loved going to the smaller movie theaters. I like to go out near the greenway and Raleigh Brewing.
ANY BAKING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS?
Get a cheap digital scale. Being able to work with baker’s percentages as a baseline allows for improvisation. Sticking with a percentage of water, flour, and salt — being precise will allow you over time to improvise a little and learn a recipe by heart.