You can smell Hewn before you ever see it.
Walking out of the Metra station, I followed my nose down Dempster Street and there it was: the Evanston-based artisan bakery that specializes in hand-forged bread, in all of its yeast-filled, flour-stained glory.
The art of bread making — for it is indeed an art — is an ancient craft. There’s little doubt that bread is one of, if not the oldest, artificial foodstuff. Empires have been built on it — or fallen apart amid its crumbs. Leavened or unleavened, matzo or the Eucharist, bread is the edible building blocks of religions.
So important is bread, and the wheat- and flour-based paste that it comes from, that it has become synonymous with money. While bakers have been shaping nebulous mush with their hands for millennia, only recently — say, the past couple centuries or so — have we left the formation of dough to manufacturers.
Not Ellen King and Julie Matthei. The co-owners of Hewn, who are celebrating their two-year anniversary this month, met as parents of kids attending the Chiaravalle Montessori School down the street. King, a classically trained chef, had moved from Seattle and was missing the artisan bread of the West Coast. She had been experimenting a little with bread making before moving to the Midwest, but once here, that hobby became a full-blown passion. It would lead her to establish the Underground Bread Club — kind of like Fight Club meets Julia Child — an invite-only, group de résistance à pain. That’s where she met Matthei who, after trying a loaf made from scratch, convinced her to open up a bakery.
“The name Hewn to me always meant like something artisan, very much a labor of love, and something that is unique,” says King, who adds she got the idea from a project she worked on while attending the University of Maine. While working on establishing dates for areas of a centuries-old house, “we would peel back the layers and find hand-hewn beams”— that were cut before a circular saw was invented —“then we knew that this addition was [constructed] in the 1830s.”
King’s coffee cakes are an extension of the Hewn ethos: local and seasonal ingredients, everything from scratch. Each loaf is baked fresh every day (the rustic, traditional coffee cake — handmade in front of us — being one of them).
“With summer coming, you can change up the [coffee cake’s] filling with whatever fruit you want,” notes King. “So it’s kind of fun, because it’s like whatever looks good at the Farmers Market, you can make your own little compote. Look at it as [being] so American you can create a hodgepodge and it will just sort of work out.”
TOTAL TIME: 1 hour
Hewn’s Frozen Tart Cherry Filling
2 cups tart cherries (or your favorite berry)
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Make the filing. Bring cherries to boil and reduce heat.
- Cover and simmer for 5 minutes
- Add lemon juice.
- Mix sugar and corn starch together.
- Add sugar mix and cook and stir on low for 5 minutes.
- Cool the filing.
Hewn’s Tart Cherry Sourdough Coffee Cake
1 ½ cup AP flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup starter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup buttermilk
½ cup steel cut rolled oats
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup almonds or walnuts, chopped
- Mix dry ingredients.
- Cut in butter.
- Mix starter, egg, buttermilk, and vanilla and slowly add to dry ingredients.
- Spray a pan and spread ½ batter on the bottom of the pan and layer with cherry filing.
- Add the rest of the dough in little dollops on top of the cherry filling.
- Mix the oats, brown sugar, nuts, and salt in separate bowl and sprinkle over the top.
- Bake at 325 for 30 minutes, check to see if it’s done, and cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes if not.