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DeRusha Eats: Baking Bread With David Fhima

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Baking the perfect bread isn't really that difficult: it's water, flour and, if you're Chef David Fhima, it's a starter dough that's been passed down for generations.

"This is where the magic happens," Fhima said.

Fhima is the chef and owner of Faces Mears Park, as well as the head of food operations at Target Center for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He says the starter has been with him for generations.

"I brought it over when I first came [to Minnesota] in 1982. My mom gave me some, and I've always made my breads with it. She got it from her mom. And her mom got it from her mom. We think it's 120 to 150 years old," he said.

As a kid in Morocco, Fhima said his mom would mix up a bread dough, he'd bring it to a community oven and then pick it up after school.

He's a chef now, but his first job was in Paris as a baker.

"[Bakers] are crazy," Fhima said.

He explained the profession is a blend of art and meticulous science required to reproduce a perfect bread.

Fhima and his mother-daughter baking team do it all the old-fashioned way. No yeast here. The fermentation happens naturally, with the help of that living starter.

"There are 50 billion bacteria in this fermentation. There are zero in dry yeast," he said.

Fhima's method takes longer than modern methods.

After mixing the dough and making sure not to overwork it, because in "natural fermented bread once the gas is lost it doesn't come back," the bread sits. Twelve hours in a cooler, slowly rising, and preserving that healthy bacteria.

"That's the bacteria our body needs," DeRushs said.

"The gut needs it," he said.

The final product is whole grain with a tiny amount of gluten. Blue Zones author Dan Buettner has tested Fhima's sourdough Levain bread and said it has 1/500th the amount of gluten of a bread produced using yeast.

The flavor is perfect as well, crunchy outside with a chewy and soft inside.

"What you're tasting is mother dough that has been baked. You're tasting bread the way it's supposed to be," he said.

Every type of bread from Fhima's bakery uses the same starter he baked with as a boy in Morocco.

"I think of my mom. I think of my grandmother. That is from them. There is a piece of them in that bread," Fhima said.

Here's the starter dough recipe from Fhima that you can use in any bread recipe instead or in addition to a small amount of yeast.


  • 1 small handful (1/4 to 1/3 cup) white flour
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1/2 tsp buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp white grape juice
  • a small bowl
  • a towel
  • a large spoon


  1. In a mound of flour, make a small well and add all the liquids
  2. Slowly mix the flour and liquids, bringing more flour into the center of the well. The mixture will gradually transform from a paste into a small piece of dough.
  3. Knead this small piece of dough with your fingers for about 5–8 minutes, until it becomes springy.
  4. Place the dough in a small bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it sit in a warm spot for 2 or 3 days.
  5. When it's ready, the dough will be moist, wrinkled, and crusty. If you pull off a piece of the crust, you'll find tiny bubbles and smell a sweet aroma.
  6. Throw away any hardened crust. "Refresh" the remaining piece by mixing it with twice the original amount of flour and enough liquids to make a firm dough. Set aside as before.
  7. After 1 or 2 days the starter will have a new, fresh look. Remove any dried dough and mix with about 1 cup of flour.
  8. Once again, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave it in a warm place for another 8–12 hours.
  9. When the starter is ready, it will appear fully risen, and a small indentation made with a finger won't spring back.

Now the starter is ready to be used in virtually any sourdough or bread recipe. Remember to save a small piece of the starter: You can put it in the refrigerator for several days, then refresh it again as above and use it to make another loaf. A good starter will serve you for years to come (important to feed it as above every few days so as to keep it alive even if not in use)

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