Raisin “tea” doesn’t exactly look appetizing — waterlogged blobs bobbing in water. But bread leavened with the wild yeast that collects on the raisin skins and is extracted into the liquid is downright delicious.
Andrew Hamilton of the Utah microbakery Blue Lounge Array bakes all of his bread this way, instead of using commercial yeast or a traditional sourdough starter. He also kneads all of his bread by hand and delivers it to customers’ doors across Salt Lake County, from Sandy to Rose Park.
Hamilton and his wife, Jill Silverberg, own Blue Lounge Array, which is a play on “boulangerie,” the French word for bakery. Together, they’ve been baking, packaging and delivering a selection of breads, cookies and other treats from their home operation for about six months.
Walking up to the couple’s house in Holladay, one might never guess that it conceals an entire commercial bakery in the basement. But inside, Hamilton can bake up to 50 to 150 loaves of bread in one weekend.
A home bakery rises
Hamilton has been baking since he was young, when it was a “childhood passion.” As he grew up, baking became a way of “relating to family,” he said.
He gained a lot of his skills through his first professional baking job, at Tulie Bakery, which focuses on high-quality, locally sourced ingredients and has locations in Salt Lake City’s 9th & 9th and 15th & 15th neighborhoods.
Hamilton was the night baker at Tulie from April 2022 to May 2023. He would make croissants and other pastries into the wee hours so they’d be fresh for customers in the morning.
But while he was at Tulie, he was also planning to open his own cottage bakery someday, and slowly collecting all the necessary equipment to do so.
Starting from a completely unfinished basement space, the couple built out a bright and roomy bakery, equipped with two stone deck ovens from Belgium and a slab roller, for when Hamilton is ready to add croissants to their menu.
For a time, Hamilton was baking both at Tulie and at home, but to actually grow and develop his bakery, he chose to leave Tulie and focus on Blue Lounge Array.
Today, Hamilton said sometimes he bakes for 72 hours straight without hardly a break, “but it’s fun.” Before he puts the loaves in the oven, he scores them deeply with a razor blade to allow them to expand. As the bread bakes, he pumps steam into the oven by hand so the crust doesn’t harden too early, and to improve the bread’s texture.
“The more efficient you get, the more you learn, everything gets better and more smooth, and it’s fun to see, this is like the beginning,” he said. “Because every step, every bake, you get a little bit more refined with everything.”
How to make raisin tea
“We use a different starter than almost anyone else,” Hamilton said of his raisin tea, which he makes by simply adding a handful of raisins to a Mason jar, filling it with water, and then letting the jar sit in the fridge for a couple of days. Once the raisins float, which means the natural yeast on the skin of the raisins has been extracted into the water, he strains out the fruit. Then he mixes a small amount of the raisin tea with a large amount of flour and water in order to “feed” it.
After the starter has doubled in size, it smells fermented, sweet and almost alcoholic, Hamilton said. It’s also light and bubbly and ready to bake with. The finished product is called a “dried fruit levain,” and could be made using other dried fruits as well, he said.
Bread leavened with raisin tea “has its own complexity,” he said. Compared to bread made with a sourdough starter, he said, bread made with raisin tea is a “little bit sweeter,” without any astringency or sourness.
He said people in the ancient city of Pompeii made bread using this method, and before the commercialization of yeast, it used to be a lot more common in Germany and other countries. Today, some bakeries in Japan also use the raisin tea method.
“The raisin tea is just as powerful of a starter as a sourdough starter or a commercial-use product, and I don’t think I would change,” Hamilton said. “It’s a pretty cool thing.”
The baked goods
Jill Silverberg said she and Hamilton want to grow their business, but at the same time, they want to keep their menu from becoming “overwhelming.” So the Blue Lounge Array menu is carefully curated.
The porridge farmer’s bread ($10) is crusty and chewy on the outside and soft and dense on the inside. Thick slices are perfect for slathering in butter and dunking into hot soup. And the chocolate chip cookies ($4, two for $7) — made with dark chocolate, European butter and flaky salt — are decadent treats for anytime.
Blue Lounge Array’s menu also includes a country batard ($8) — the French word “batard” refers to the loaf’s oblong shape — a honey barley rye batard ($12), dark chocolate brownies ($4, two for $7) and cherry pistachio sesame granola ($4 for a small bag; $15 for a large jar). Limited-time items are sometimes added to the menu, such as coconut macaroons drizzled with chocolate.
Arranging for delivery is simple; any-day delivery ($5) requires 48 hours notice, and delivery is free on Sundays.
Getting a loaf of bread from Blue Lounge Array is like receiving a present. Wrapped carefully in white or brown paper and tied with blue string, the bundle features a copy of one of the bakery’s first labels, which were hand-typed on a typewriter.
Connecting with their customers and finding that sense of community is important for Hamilton and Silverberg, and a key motivator behind starting their fledgling microbakery.
“I’ve felt like there’s times in life where, whether you’re at an office job, or whether you’re working on a horse ranch, you can get removed from your sense of community,” Hamilton said. But when you’re bringing someone food, or they’re ordering your food for a special occasion, “that’s an empowering feeling.”