Local cookbook author Greg Berger racked up two first-place wins at the California State Fair Baking Competition last week, winning blue ribbons in the sourdough bread category with a classic sourdough loaf and a smoked sourdough with tart cherries.
Berger, the author of two bread cookbooks (“Bread Baking Basics” and “Buns & Burgers”), has been making bread for about 11 years. He’s entered his baked goods in the State Fair competition every year for the past seven years and won every year. As he modestly points out, there is more than one first-place finisher in each category. However, this year his classic sourdough also won best of class, beating out 10 other breads.
Berger attributes his baking success to practice. “I don’t have a secret,” he says. “I just make it all the time. That’s the biggest thing about making bread: The more you do it, the better you get.”
While he’s been making his classic sourdough for years, the smoked sourdough loaf was a bit of an experiment. He saw someone on Instagram say that you could use the leftover coals from a barbecue to smoke anything you have lying around and decided to try smoking flour. That was a bust, resulting in burned flour. He then tried using a cold smoker to infuse an already-baked loaf with smoke. Unfortunately, while the exterior of the bread smelled like smoke, the smoke flavor didn’t get inside the bread. Still, the loaf took first place. “I’m probably done with smoked sourdough,” he said.
Berger also won a first place at this year’s state fair for his oyster crackers. The blue ribbons will come in the mail about a month from now, he said, joking that they are “comically large.” He’s already dreaming about gold at next year’s state fair. “I’ve won ever since I started, so I feel like I have to continue to win,” he said.