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In The Kitchen With Jeff Capeci



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During the week, First Selectman Jeff Capeci is busy attending meetings, listening to and addressing residents’ concerns, preparing and presenting budgets, managing all Town department heads (as they all report to him), and imparting his vision for Newtown, among many other things.

The weekends, however, can be another story. While many weekends can include official duties such as ribbon cuttings and speaking with local community organizations, Jeff makes time to spend in his kitchen, making sourdough bread. He loves to share his bread with others, so this may also be why he is known by many in town for his sourdough bread.

Jeff has been making sourdough bread since 2018, but the story of his bread making starts much earlier. When his daughter, Greta, was four or five years old, Jeff thought baking would be something nice to do with her. He was inspired by his sister, Patti, who is an incredible gourmet cook and baker of cookies and pastries.

Using recipes from the book Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook, Jeff and Greta started making Peasant Bread together. She loved it, he said. The bread and baking with her dad were a hit. The two continued baking three or four times a year until Greta was in her teens.

There was a break in bread making then, which ended in 2018, when a coworker at ASML, Jeff’s former job, started baking breads and sharing them at the office. That inspired him to begin baking again, but this time he turned his sights on sourdough, as he recalled how much he and his wife, Tanya, had enjoyed it while on their honeymoon in San Francisco.

“There is nothing like sourdough bread,” Jeff said one recent weekend, during the first of a few visits with this newspaper.

Sourdough bread begins with “starter,” a simple mixture of flour and water that once combined begins to ferment and cultivates the wild yeast found in flour, which ultimately enables the bread to rise. Some starter has been passed down for generations in a living form (not dried like commercial yeast found in the grocery store).

Unaware he could grow his own sourdough starter, Jeff bought a packet of dry starter online containing Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Self-taught, Jeff researched, read recipes and began baking sourdough bread through trial and error. He loved the results, got hooked, and the rest is history. He estimates that since he started making sourdough bread, he’s made more than 520 loaves plus other assorted sourdough products.

With an analytical mind — prior to being elected this town’s political leader, Jeff was an electrical engineer with a master’s degree in computer science — he likes to test things and push limits. Jeff decided to test his original starter to see how long he could go without feeding it. This is because starter in a living form needs to be maintained by feeding it flour and water. With just one tablespoon of starter needed to make a loaf bread, when feeding starter regularly you end up with more than you can use.

Jeff realized that fewer feedings would mean less surplus. But after pushing the limits on his starter, he found it did not survive in the fridge past the two-week mark. When asked how he knew it was no good, he said, “it turned black!”

Starter kept on the counter has to be fed daily; in the fridge it is less active and can last one week.

After that, Jeff made his own starter and has been using it (and sharing with others) for the past five years. He keeps it in the refrigerator and feeds it weekly before production.

When most people think of sourdough, they picture a typical “boule” — a round, crusty loaf of bread. There’s so much more that can be made with sourdough, however. Jeff has made sourdough bagels, pancakes, pizza, pretzels, Naan, traditional loaf bread, French bread, and more.

One benefit of sourdough bread is that it’s made with simple ingredients: flour, water and salt. When choosing flour that has no harmful ingredients, chemicals or preservatives, such as King Arthur unbleached flour, which is what Jeff uses, sourdough bread made at home will be healthier, tastier, and fresher than most breads purchased in a store.

Jeff has been known to take unbaked sourdough with him when traveling, to be baked fresh upon arrival. During the COVID pandemic he would drive to Boston to see his parents, his sourdough in a bowl on the floor of the front passenger seat. On occasion, he noticed the dough had risen too high, which called for a different kind of pit stop: He would pull off at the next exit to punch the dough down.

Jeff participates regularly in The Million Mile, an annual fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a foundation that works to change the lives of children living with cancer. Participants can walk, run or bike to raise money for the cause.

Jeff and former co-workers choose to bike 100 miles and they switch locations each year. Two years ago it was the Farmington Canal Rail Trail; they started in Hamden and rode to Massachusetts and back. Last year it was the Danbury Rail Trail, going from Danbury to Putnam County in New York and then back.

While other riders carry protein bars for an energy boost during the long ride, Jeff carries fruit and — you guessed it — sourdough bread to recharge.

Regarding the possible challenges in the beginning of his sourdough bread making, or whether he had any major flops, Jeff said, “Not really.”

He had some occasions where the dough didn’t rise as it should or when loaves burned on the bottom, but overall, he says it’s been “a positive experience.”

He also said, “Stretching and folding can be a challenge in the beginning, but it becomes second nature and part of the experience,” which he enjoys.

When asked what makes him keep baking, he said, “the satisfaction you get when putting a loaf in the oven and later seeing the magic happen: when you open the door to the oven and see that the bread has risen into a beautiful, golden-brown loaf.”

Is there more for him to learn about the process after six years of baking sourdough bread? “Always!” he said.

What message can Jeff give to someone who’s never made sourdough bread before?

“Try it! It might sound tedious but it’s not a lot of work. The process does span two to three days, but it’s little steps each day. Plus there’s a lot of room for error with sourdough, meaning it’s forgiving. You can make a mistake and still get delicious bread!”

When asked if Jeff considers baking sourdough bread a pastime, passion or even obsession, he said, “all of the above.”


Copy Editor Kathy Ronan can be reached at kathy@thebee.com.

First Selectman Jeff Capeci in his kitchen, surrounded by some of the tools he uses when baking sourdough bread. Some key implements that might otherwise be unfamiliar include, from left (rear): two proofing baskets, one lined with parchment paper (with their covers alongside); Dutch oven on a baking stone; and a mason jar containing Jeff’s starter (the catalyst that makes the bread rise). From left (front): a perforated French bread baking pan that holds two loaves of dough; and a bread knife on top of a specially designed bread box given to Jeff by co-workers at ASML, his previous job. —Bee Photo, Glass
Jeff instructs Newtown Bee Copy Editor Kathy Ronan how to stretch the dough (above); then he demonstrates folding it (below). The stretching and folding step is done every ½ hour for 2½ hours. Folding helps strengthen the gluten network formed after flour is mixed with water, which not only makes the dough smoother and more elastic, but also helps trap carbon dioxide gas expelled by the yeast, which ultimately makes the bread rise. —Bee Photo, Glass
—Bee Photo, Glass
Chemistry turns three basic ingredients — flour, salt and water — into delicious bread! The recipe that created the bread pictured consists of two cups of water; five plus cups flour (Jeff uses a four:one mix of all-purpose unbleached white and whole wheat); one tablespoon of starter, which is a mixture of flour and water that has fermented (Jeff’s starter is five years old!); and one tablespoon of salt. That’s it! —Bee Photo, Glass
Two of Jeff’s boule loaves cooling on a rack after baking in a Dutch oven. In the foreground is a lame tool that holds a razor used to score the top of the bread before baking. The French bread pictured has raised bumps on the bottom, created by a perforated baking pan. The perforations allow air to circulate freely around the dough, creating a crisp, golden-brown crust. —Bee Photo, Glass
A scraper is a handy tool for making bread. It is used to cut through a larger ball of dough to divide it into two loaves without the dough deflating. It can also gently push small amounts of flour under the dough so it won’t stick to the cutting board while you’re working with it. In addition, a scraper is useful for shaping the loaf by running it around the edges of the dough in preparation for baking. —Bee Photo, Glass
Capeci’s well-seasoned Dutch oven. —Bee Photo, Glass
Proofing baskets are used to hold sourdough when it’s rising prior to baking. The designs from the basket will transfer to the dough, leaving a pretty pattern on the baked bread. —Bee Photo, Glass
Specially designed perforated French bread pan holds two loaves. The openings allow air to circulate freely around the dough when baking, creating a crisp, golden-brown crust. They also create imprints on the bottom of the baked dough. —Bee Photo, Glass
In addition to boules, Jeff has made sourdough pretzels. —Jeff Capeci photo
Pizza with a sourdough crust awaits baking. —Jeff Capeci photo
A traditional loaf of bread (lower) and French bread. —Jeff Capeci photo
Finished bagels. —Jeff Capeci photo
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