Maybe you know artisan baker Tara Jensen because you are one of the 110,000 people who follow bakerhands, her alluring Instagram account with closeups of tantalizing pies, rustic loaves and blistered wood-fired pizzas. Also bucolic scenes, glimpses of fabulous vintage dresses, cute goats and cute kids — mostly her own 2½-year-old daughter Violet.

It’s a photographic tale of the good life through food, and it helped establish Instagram’s flourishing baking community.

Maybe you read the glowing eight-page profile of Jensen that appeared in Bon Appetit in 2016 and catapulted her to baking world stardom.

You may be familiar with her handsome cookbooks: “A Baker’s Year” is an intimate, evocative look at just that, written when Jensen ran the tiny Smoke Signals Bakery in rural western North Carolina out of her home. She launched her 2018 book tour at Maine Grains in Skowhegan. “We had her fan club come from all over Maine,” remembers Maine Grains CEO Amber Lambke.

Jensen’s latest book, “Flour Power,” out this past August, is a meticulous, thorough and warm-hearted paean to sourdough.

Perhaps you’ve attended one of Jensen’s baking workshops, held mostly in Virginia, where she now lives. Jensen teaches as she bakes, focusing on artisan grains, natural leavening, wood-fired ovens and a handcrafted aesthetic. “Everything looks really beautiful and handmade by a wise person,” said Kerry Hanney of Night Moves Bakery (which is in the process of moving from Biddeford), summing up that aesthetic.


Or just maybe you knew Jensen when she was a kid. She grew up in Naples, the daughter of a legal secretary and a Home Depot employee. After graduating from Lake Region High School, Jensen studied philosophy and studio art at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

It was there, in fact, that she got her first bakery job, at the now-closed Morning Glory bakery. It wasn’t the baked goods that drew her in, she said. It was the “totally awesome” bakers. Twenty years later, people remain at the heart of her love for baking. “The bakers I’ve met along the way are such a big part of what keeps me engaged and excited,” she said. “There is the bread, of course, but it’s the people behind the bread that have changed my life.”

Others say the same of her.

“She’s an influential teacher and an inspiration to a lot of people,” said Andrew Janjigian, himself a baking teacher, food writer and producer of the bread newsletter Wordloaf. “If somebody asked me, ‘I want to get into baking. Who should I be paying attention to? Whose book should I read? Whose Instagram account should I follow?’ I am going to put her in the top five.”


Among Jensen’s gifts is her ability to marry the technical side of baking with the intuitive, the science with the art, the necessary skill set with the community, joy and life lessons she finds in baking. Early on in “Flour Power,” the reader encounters nearly 20 pages of sourdough baking science. Jensen explains the anatomy of a wheat berry, lactic and acetic acids, the interplay of water and fermentation and much more, what she describes as the “scaffolding, the bones, of baking.”


Somehow, it’s not a slog. Her prose is lucid, encouraging and accessible. Also, the friendly illustrations – there’s a smiling, loafer-wearing wheat berry perched on a stool on Page 19 – leaven the information-packed early chapters. And just when some new-to-sourdough, intimidated home bakers might throw up their hands and retreat from their ovens, Jensen is right there, Zen-like, gently reassuring them. The final tip she gives readers for “Developing Your (Doughy) Intuition” is “Be Cool with Failing.”

“Taking a knob of dough and stretching it – called ‘pulling a window’ – checks the strength of a dough,” Jensen writes in “Flour Power.” Reprinted from “Flour Power.” Copyright © 2022 by Tara Jensen. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Johnny Autry and Charlotte Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.

“The perfect bread really only happens once in a while,” she explains. “Sometimes, even when you did everything right, your starter is going to be sluggish, or your bread isn’t going to rise properly. As bakers we can attempt to control the outcome to our advantage, but part of the excitement is the relationship between you and your dough. Do yourself a favor and let go of expectations.”

It’s a lesson she took from her own baking life, according to Lambke. “She is persistent and patient and experimental and forgiving of herself. You have to be willing to make mistakes, particularly if you are working with local grains. You are going to face some frustrations. You have to stick with it and move forward anyway. You can’t let mistakes impede your progress. She is great at sticking with it.”

“Flour Power” is aimed at the home baker. With a child at home, her first, and a pivot in her career from running her own bakery to writing and teaching, Jensen said she has become more attuned to the needs of home bakers.

“I wanted (the book) to celebrate what home baking is without the pressure of having to look like a bakery bread,” she said. “It’s your bread so it should look like you made it.” (OK, but we suspect many home bakers would give their eyeteeth to make loaves that look like hers.) Jensen herself learned by apprenticing at several well-known artisan bakeries, including Red Hen Baking in Middlesex, Vermont, and Farm and Sparrow in North Carolina.

The imaginative recipes are each ranked according to a baker’s skill level, and include loaves such as Trail Mix Bread, Grits Bread, Apple-Oat-Rye and Chocolate Beer Bread. The book ends with a chapter on delicious-sounding things (Cheddar and Black Pepper Biscuits, Overnight Waffles, Roasted Veggie Galette) to make with sourdough discard, which is the excess bakers end up with each time they feed their starter.


All of these are scrumptious, no doubt. But that’s not the point, or not the whole point, for Jensen. “What I love so much about baked goods,” she said, “is that they’re ephemeral. You get to eat them and share them. It’s about that moment.”

Baker Tara Jensen, and her mobile wood-fired oven, at a summer bread and pizza-baking workshop in Virginia. Photo by Kersten Vasey


Jensen was an artistic child, a voracious reader (she still is), a teen who was eager to go to college “to learn how to think.” She grew up, one of three children, in a ranch house on a dirt road not far from Sebago Lake State Park. Her mother was an avid baker.

“We always had something warm and delicious coming out of the oven after school,” Jensen said.

But while she remembers apple pie for breakfast, and “incredible” cakes, cookies and brownies, she can’t recall the bread she grew up eating. She thinks it was probably from the supermarket, though come to think of it, there was that bread machine.

“Both my parents were working. And as a parent now, I totally empathize.” She pauses, and even through the telephone, you can almost hear the wheels turning. “I wonder – can you put some sourdough in there?” she asks about the machine. The question hangs in the air.


Jensen’s daughter, Violet Rye, was born just one month after the pandemic shut down much of the United States. Rye after the grain. “Rye is known for being tenacious. Rye is very hearty,” Jensen explained. “We wanted to give her a little fighting spirit for this crazy world she’s entering.”

Being a parent has changed her baking for the better, Jensen said.

“It is obvious to me that for the next few years of my life, my daughter will always come first, so in that regard, my baking is squeezed into all the other moments,” she wrote in an email. “In many ways this has made my bread better because it’s often forgotten about, which means it rises nicely on its own prerogative and turned me into a more fluid and agile baker. I cling to the particulars less and problem-solve more easily.”

In the past, Jensen said, she liked to push the baking envelop. Now she’s interested in “simple and delicious comfort foods” for home, for her daughter’s lunch box, for Sunday mornings with the family.

The very month that “Flour Power” was published, Jensen and her husband, who works in the field of community economic development, moved to a new home they’d built on his family’s 10-acre farm. She’s already put in a seed order for the wheat and rye she plans to grow there. She’s grown and ground her own grains in the past and in “Flour Power” compares freshly ground grains to freshly ground pepper and coffee beans.

One day, she hopes to offer workshops and pizza nights at the farm. She’d like her students to see grains growing in the field just steps from where they bake. Jensen cherishes her Maine childhood and wishes she could find a way to bottle up a Maine summer. She speaks with enthusiasm of the state’s thriving baking scene, singling out Tandem in Portland, Tinder Hearth in Brooksville, Maine Grains and Maine Wood Heat, which builds wood-fired ovens in Skowhegan. But she married a Southerner with deep roots, and she doesn’t expect to return here to live.


Maybe, though, while you can take the Mainer out of Maine, you can’t take Maine out of the Mainer.

Hanney was reflecting on Jensen’s impact on other professional bread bakers. She inspired them, Hanney said. At Smoke Signals, Jensen did everything herself. She chopped the wood and built the fires to run the oven. Her hands touched every loaf from flour to finish. “I know a lot of professional bakers who took a workshop of hers,” Hanney said, “and thought, ‘I can do this, I can start my own business.’

“She’s really down-to-earth. She embodies, even though she hasn’t lived in Maine for a long time, she embodies a Maine no-frills, can-do, really empowering attitude.”

Lunch Box Loaf from Tara Jensen’s Flour Power. Reprinted from Flour Power” Copyright © 2022 by Tara Jensen. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Johnny Autry and Charlotte Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.

Lunch Box Loaf

From “Flour Power: The Practice and Pursuit of Baking Sourdough Bread” by Tara Jensen. You’ll need sourdough starter, scale, digital thermometer and banneton to make this bread. Its level is listed in the book as “beginner.”

354 g bread flour
89 g whole wheat flour
310 g water
89 g sourdough starter
9 g salt


Refresh your sourdough starter the night before or up to 10 hours prior to mixing the dough.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the bread flour, whole wheat flour, water, starter, and salt by hand until there are no patches of dry flour. You can squeeze the dough through your hands, like extruding pasta between your fingers! The dough will be sticky, gluey, and shaggy.

Pop a digital thermometer into the dough to take its temperature — it should be between 75 and 81 degrees F. (If the dough is above 81 degrees F, stick it in a cool spot — not the refrigerator — until it cools to between 75 and 78 degrees F. If it is cooler than 75 degrees F, place it in a warm location until it reaches between 75 and 78 degrees F.) Cover the bowl with a dinner plate or sheet pan for a lid and let rest for 1 hour.

Once the dough is relaxed, you will give it a series of three folds spaced 1 hour apart. To fold, smear a little water onto your work surface. Using a dough scraper, gather teh dough together and, with a quick motion, scoop the dough up with the dough scraper and flip it onto the wet table. Using your hands, lift the dough off the table, then slap the bottom half down, so that it sticks a little. Gently leaning back, stretch the dough and then quickly lean forward, tossing the dough still in your hands over the portion stuck to the table. Repeat three to four times. The dough will become smooth and pull itself into a ball.

Using the dough scraper, return the dough to its container, smooth-side up, cover with the plate or sheet pan and let rest for 1 hour. Repeat the process two more times, with 1 hour between folding sessions.

Lightly dust your table with flour. Using a dough scraper, gather the dough together in the bowl and, with a quick motion, scoop the dough up with the dough scraper and flip it onto the table. Pat into a rectangle with a short side facing you. Bring the edge of the dough closest to you to the top (the edge farthest from you), leaving a 1-inch lip. Take the sides of the dough, gently stretch each outward a few inches, then quickly cross them over each other so they are on top of each other, like swaddling a baby. Next, stretch the edge of the dough closest to you up to the top, flush with the top edge. Gently press to create a seam.


Use your hands or a bench knife to gently drag the loaf on the table to create surface tension. You will see it it tighten and become smooth as you drag. Make sure the top stays the top and the dough doesn’t roll over as you go. The dough will curl into itself, so the seam is now on the bottom and the top is smooth and roundish.

Sprinkle the dough with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest 30 minutes.

Lightly dust a cloth-lined 9-inch oval banneton with flour and set aside. Lightly dust the table with flour. Use a bench knife to flip over the pre-shape so the top is now the bottom. Brin the bottom of the dough to meet the top edge, leaving a 1-inch lip at the top. Gently stretch the sides outward a few inches, then quickly cross them over the middle of the dough like swaddling a baby. You’re now looking at an envelope shape. Stretch the bottom of the dough up to meet the top of the envelope and press down to seal. The dough will now be a cylinder on its side with a seam facing away from you. Roll the seam underneath and seal the left and right ends using the edge of your palm. With the bench knife, flip it seam-side up, into the banneton.

Loosely cover the banneton with a kitchen towel and proof the dought in a draft-free spot and at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. When fully proofed, the loaf will appear to have doubled in size, feel full of air and pass the poke test.

Preheat the oven and a Dutch oven (Jensen uses a combo cooker) to 500 degrees F.

Wearing oven mitts, remove the Dutch oven from the oven (it’s hot!) and quickly toss the dough seam-side down into the Dutch oven. Use a lame (or sharp knife), with the blade at at 35-degree angle, to score in one long stroke, running lengthwise along the top of the bread.

Immediately cover the Dutch oven with the lid and put it back into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the lid (be careful of hot steam) and reduce the oven temperature to 475 degrees F. Return the bread to the oven and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the loaf is deeply browned, reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees F, and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Carefully remove the bread from the skillet and cool completely on a wire rack. Store for up to 5 days, cut-side down, in a paper bag tucked inside a cloth bag.

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