Miami alumna provides recipe to try for the holiday season

By Jesús F. Jiménez, assistant director of editorial services

Miami University has a wide range of alumni working in the food industry. As we near the holiday season, we are highlighting a few of those alumni and asking them to share their favorite holiday dishes so that you can make them at home.

Sarah with her two nieces
Sarah Black ’76 (center) was inspired to write a book after teaching her nieces Celia (left) and McKenna (right) to make bread during the holidays.

Celia Black was only about 5 or 6 years old when she first remembers her aunt, Sarah Black ’76, teaching her how to make bread during the holidays.

Every year, Sarah would bring over a different type of bread, and Celia and her older sister, McKenna, would play around with the dough.

Those interactions with her nieces would serve as the inspiration to Sarah publishing her book, “One Dough, Ten Breads: Making Great Bread by Hand.”

“I remember that whenever we were going to visit her or going to my grandma’s, that’s what we would be doing was making bread together,” said Celia, a sophomore kinesiology major at Miami.

Before her book, Sarah spent time as a consultant, and most recently, she taught classes for Columbus State Community College.

As we head into the holiday season, Sarah looks back on her career while offering one of her signature recipes, her milk bread dough, which she makes in the shape of a Christmas tree.

“What I love about breadmaking is that it pulls my mind together and makes me forget everything else,” Sarah said. “You concentrate on what you’re doing and it’s the kind of concentration that’s pleasant and comforting.”

‘ … That opened up a whole new world … ’

Sarah’s family has a history at Miami. Her parents, William J. ’52 and Ann Black ’52, met at Miami. Sarah majored in art at Miami and took an unconventional route to a breadmaking career.

It was during her senior year at Miami that she started seeing food in a different way.

“My father liked traveling to Chicago, and during my senior year at Miami, we visited several great restaurants and that was a good and unique experience,” Sarah said. “We ate at two very sophisticated French restaurants, The Bakery and Le Perroquet, and they both opened a whole new world to me.”

Upon graduating, Sarah had her own painting studio in Chicago before moving to New York City five years later, and it was there that her career started to shift.

“I moved to NYC to become a painter, but the moment I landed there, I realized I did not have the confidence to do that,” she said.

“I was one of the founding bakers of Tom Cat Bakery, one of the first artisan bakeries in the country, and working 24/7 I learned all about baking bread.”

‘That moment made my life’

While working at a restaurant in New York City, Sarah saw a man walk in who looked familiar. The owner of the restaurant, chef Jonathan Waxman, told her it was Richard Diebenkorn, one of the painters who inspired Sarah to major in art at Miami University.

“There was something I thought I recognized about this man,” Sarah said.

Waxman told Sarah that Diebenkorn had commented on her plates, remarking that the vegetable arrangements reminded him of his paintings.

After leaving Miami, Sarah spent some time as an artist before finding a new passion in breadmaking.

That small interaction with Diebenkorn, Sarah said, gave her the feeling of permission to pursue breadmaking full time.

“That moment made my life,” Sarah said. “I learned to also listen to what the world was telling me.”

‘I thought that might be a good next direction for me’

Sarah began her own wholesale bread business in the 1990s, called Companio Breads, then sold her business to Tom Cat 10 years later and spent the next 30 years as a consultant, working for Pepperidge Farm, Giant Eagle and Whole Foods, among many others.

About five years ago, she moved back to Columbus, where she helped to open Flowers & Bread in Clintonville, which offers floristry and baking workshops.

Sarah’s cooking class.

“My classes at Flowers and Bread evolved into a series,” Sarah said. “You’d sign up for a series of six classes that took you through the entire breadmaking process.

“It was such a fun and unique experience and my students loved the classes. It turned into a smart direction for me.”

‘My goal is to make it easy and fun’

The global COVID-19 pandemic put Sarah’s classes on hold, but her passion for education continues – and making bread appears to be growing for the rest of the world, she said.

“I think that breadmaking brought a lot of pleasure and comfort to many people at the start of the pandemic because we didn’t know what to do about staying home,” Sarah said.

Sarah is finding new ways to share her passion and is working on developing bread kits which will hit stores in early 2021.

“My goal is to make it easy and fun to make bread and to provide you with everything you need so you can take the time to actually get your hands in the dough and try it,” she said.

Miami Alum Sarah Black's holiday recipe for Milk Bread Dough

Holiday Milk Bread Dough

  • 1.25 lbs. bread flour
  • 8.5 oz. scalded milk
  • 8.5 oz. hot water
  • ½ oz. sugar
  • ½ oz. salt
  • 1.5 oz. unsaturated butter
  • ¼ oz. SAF yeast
  • 2.4 lbs. yield
  • Scald milk, combine with water, sugar and butter.
  • Let mixture cool to lukewarm to the touch (68-70 degrees)
  • Put bread flour in bowl and add SAF instant yeast and salt
  • Add above liquid little by little, mix until all liquid is absorbed
  • Let dough rest for 15-20 minutes, then fold and put in oiled bowl to ferment
  • Let dough rise for approximately 1 hour (then refrigerate overnight).
  • Shape into rolls, 1.5-2 oz each
  • Place in oiled aluminum tins
  • Cover with oiled plastic wrap
  • Let proof for 45 minutes to 1 hour
Prepare to Bake
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees with small pan in bottom for steam
  • Spritz with water, (or use egg wash or melted butter and tap on top of dough with pastry brush)
    • (Optional: sprinkle with herbs and salt)
  • Place in oven and create steam, bake for 25-30 minutes
  • Let cool completely before cutting into them, approximately 30-45 minutes

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