Locally Sprouted in Clearwater
Tucked in a strip mall on Drew Street in Clearwater, between a coin laundry and a work-uniform supplier, there’s a picturesque little bakery. Inside, Marni Atherton and her bakers turn out healthful yet tasty breads made with sprouted flour.
This is 20 Shekels Bread, which Marni started approximately four years ago, taking an unlikely turn into the world of baking from her previous career as a securities trader. It began as a personal project. Marni was looking for a bread that had more protein and nutrition than most commercial breads, but she didn’t enjoy the taste of the “healthy” loaves she could find in stores. Not to be stopped from enjoying one of her favorite foods, she started down the path of making her own Ezekiel bread, a type of bread made with sprouted grains and legumes. Once she was satisfied with the recipe herself, she began sharing with friends, who encouraged her to start baking professionally.
About the Sprout
During normal commercial processing of flour, the wheat seed is stripped of its germ and bran to extend the flour’s shelf life. In contrast, sprouted flour is exactly what it sounds like – wheat seeds that have been allowed to germinate and sprout into what can be considered fledgling plants.
This means that the germ and the bran are both retained, and along with them, the wheat's vitamins, nutrients and fiber, resulting in a flour that your body views more like a vegetable, so it’s easier to digest. It’s also a complex carbohydrate rather than a simple sugar, so you don’t see the same spikes in blood sugar – which can lead to diabetes, weight gain and other ailments – as you do with traditional bread. 20 Shekels' newest baker, Maegan Gaudreaux, boils it down to the basics: “It digests like a plant!”
A Healthy Dose of Delicious
Baked fresh daily, 20 Shekels’ signature product line is composed of five varieties of bread made from organic sprouted flour.
The sprouted flour loaves are sweetened only with a small amount of honey and do not contain any dairy or egg (although some other baked goods and more traditional breads sold at 20 Shekels do) to allow the bread to appeal to a broader range of customers with special dietary needs.
In addition to the pioneering Ezekiel, the bakery’s lineup includes Chocolate Blackberry (“I made that one for me,” Marni says), Muesli, Walnut Pear, and Peasant breads. Each one features unique flavors that complement one another perfectly, displaying Marni’s passion for bread-making. She compares recipes to composing music, with notes playing off other notes. “It’s nice to play around from an artistic standpoint and try different flavors,” she explains.
Based on the health advantages and taste of its breads – which, prior to the winter 2014 opening of the Clearwater retail location, were only available direct to consumers at farmers' markets – 20 Shekels has developed a loyal clientele that ranges from body builders to diabetics to nutritionists.
Marni is pleased with the reception 20 Shekels has received at the new store, and the bakers hope that what has been a recipe for success up to this point continues far into the future. Their trick? Maegan calls it a simple combination of "hard work and magic."
What’s in the Name?
In the Old Testament, the Prophet Ezekiel is instructed to make bread consisting of six key ingredients: wheat, millet, barley, spelt, beans and lentils. Each day, he was to eat a loaf weighing only 20 shekels (a measurement of weight at the time – about half a pound total) as part of a symbolic siege of Jerusalem, representing the limited rations available in a city under siege.
The name “20 Shekels” pays homage to Marni’s earliest attempts at bread-making, as she refined her recipe for Ezekiel bread day after day.
It also serves as a hat-tip to the modern-day Israeli currency – think along the lines of “20-buck bread” – since the loaves offer a more high-end experience compared to the bread you’ll find in the grocery store. As Marni puts it, 20 Shekels “takes bread to a foodie level.” Of course, each loaf of sprouted-wheat bread actually runs closer to $7.
20 Shekels Bread, 1877 Drew Street, Clearwater, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., and at fresh markets throughout the area, 727-279-5415.