Phoenix Phoodies: Ben Hershberger's Chocolate Cherry Sourdough Bread

Ben Hershberger, master baker at The Phoenician, has spent 25 years traveling, perfecting his craft, and picking up a trick or two, like his super-secret 200-year-old yeast culture. When he's not enticing diners with exotic and artisinal bread at one of The Phoenician's fancy pants eateries, he's turning out an intoxicating dessert-like bread that has created an army of chocolate bread addict: chocolate cherry sourdough bread. 

Dotted with sour cherries, chocolate chips, and nearly black from three different types of chocolate incorporated in the mix, this loaf has garnered such a cult following that Ben's called day and night, literally, by an anxious and hungry public desperate to ensure there's still a loaf to be had. And at $3, it's an affordable luxury. After a slice, you'll be adding your name to the list of folks around town who can't get enough.

Chow Bella: So where can I buy this legendary chocolate cherry sourdough bread? Rumor has it you make a lot of it.
Ben Hershberger: (Laughter). It's true. We sell it at the Scottsdale farmers market, and at The Phoenician in the Ice Cream Parlor and Ill Terrazzo. My record number of loaves made in a week was 5000. That was a lot of baking! Some people buy 10 to 15 loaves at a time. It freezes really well, so I recommend slicing and freezing it. It stays fresh and you can have it one slice at a time.

CB: Is it your secret recipe? 

BH: I wish I could take credit for it, but I can't. It comes from a German Master Baker I studied with years ago. The cherries come from Cherry Central in Michigan, and the chocolate is a mix of three kinds: Valrhona, Cocoaberry and Callebaut. In a 50 pound batch, there will be 15 pounds of chocolate. Each loaf is one pound so that is a lot of chocolate! 

CB: I heard that you can call ahead, valet your car, and someone will even bring the bread out to you. Is that true? 

BH: You can, but really, you don't even have to valet your car. Pull up close to the curb, and 10 steps away is the Ice Cream Parlor. The bread will be waiting for you, and you can grab some coffee on the way out.

CB: This bread has a fan club!

BH: If I have to tell someone we are out, they get really angry. I have people who will call me at 3:00 am just to make sure I'll have it ready for them. Of course I am happy to talk to people in general when they call, but that's prime baking time. I have to make the bread and have it finished for everyone so they won't be mad. People are adamant about having this bread!

CB: Do you ever get tired of making it?

BH: No, I don't. But I will tell you that it isn't my favorite thing to bake. That's because it's like a dessert. I only use unbleached flour, sea salt, no commercial yeast. It's from a sourdough culture that I've had for 10 years. The mother culture is from Germany and it's over 200 years old!

CB: Is the culture hard to keep alive?

BH: It's like having a pet. It's a living organism. It thrives on routine. I keep it at the same temperature, and I feed it every day. I take a portion from the batch and use it to bake every day. Anything more than that is revealing my secret. (Laughter)