Our daily bread - tips from a newbie breadmaker

So I can now add a few points to my hipster score… I’ve been baking bread!

I was inspired by “Cooked” - a show I discovered on netflix that explores food and the people who cook it. One particular episode looked at bread. Particularly in white bread - a lot of the magic has been lost in the process of making and developing bread dough in an effort to make it efficient, fast and cheap. This has resulted in lots of sacrifices, the two biggest having been in taste and nutrition. With the rise of artisan bread - bakers have made a point of bringing old technique back - one of the most important being the role of yeast in fermenting bread. Fermenting makes a lot of changes to the chemical structure of bread, and some of the byproducts of the fermentation form part of the nutrition we’re (supposed) to get from properly baked bread.

After watching this show and getting a little inspired - I decided to give it a shot. In terms of it’s complexity, bread is actually stupidly easy to make. Yeast aside, there’s only three ingredients in bread: Flour, water and salt. Cool, right? The complexity however comes from the process. If you’re interested in making your own bread, you’ll need these.

A dutch oven: To give that beautiful crust you find on sourdough bread. You can bake your bread on a tray, but conventional ovens usually have hot and cools spots, that can sometimes result in uneven cooking. Besides - the even heat of the area inside the dutch oven makes the crust deeper and crunchier.

A starter: A sourdough starter is comprised of a yeast that’s been fed over several days or weeks. You can begin it with yeast bought from the supermarket, you can begin your own from somebody else’s starter, or you can grow you own.

A recipe: In the beginning, you’ll likely follow it obsessively until you get the hang of the process. I use this one.

Time: The reason breadmaking has been streamlined, is because the original process is slow and laborious. Particularly as you’re waiting for dough to rise, you may spend several hours watching and folding your dough. I’ve had the best success starting on a Friday afternoon and spending the weekend ‘caring’ for the dough, to have on a Sunday.

So after making two batches of dough - what I can say, is that it tastes utterly delicious. Oh, and that sourdough bread is awesome. But there are some definite pros and cons to making your own bread.

The best things about homemade bread:

  • It’s crusty
  • It’s tasty
  • Even failures taste ok
  • You have complete control of the recipe, and what you put into it
  • It feels special - since you’ve cared for it
  • You can use leftover starter yeast in pancakes, waffles and other baking goods

The difficulties:

  • It takes a bit of practice and time to get a starter yeast really active
  • Temperature is not always your friend, and doing bread in winter can take even longer than normal
  • In some of the stages you can’t even leave the bread, you have to fold it every hour or so.
  • If you don’t plan it ahead, rushed bread usually never turns out very well.

Having said all this, I think I’ll continue to make bread myself, but I’m sure it’ll be years before I can make it effortlessly like the people on TV and YouTube!

– Sam