My site in the breadosphere, in case you haven’t noticed already, is a bit different. Buildings, bread and bicycles. Wha? Yes, I know (The Blog & Me explains why). These are things I’m passionate about. Divorce one from the others and I stop being me. Right? So instead, imagine for a moment the possibilities, the creative inspiration that presents if I allow these three loves of mine to coexist, sort of like siblings. Distinctly different but related. Family.
I’m no “breadhead” or “breadaholic” or any other one-dimensional caricature that those who insist on placing folks into boxes conjure up to help them make sense of a complex world. Yes, I love great bread and am serious about the techniques and process of making it but I think I love the culture, story and people of bread more. This, and these same aspects in those other two things.
It’s funny, I don’t remember at what point I got into bread-baking in the first place. I can’t recall at what point the how and why of making my own bread began to matter to me. I do know it spoke to me though. I remember that early on I used a bread machine my wife bought me one Christmas. Later, after a few years, I began using my KitchenAid mixer (oh wow, it has a dough hook) to prep sandwich-style loaves I baked in pans. And now, this year, I’ve gone all in for hand-mixed and formed loaves using sourdough and other pre-ferments.
Over this evolutionary period, I’ve learned there are at least nine reasons I love bread baking. In no particular order…
- Precision – I love that bread baking or baking in general involves precision. This I believe speaks to the same aspect of my personality that led me to become an architect rather than an artist. I’ve always loved math and science with its ratios and measures and interactions between components. I mean the scientific explanation for why bread crust browns the way it does – the Maillard reaction – I love that.
- Pace – I love that good bread takes time and that great bread takes even longer. Sure, you can try to speed up the process but you do so at a cost – flavor. Ultimately, preparation and time tells in the end.
- History – I love that bread baking has history and reflects the contributions of many peoples, places and cultures. And this history is real, not some made up marketing nonsense cleverly designed to separate you from your money. In a way, whenever you make a traditional-style loaf you are experiencing a people’s culture.
- Visual – Really, this should go without saying but a well made handcrafted loaf just looks enticing. The crackly crust with its charred bits, la grigne, the irregular crumb…how could you not want to try it.
- Creativity – I love the creative tension that exists in bread baking. Between process heavy steps or what Peter Reinhart calls the “stages of bread,” and the personality and experience of the bread-baker. While the ingredients are the same, no two bakers will produce the same loaves.
- Uncertainty – Just like I love the precision of bread baking with the recipes and “baker’s math” and so on, I also love that all that is just guidelines. The bread baker still has to bake. You’ve got to adapt to endless variation presented by dryness and the age of your flour, the time of year, temperature, location, etc. You must be fully present, mindful is another way to say it, to bake great bread.
- Craft – I love that bread baking is a learned handcraft that involves history, technique, skill and experience. Great bread is made by real people dedicated to the shared arts and craft of bread baking.
- Imperfection – Look at any handcrafted loaf. Beautiful imperfection. Just like us.
- Aroma – Nothing, nothing, NOTHING smells so good as baking bread. Really, I’m surprised the French haven’t developed an eau de pain yet. On second thought maybe that’s not such a good idea. Might attract too much unwanted attention.
Some of the items on my list will undoubtedly resonate with many of you and others won’t and that is just fine. My point is that this way at least you’ll know where I’m coming from. For me, each of these reasons are not only important but inspiring, the spark that drives me to seek out great bakers and improve my own baking.
So, how’d you get into bread. What inspires you? Let me know. And thanks for reading.