The last year I've baked a lot of bread. A lot.
A few years ago I got Artisan Breads Every Day (full disclosure, that's an affiliate link. I don't expect to make much money off of this, but figured I might as well set up an affiliate account. Feel free to search for it yourself, or better yet, order it from a local bookstore!) by Peter Reinhart. I liked it, but mostly baked his lean bread formula. It was startlingly simple, just a few ingredients and time, but what you ended up with was incredible. I baked a few others, but mostly kept saying "I want to bake more bread", and left it there.
At the beginning of 2014 my housemate and I decided to start a bread club with some friends. We picked a bread to start, and the plan was to have me bake the first batch, then hand it off to the next person in line. We could work out the kinks, try variations, etc. What happened was that I baked it two, maybe three weeks in a row and the club fell apart. But I knew I had a problem. Over those three weeks making the same exact formula, I saw the bread change as my understanding expanded. I knew I liked eating bread, but I was coming to the conclusion that I wanted to really GET bread. Over the course of a few months my obsession went from a batch a week to in one long weekend baking I think 8 loaves of bread. I started reading about food science and chemistry, bought way way too many bread books, and started admitting this was an obsession.
But why? Why bread? And in particular, why these lean, artisan breads, that so far have focused mostly on commercial yeast techniques?
It's a fair question, and one I spend a lot of time pondering. At base, I think it's about the simplicity of these breads. Even as I start to understand more of the science behind bread baking, there's something magical to me about taking the simplest of ingredients, all purpose flour, salt, water, and instant active dry yeast, that when you combine them, can take on so many different shapes and flavors.
And I have become obsessed with how important time and temperature are. The formula for two loaves may look identical in terms of weights of ingredients, but the difference between an 80% biga version and a version with no pre-ferment but a long slow bulk rise in the fridge and a long slow proof in the fridge can be astonishing.
Flour, water, salt, yeast, temperature, time. Six ingredients are all you need. And controlling those six as best you can, slight variations, etc. allow for nearly endless variety.
For an added bonus, I wanted to figure out if there was some link to pen and paper, if these two obsessions share anything. In part because I like finding links between things, but I soon realized it stemmed from the fear that this blog is confusing, so I felt some responsibility to tie them together. But really, it's not that I like baking and pens for the same reason or reasons, it's that they are the two things I like most, and more importantly, the two things I want to write about.
So I have given up on trying to make sense of them together, and will just happily continue hastily writing about ink and flour both. Hope you join me.