At the turn of the calendar page into 2021, I reflected back on one aspect of the past year that was a positive for me: learning to bake bread. As it happens I was gifted a book considered one of the bibles of breadmaking for Christmas 2019: Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. Thus began my journey deep into the world of baking bread – from basic white to poolish, bigah and sourdough to pizza, hamburger buns, Italian loaves and holiday breads.
My success in baking some beautiful loaves of bread was quickly dashed by the pandemic-induced baking craze that made flour and yeast suddenly in short supply. Fortunately, I was just stocking up my pantry and had bought a 25lb bag of King Arthur flour, a large jar of yeast and smaller bags of whole wheat and bread flour just before the shelves went bare. But it turned out to be kind of cool being part of a “movement” of home bakers. At least it was easy to find recipes, tips and pitfalls on the internet and to learn from others.
How has this new hobby in retirement progressed? Well, I do frequent the baking aisle of the grocery store now, the kitchen has a semi-permanent dusting of flour, my list of essentials grows gadget by baking pan and I now own 5 cast iron dutch ovens. I also frustrate Jackie at times when she needs some counter space while I am mid-loaf in the baking process. But she also has been a big help as “official taster” and with sewing my own design (patent pending?) bread pillow. I gave a few to my baking crew of friends and family.
This hobby also means I get to share some of my loaves with friends and family, who seem rather eager to have me drop by these days. “Did you bring bread?” The grandsons love PopPop’s bread! Just before we all had to stop gathering indoors we hosted a “make your own pizza” party and we learned about pizza dough, peels and pizza stones (sometimes sloppy but always delicious).
Along the way I have baked some really good sourdough, some soft and delicious white breads, pumpkin sourdoughs, chocolate cherry loaves, crusty Italian loaves and crackly pizza doughs. – with just a few “oops” loaves. I made and fed my sourdough starter, though I refuse to name it, and passed some along to friends and family (who may or may not be thrilled about it). I also struggled with what to do with the “toss” — that part of the starter that you remove after feeding to leave you with only about 100g. I simply couldn’t toss it out, so I discovered things like sourdough waffles and sourdough biscuits. My starter remains in the fridge until the day before we bake, and any excess usually becomes a delicious stack of waffles. Yes, I know I added a few extra calories to our diet — but who can resist fresh baked bread?
Discussing my baking wish list with Jason this fall he told me that he had a well-used Kitchen Aid mixer that he would gladly pass along. Wow, really? So another appliance lives in the kitchen “area” now. I added accessories like a mixing blade, wisk, pouring spout and a dough hook – so I am ready to rock! Did I tell you about the flour fail/splash event when I first tried mixing the dry ingredients? Ha! good thing I didn’t have the video for that mess of flour.
I now have a growing group of us who are each baking and sharing pictures and recipes, tips and flops . . . just some good fun in our new era of socially distanced learning and fellowship. So that naturally led to “hey Doug, can you show me how to . . .?” and my video response. Heck, everyone is posting pics and videos of baking these days, so why not?
Listed below is the playlist of my bread baking videos – rather proud of them but I’d like to get better at the process. Yes, Kodi barks in the background sometimes, lights reflect off the counter and some of the shots are a little tight to the action, but believe me, the bread tastes great! Enjoy, and maybe try your hand at a new hobby. At least this has a useful purpose and we get to eat something (as opposed to my glass totem hobby).
Let me know your thoughts.
I am going to try new recipes as I find them and will video what I can (heck, I only have two hands here, and they are usually sticky with flour).
More to come.