Bread at Home
Anyone can make fantastic bread at home. Anyone!
Many home cooks still are intimidated by the mysterious process of turning wheat and water into a sustaining loaf of bread. And these days, with so many recipes and teaching videos online, we are faced with daunting questions: Which bread to make? And which technique is best?
We are the beneficiaries of advances in both knowledge and technology, to the point that we can now choose to make bread the old-fashioned way for the enjoyment of it or we can find new ideas that make the process faster and easier, but no less rewarding—we can even have a machine do it all for us.
The good news is that bread is versatile and forgiving, so nearly any recipe can bring excellent results.
When I moved back to Michigan in 2012, I had the honor of working for a summer at Blu, a renowned restaurant in Glen Arbor. I would go into the kitchen in the morning and get the bread dough ready. Some days Chef Randy Chamberlain would want baguettes, and some days he would prefer rolls. He showed me a technique for rolling the dough on the counter in such a way as to perfectly round it, intuiting when each piece was formed “just so.” I would set the bread to rise and then go attend to other duties.
In the afternoon the trays full of puffy little mounds of dough would go into the oven, and soon the olfactory bliss that is the smell of baking bread would permeate the entire building. It was such a small task in the restaurant’s daily routine and yet utterly satisfying to perform.
Because I adore the alchemy of baking and could happily exist solely on toast—my favorite food in the fall and winter months—making my own bread has become something of a much-needed ritual for me. I have honed my weekly recipes down to these two stalwart loaves, easy to make in the time I have with my current schedule.
I also love a good quick biscuit recipe, for when you want a little something to go with your hearty soup, but don’t have much time. My biscuit recipe is just like many others, and so it is in the practice of baking these that one comes to an understanding of the dough and how it wants to be cut out to make perfectly risen biscuits every time. Repetition develops a good baker’s intuition—an “ear in your hand” to hear what the dough is saying to you—and this helps you to know exactly how to form each round.