Sunday, January 22, 2012


I have always believed bread to be a fundamental component of human existence, kind of like gravity…and beer. Some years ago, in the course of my foodie-geek reading, I discovered that anthropology bears out this concept: Early human culture developed along with yeast cultures, as our formerly nomad-hunter-gatherer ancestors transitioned toward settling in one spot long enough for those spores to ferment, in order to produce bread…and beer.*

Baking bread is also a wonderfully mellow, good-for-the-soul experience. Although it does take time to let the dough rise, not much of that time is spent working. And what work you do feels therapeutic, or possibly even spiritual: The hippie in me believes that all that kneading transmits positive prana into the dough through your hands, so that the eater receives the good energy you put into it.

There are a lot of complicated bread recipes out there, but there are plenty of simple ones out there as well, and I suggest starting with those and working your way up to more ambitious projects.

The recipe I made recently (results pictured above) was from this old-school book I had called The Cook Book of Breads (pictured at left—though this is actually different from the cover on my edition) that I must have purchased for $1 at a stoop sale or some such. Imagine my surprise, while looking it up to find a photo for this blog entry, to find that used copies fetch $75 and up on Amazon. Um, too bad I broke the binding and got a page greasy…D’OH!

The recipe I made was a simple white sandwich bread, except I swapped in 1/2 cup whole wheat flour to add a little flavor. (While baking is more of an exact science than cooking, it doesn’t mean there’s no room for experimentation—in fact, experimentation is kind of the point of science, duh. If you’re testing out variations to a bread recipe, I would just suggest being cautious and making one incremental change every time you make the recipe; don’t drastically alter a measurement or swap out three different ingredients on your first foray.) The bread—one regular-size loaf and three small ones—came out great, and the method was about as easy-peasy as you could ask from a bread recipe.

* I really wish I could remember for sure what food history book I read this in—both because I recall loving it and would totally recommend it, and because common journalistic decency would require me to credit my source. It may have been A History of the World in 6 Glasses, which I loved and would totally recommend whether or not it's the source of this particular trivia tidbit. If you recall reading this factoid in another book, please tell me in the comments…maybe that’s the one I read.

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