I’ve been considering what kind of bread post to post for a long time. For the last year bread has been one of my most serious projects, the only intellectually demanding food project I have been constantly engaged in over that time. Yet readers would not know it. The problem is this: when I start chewing on a food project, from the first day I look for principles, I look to understand the thing that recipes are variations on, and then once I think I have a thing figured out more or less, or at least to a useful level, I often try to put it into pithy little bullet points and publish them here. I have done this with bread—the pith. I have circulated this pith among friends, I have engaged in lengthy hands-off tutorials, and yet, by and large, I’ve been shown up a fraud. The best show of this is what comes from my own kitchen. While I have baked some of the best bread I’ve ever eaten—and not for lack of having eaten widely and well of bread—it’s been a while now since any loaf of mine has come close to that. I get cocky, I think I understand something, and without even being consciously aware of having changed anything, I find that for three weeks I can’t even get my bread to rise properly—takes me three weeks to even figure out what I changed. This has happened, like, five times. So my principles are garbage. Often this is true: I am less enamored of this systematization than I have been, more inclined to take careful notes and view all these things, phenomena, objects, in isolation. Facets, if you will. Recipes, even. A thing is a thing, after all, more than it is an idea.
So, this week I am not going to push bread making on you. For a change. Having really good bread around for the price of flour and fuel has changed the way I eat, has given meaning to the fairly ridiculous term staff of life, even. A really good loaf, you can eat half of it with butter and call it a pretty good dinner—you can eat half a loaf before dinner without even really noticing if you’re not careful. In fact, that may be a passible definition of a good loaf. Most bread sits heavy in my stomach, is suitable for a piece or two as filler. Really good bread is food, is a thing you can live on.
Maybe in another year or two of close study I’ll be nailing it more than once every couple months.