Last week a customer walked in. I was busy preparing some cracker samples and he stood at the counter, eyes searching for a menu. I know what this usually means. "What do you have for fresh bread today?" he asks.
"No bread today. Only on Fridays. I make sourdough crackers here," I explain and since I have removed all references to bread and replaced them with crackers inside and out to avoid such confusion I ask, "Just out of curiosity, what makes you ask about bread?"
"Oh, I don't know. I didn't even look I guess," he admits. "I see now: crackers, crackers, and crackers. OK, I'll probably be back on Friday."
"Were you hoping for something in particular?" I ask to gauge his expectations.
"Well, I grew up in New Orleans, so... I love hot bread slathered in butter like my Nana used make," he says becoming all dreamy.
I go on a bit about how everyone loves fresh hot bread but no one can manage getting to the bakery on a regular schedule to actually get it when it comes out of the oven. This is the challenge of a modern bakery with modern customers. I used to imagine I could put out a flag or maybe a tweet as the bread emerged and everyone would come running. In reality, I am lucky to have people like my photos as soon as I post them, but running to the bakery is not something that happens.
Now, I am not going to deny the pleasure of hot bread with butter, but I am of the opinion that truly great bread takes some time to develop flavor, and too much butter masks the complexities, but that is story for another time. As much as I am here to give the people what they want, I believe in the evolution of bread into a form with a long shelf-life and infinite possibilities (you guessed it. I am talking about Naturally Fermented Craft Beer Grain Crackers!) So, the point I want to make is: if you want hot bread from the oven slathered in butter, you can have it!
I mean really, you CAN have it, every day if you like, and it doesn't have to take much time, just a bit of planning. So let's stop pretending that this is an impossible dream. In fact, it is what set me on the path to become a bakery owner. You can stop at the part where you slather on the butter!
So, are you ready? This is adopted from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Everyday and is the very simple foundation to every bread I make today. You are not going to believe how easy this is:
5 1/3 cups flour (I recommend King Arthur Bread Flour)
2 1/4 cups water, lukewarm 95°F
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dry instant yeast
Mix it all in a bowl. It will start out sticky and wet. Be patient, as the flour absorbs the water it will begin to come together. You will make a mess the first time. This is normal. You will get the hang of it.
You are NOT going to spend twenty minute breaking your back kneading the dough like your grandmother, you are simply going to stretch and fold a couple of times (here is a video of Peter Reinhart showing you how.)
Now, you will cover the dough and put it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days! That's right. You can even divide it up so you can make a load each day of the week if you like.
Preheat your oven to 550°F. Remove the dough about 90 minutes before baking. Shape it into rolls or loaves or even a pizza crust! It will bake for about twenty minutes and then emerge from the oven ready for your butter or whatever else you want to slather on.
Of course this will get better with practice, but unlike learning to play the accordion or tap dancing, all of the practice will result in something delicious and enjoyable!
I don't think you will do it though. I am sure you have a long list of things you wish you could make time to learn. My point is that the first step can be made in the time it took you to think about all those things you wish you could do. The answer is, just do one of them and start enjoying the results.
I know you are thinking I must be crazy to tell everyone to go make your own bread when I am a bakery owner. The truth is, I want to encourage everyone to eat better, eat more adventurously, stop feeling powerless to feed yourself. I want you to plan great meals, and simple nourishing meals, and I will provide bread and crackers to be the foundation, but first you need to have the confidence and plan ahead just a little.
So stop eating out every night or waiting for a box to come in the mail to tell you what to prepare. You can do this, and I can help! Let's eat better!