An Interview with Me and the Top Ten Reasons to Bake Your Own Bread

Thursday March 3, 2016

There are interviews and there are interviews. I do a lot of print and radio spots and it is one of the perks of a most often solitary job of testing recipes then writing them down, which can take hours per recipe. Interviews give me the chance to get out into the community and interact; to chatter with like minded foodies about what I love. I get really inspired when an interviewer has unique and well thought out questions that make me think and dig deep into my wellspring of knowledge. Here is an interview I did on baking bread and its renaissance in the home kitchen.

Interviewer: What are your observations about the growing recession trend of baking your own bread

Beth: We experienced a real back to the kitchen movement, first since 9/11, but now it is even more evident with the economic recession. People are pulling out their mothers and grandmothers old recipes and giving it a whirl. I love to see people making their own pickles, yogurt, experimenting with new vegetables. Recession means re evaluating where you spend your money. Since we all have to eat every day, checking the food budget and examining how you eat is a must. Less going to the restaurants and fast food places. Consider as a first step to not eat more than one meal in a restaurant per day.  Have no less than 2 meals be prepared at home, pack your own lunch with a sandwich or leftovers. Homemade bread, burger buns, sandwich bread, breadfast rolls, and stuffings are very economical food items to make at home, often with the same dough!

Have you noticed that more women are getting into baking their own loaves?

There are always more women, AND MEN, getting into bread baking. This is not a gender specific culinary skill. Men are attracted to it next to grilling. It has some scientific edge to it. But I always have seen a steady stream of people coming to bread baking if they like to cook for themselves. The biggest jump since the hippie back-to-the-earth movement with the over sized ceramic mixing bowl in the 60s and 70s is the bread machine. It streamlines the method and makes bread baking available to people who are afraid of yeast and working with a live food. With the recession coupled with the epidemic of food allergies, yes there is a new spike in people baking their own bread from scratch. You can bake simple loaf breads for sandwiches or a glorious country bread with the same amount of effort. It is a very rewarding task that can become an addictive skill since the bread machine is fun.

What do you think of the online forums for amateur bakers and the sense of community they foster?

I love the forums. Bread bakers are upbeat and positive in nature and love to share their successes and failures. Recipes fly like a flock of birds around the country, just the way they should. Bread bakers are generous souls. Bread bakers are like quilters. It is an old and time honored part of our culinary history as humans to talk about baking bread, give tips, and exchange recipes. It makes community naturally by the communex networking, and it is gentle and positive in nature. It is about sharing. New bakers should consider joining a forum at least for a while to read what is going on in the wider bread baking community. There are forums devoted to baking recipes and sharing on a certain day per week or baking from front to back of a favorite book. Even I get some new tips now and then! And we are crazy collecting all those recipes to make in the future.

Have women contacted you to tell you how easy they’ve found it to bake their own bread, when at first they steered clear because they thought it would be time-consuming or difficult?

There is always a learning curve when starting to cook a new dish, working with a new piece of kitchen equipment, or working with new ingredients. Just get a new wall oven and find out how true that is. Bread has rules. It has always had a reputation for being a bit daunting. While working in the restaurant biz, I knew many chefs who could not bake. It is not like making a soup where you can toss everything into the pot. You have to pay attention and do the techniques in a proscribed sequential manner. Like you cannot knead before you mix the ingredients. So there is some paying attention to the details. There are a lot of questions at this point for a new

the late marion cunningham in her home kitchen

baker–especially with the kneading and how a dough should feel. I get emails all the time asking about this. Even after baking for 40 years, if I have not baked a yeast bread in a few years, which can easily happen if I am working on another project, I will make a mistake or two that first loaf even though I have made tens of thousands of loaves. I remember going to visit renowned home baker and food writer Marion Cunningham in her home in Walnut Creek. I was baking every day while I was out of work in Santa Cruz. I loaded my car trunk full of my different breads for her to taste and give me her input. She was making sourdough bread to go with our soup for lunch. The loaf was a flop. Flat as a pancake and inedible like a stone. I was so inspired! She said she had used the starter the day before and it turned out perfect. Sourdough is the most difficult bread to make since it is wildly unpredictable. With all the short starters, 1 to 4 hours, you can make bread that tastes as good or better without the stress of the loaf not working. But sourdough has its mystery and invites a baker to try to master it. You don’t want to refrigerate a starter. Bakeries use their starters every day so it stays good and active.

Mexican food writer Diana Kennedy once wrote that you can’t make a perfect tasting meal every day. When the experts say this and they make dishes that don’t taste so good, I am inspired to keep cooking and baking since I am not the only one with facing the same problems alone in the kitchen. Baking bread is like a new experience each time you make it. Don’t give up. Write in the borders of your cookbook to remember little details. If one recipe doesn’t work, try another. Don’t take it personal. Keep at it.

Also, we thought it would be wonderful if you could provide your Top 10 (or Top 8 or Top 5) reasons to bake your own bread…

  1. The first reason to bake your own bread is that it is a fresh product (unless you buy from a bakery, bread can sit on a market shelf for up to a week) made by hand with love. Machine made, mass produced bread cannot touch that flavor, texture, and energy expended.
  2. You have complete control over the ingredients. You wont have any of the now-acknowledged toxic preservatives, such as BHA and BHT. Fresh flour, less than 6 months from purchase, and pure water are essential. Keep your whole wheat and whole grain flours, and cornmeal in the refrigerator or freezer for they go rancid faster than unbleached all purpose flour, which keeps in a cool cupboard for 1 even 2 years. Look for non GMO flours and grains.
  3. You can address any food allergies, from no dairy and eggs, to no gluten, low carb, and be sure of what you are eating. There are now a number of commercial gluten free flour mixtures to use in baking bread in case you dont want to mix your own. Many bakers use flour from Italy to avoid gluten and GMO issues with American and Canadian flours.
  4. Fresh whole food, unadulterated ingredients means optimum nutrition.
  5. Whatever method you use to bake bread, by hand, in a stand mixer, in a food processor, or in a bread machine, use a method that you ENJOY. I used to only make bread by hand since it was so satisfying to the senses. In one of my classes, a student said: “I have crippling arthritis; are you telling me I cant make bread?” I stopped and realized any technique that works for an individual is the correct way. She was using the food processor at the time. For disabilities, nothing can beat the bread machine. I am addicted to my bread machine and would never be without one. It is awesome for making pizza dough. You get to form it and bake it off in your home oven.
  6. Homemade bread along with muffins, quick bread, and coffee cakes, are really a lot more inexpensive than store bought these days. Even buying the best flour or dried fruit, it is pennies spent compared with dollars.
  7. You can bake bread if you are a first time baker, an amateur, a home baker, a professional cook, or experienced baker and cook. There is no limitation according to your ability. Bread baking stands alone in the culinary encyclopedia of skills.
  8. If you use the bread machine, have a good recipe that is clearly written and concise. Then have all the ingredients close at hand, instead of pushed way back in a cupboard where you have to take the time to dig around for them. With a bit of organization, by the second or third time using the machine, bread making is as fast as can be.
  9. Don’t stress, enjoy the baking process from gathering the ingredients to pulling the loaf out of the oven.
  10. And oh, not to forget, it smells so aromatic and comforting as it is baking, as well as tasting ever so good. There is nothing like your own handiwork fresh from the oven.


Grissini (Italian Breadsticks)

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