Early in the pandemic, one of my newfound projects became making bread from scratch. Our family loves to cook, but baking isn’t a regular part of our repertoire. Nonetheless, with the four of us having breakfasts, lunches and dinners together, fresh bread became a special part of our routine. Prepping the dough the night before and waking up early to get a loaf (or a few rolls) going seemed to set the day in the right direction. The kids would always be welcomed with the warm and sweet scent coming from the oven when they woke, and I’d be thinking about what to pair a slice with to have along with my morning coffee.
In Europe, the idea of getting your daily bread from a café or boulangerie is common, but it’s a tradition that’s much less popular on this side of the ocean. Granted, life is busy, but there is an argument to be made for working this into your routine, at least once in a while.
The Benefits of Fresh Bread
Fresh bread never lasts very long in our household. One loaf will typically get consumed in a single day. That’s probably for the better because it certainly doesn’t have the shelf-life of store-bought bread. There’s a reason for that of course. Store bought bread contains additional preservatives that don’t make it into the simple list for a homemade version of the same thing. Items like sorbic acid, vegetable monoglycerides and sodium stearoyl-2 lactylate help make processes bread last longer, and ensure a consistent product as its mass produced and distributed widely.
Fresh bread can be made with a handful of ingredients. All you need is flour, salt, water, yeast and either sugar or honey to activate the rise process. And you can play with variations. We’ve played with whole wheat and white flour, we’ve added flax, sunflower, sesame and caraway seeds, and we’ve played with various herbs like rosemary and lavender. Whatever the mood, there’s a bread for that.
And given that you have control over what goes into your recipe, you can have greater control over the health benefits of this essential staple.
The Recipe that Changed the Game
If you’re a foodie, you’ve probably heard of the no-knead bread recipe, which made it to the New York Times courtesy of Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street bakery. This recipe has been copied so many times, I won’t re-cast it here, but instead direct you to the source. What I can say, other than if you want to give fresh bread a try, there’s no easier and more foolproof way to do it. Give it a shot, and then play with your own variations as we did.
Closer than You Might Think
You may not believe this, but our family’s love of fresh bread actually changed the way we shop for food altogether. A few months ago, I stumbled into a neighborhood grocery store that I don’t normally visit. It’s a little further away from us than our regular destinations, but I was surprised to find that they bake fresh breads there twice a day! Nowadays we will go there 2-3 times a week and pick up their daily best. Sometimes it’s a fresh baguette, other days it’s sandwich buns. Most of the time it’s a fresh loaf of sliced bread. I don’t bake many loaves from scratch anymore, but we are definitely converted.
Taking Time for Simple Pleasures
Finding a local bakery that I can visit to buy a fresh loaf has taken on a meditative feel for me. Sometimes it’s almost as if I’m pulling a page from a Parisian playbook and living a more rustic and simple life. I can’t visit Europe right now, but perhaps this new ritual is a way of transporting me one step closer. And once you work fresh bread into your life, it’s almost impossible to go back!