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Can I Make Bread?

Many people I talk to express an interest in making their own bread. Some may have tried it with little or no success. Others may find it too intimidating to even try.

I still feel like a pretender … a novice who has learned a thing or two, but with a long way to go to being a baker of any standing. But I’ve been baking regularly for eight years. I’ve been on the baker’s path, finding my own way. I can say a few things.

Here is my advice to those who want to bake their own bread: Go the library, or your local bookstore and pick up My Bread by the legendary New York baker, Jim Lahey.

The no-knead leap

He’s the one who made the “No-Knead” recipe famous.

Follow the basic recipe for bread at the beginning of the book, and right away, you’ll have bread that is an order of magnitude better than anything you’ll find at the grocery store.

It takes longer to make one of these loaves than you might hope โ€” almost 20 hours start to finish. But that involves only 20 minutes of hands-on time. The rest of the time, the bread ferments on its own and bakes in the oven on its own.

Pull it out of your dutch oven 1 or casserole pot, and you’ll have a beautiful loaf of great tasting, crusty bread. Your family and friends will think you’re a genius! The loaf will disappear in an instant down the throats of salivating table guests. You can start another one right away.

Suddenly you’re a bread genius

If you’re looking for a positive bread-making experience, no-knead is the way to go. If you follow the instructions carefully, it’s fail-safe! And delicious! Believe me!

The Lahey method, though, uses commercial yeast. It isn’t sourdough, strictly speaking, but the long proofing time allows for some dough fermentation, which accounts for the close-to-sourdough flavour.

My Bread offers other recipes to keep you interested. All use the same method. You can make whole wheat and rye loaves, olive, cheese, and pancetta breads. You can delve into ciabatta and stirato (Italian baguette). Other parts of the book offer suggestions for sandwich fillings and oven pan pizza.

Maybe that will be all you need to satisfy your bread baking itch!

But with all that success, you may begin to hear the siren sound of sourdough calling. Maybe you’ll hear it in your dreams, maybe when you’re mixing the 27th loaf of no-knead whole wheat bread.

“How much better can sourdough taste?” you’ll wonder.

Siren sound of Sourdough: the Tartine Country Loaf

Time to move on to Chad Robertson! Lahey may be legend, Chad is a baker celebrity. Some think he’s a genius, others are not so generous. But he’s carried many aspiring bakers into the sourdough realm, myself included.

Start with Tartine Bread. I’ve mentioned it here before. It contains the legendary 24-page recipe for his Basic Country Bread. Thirty-four pages, if you include the in-depth descriptions of each stage.

Those 34 pages haunted me before I even tried baking a loaf. I dreamed about it, I thought it was too difficult. But I craved the taste of Robertson’s ideal bread:

The loaf would be baked dark, and the substantial, blistered crust would hold some give while containing a voluptuous, wildly open crumb with the sweet character of natural fermentation and a subtle, balanced acidity. The bread would be a joy to eat and would keep well for a week.

Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread, 2010, page 8

I was swept along by this fantasy. It was easy to go along with Robertson. But there were hurdles.

There was the matter of the sourdough starter, the culture of microorganisms โ€” wild yeasts and bacteria present in the flour, air and the baker’s hands โ€” that is used to leaven and flavour the bread. It could take up to a week to get it properly bubbling. It took me several tries.

Where “No-Knead” bread took less than 24 hours to produce a finished loaf, I was well into a week before I could even start mixing dough.

Driven by obsesssion

I read the formula and description at least 30 times before I tried a bake. My first attempt was a great success! The crumb was open and pearl hued. The loaf had big oven spring, though that first crust was not quite “baked dark” enough, in my estimation. A minor imperfection, though. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Subsequent bakes were not so satisfying. And thus began my real learning. Endless reading, note-taking, Facebook and Instagram bread baking feeds, multiple bakes, different methods. I reached out to a prominent bread blogger, Francis Olive 2 the author of Girl Meets Rye and its earlier incarnation, Tartine Bread Experiment. She was similarly captivated by Chad Robertson and Tartine Bread, at least in the beginning.

She helped me on several fronts, but her great achievement was giving me confidence that my baking knowledge and technique was just fine!

The journey is long …

Everyone has their own bread journey. Some may not be as tortured or long-winded as mine.

Many books additional to the ones mentioned here were helpful along the way:

  • Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman – the most substantive and authoritative on baking techniques
  • Tartine No. 3 by Chad Robertson – great exploration of alternative grains, seeds and other breads
  • The Sourdough School by Vanessa Kimbell – different take on sourdough as health health alternative
  • Dough by Richard Bertinet – yeasted breads and great explorations of techniques
  • From the Wood-Fired Oven by Richard Miscovich
  • The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart – collection of different different breads and traditions
  • The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott – profiles of bakers, bakeries and wood-fired ovens.
  • The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson – old school … great section on Desem Bread.
  • The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown – old school … early adopter of pre-fermented doughs.

Driven by an obsession, these were the voices that made me believe I could make bread. There was much dough, many mistakes. And I was also driven by self-criticism, such that many of my triumphs were recognized as flawed successes.

I heard myself saying to some, “The best bread you can eat is a loaf made by yourself.” I encourage you to make your own bread so that you can enjoy not just the flavour, but the fact that you made it yourself.

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab
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Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile] ...

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Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipรค, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it donโ€™t rain too hard!

Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipรค, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it donโ€™t rain too hard! ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 10, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Double-Fermented Oat Bread; BLOG: Resuscitating Mildrith; Reminder: No Bread Next Week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 10, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Double-Fermented Oat Bread; BLOG: Resuscitating Mildrith; Reminder: No Bread Next Week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly.

It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly. ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc

Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 ๐Ÿž - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 ๐Ÿž - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?

This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he? ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 6, 2022 ๐Ÿž - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: Filling the Belly: Words vs. Loaves [ See LinkTree in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 6, 2022 ๐Ÿž - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: Filling the Belly: Words vs. Loaves [ See LinkTree in profile ] ...

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How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If Iโ€™m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know Iโ€™ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and thereโ€™ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking๐Ÿž #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If Iโ€™m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know Iโ€™ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and thereโ€™ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking๐Ÿž #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - June 29, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Rustic Peasant Bread; Blog: A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 29, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Rustic Peasant Bread; Blog: A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 22, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Bakers Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; BLOG: Henry Miller and the Staff of Life โ€” [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 22, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Bakers Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; BLOG: Henry Miller and the Staff of Life โ€” [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15

Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15 ...

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Fun at 4 in the morning โ€ฆ first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

Fun at 4 in the morning โ€ฆ first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
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Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 ๐Ÿž - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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  1. No-knead and many home-baked breads can be baked in these vessels

  2. I visited her in Los Angeles two years ago. While she is still an avid baker, she has become a fashion designer, of rust-dyed aprons and textiles and francisolive handmade, a line of beautiful clothing items based on unique textiles, handmade

1 thought on “Can I Make Bread?

  1. […] in this age of lushly illustrated cookbooks, it looks like something from a different time. The title printed in calligraphic type, the […]

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