You’ve seen one, we’re sure. In every city, in every gentrifying neighbourhood, a sign for fresh bread, baked daily, available for purchase. And as you walk by, Loblaws-bagged generic loaf in tow, you silently wonder what all the fuss is about. How could those loaves — those rock- hard, seed-filled loaves, the ones you can smell all the way down the block — how could they possibly be worth double whatever you paid at the grocery store?
Sure, they’re made with expensive organic flours and heritage yeasts harvested (or possibly stolen) from a little town in Puglia and baked in industry-standard wood-fired ovens. But really, you’re just paying for the fact that someone — someone other than you — got up at three in the morning and started kneading so that you could have artisanal toast at 10. The truth is that people have been baking bread for centuries — almost literally since the beginning of civilization. And it’s not all that hard to do yourself. You just need a few ingredients you might not usually have on hand, and a few special tools. But, as all of us — especially men — are returning to a more authentic lifestyle, it’s a skill you should have. Here’s how to do it.
1. An Oven
Do you have one of those in your house? Does it go all the way up to 475 F? Good. You’re set.
You’ll need a series of them: a plastic container with a lid (or a big bowl with plastic wrap, in a pinch). Also some wicker baskets (or a couple of bowls lined with kitchen towels). Try this one: Banneton Proofing Basket.
3. An Apron
Not strictly necessary, but trust us: if you don’t get flour everywhere, you’re not doing it right.
Try this one: Original Blunt Roll.
4. A Dutch Oven
This is a big cast iron pot with an enamel coating on the inside. You’ll need one that’s about five or six litres. It’s an investment piece, but if you treat it right it will last you your entire life. (Plus, you can make stew in it when you’re not baking.)
Try this one: 6L Dutch Oven, Le Creuset.
5. Measuring Tools
Baking is precise, and you’ve got to do it right. Get yourself some measuring spoons, and maybe even a scale to make sure the quantities are exactly as they should be. That old construction adage holds true here, too: measure twice, bake once.
Try this one: Jennings CJ4000.
Our Baking Virgil
Felix Yau is the owner of the recently opened Fife Bakery in Vancouver, and the man Vancouverites already know as one of the best bakers in town. That’s probably because he spent most of his childhood perfecting his craft; while other kids wasted their allowance on hockey cards or video games, as a child, he’d drop all his money on flour, making loaf after loaf until he got it right. And while you’ll no doubt go through some practice loaves yourself, Yau insists there’s not much to it. “The basic recipe is just flour, water, salt and yeast,” he says. “It just comes down to a little TLC in the process.” Here’s how:
We’ll be honest: your first few attempts might not go so well. We got Felix to offer some troubleshooting help for common problems.