Let’s be clear up front: I really have no credentials, no business writing a blog, much less one that has anything to do with food. I’m not young, hip, witty, artistic, or visionary. I’m not a foodie, a chef, a writer, a critic, or a photographer. I can’t cook, although I sometimes try, but I don’t eat out much either. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the concept of a “trackback.”
Yes, the sad truth is that I possess a solitary qualification: I bake a lot of bread.
That’s all about the bread, of course: perhaps the most universal of foods, a thing virtually synonymous with food itself. Infinitely versatile and varied, everyone likes it, every cuisine includes it, and no meal is complete without it.
But I’m a stone’s throw from San Francisco, and great bread of all kinds is in no short supply here; you don’t have to bake your own to eat very well indeed.
So, as it turns out, it’s equally about the baking.
It’s about a process that engages and satisfies every single one of my senses. Really, how many activities do that and don’t scandalize your mother when you let it slip that you gave some to your husband, your boss, and the guy next door, all in one day?
It’s about nurturing my inner geek; lots of science, and a little math too – what could be better? (No, I’m not kidding.) There’s always something to learn about or experiment with, if you’re the curious or experimenting type.
It’s about knowing that there’s at least one thing my kids like about me. (There used to be more, but then they became teenagers.)
It’s about the amazing professional and home bakers and teachers I’ve met in person, in print, and in this virtual world. You won’t find a more friendly, generous, smart, talented group of people on the planet.
(Sappy analogy ahead; don’t say you weren’t warned.) It’s about something that’s a lot like the rest of my life: I try to control every variable I can think of, and it’s still entirely possible that something I didn’t think of, or can’t completely control, will crop up to produce a completely unexpected result — for better or worse. It keeps things interesting, and me on my toes, and a little humble.
And if I’m being honest, it’s about being able to look at something well-crafted, delicious, just plain necessary, and be proud that I made it. (So I suppose it’s about nurturing my inner narcissist as well.)
I get paid to help people get and stay well. Baking is part of what keeps me well (take that, Dr. Atkins), and happy. Why start a blog about it? A few things:
To create a place to park my thoughts and observations, successes and failures, to clarify and organize them for myself.
To share what I’m learning with other amateur bakers, and to meet and learn from them in return.
To find out why blogging is such a phenomenon.
So thank you for reading!
Steve Benford Jr. says
I enjoyed reading why you bake bread. Truly baking good bread does involve all of your senses. Baking for me is spiritual as well. I do it for many reasons, but I get great satisfaction from baking the whole wheat honey loaves that are used for communion at my church. I take great pride in these loaves and many members have commented to me how they enjoy the bread. I have been told that the unused bread has been taken home at times.
Now that the kids are back in school and summer is winding down it is time to get back into my bread baking. I found your web site looking for information on sourdough starters. Saturday (09/01) I will start on your sourdough starter recipe. I will let you know how things go.
I am looking forward to adding to you blog.
Steve Benford Jr.
Steve, thanks for sharing a little of what baking means to you. If you’re not doing so already, you should participate in the forum at The Fresh Loaf. It’s a great place to share, learn, discuss, and meet lots of like-minded bakers.
Jonathan Kandell says
Nice comments. You’re a great writer. I can relate to the part about how it’s not totally in your control. I like to bake without measuring to bring that out– i eye ball it and each bread turns out a little different.
Jonathan, thanks! Baking without measuring – I haven’t been able to bring myself to do that. You are more adventurous than I am!
Well said! Same with me baking, cooking and eating/sampling is part of what keeps me well and happy.
A long time ago, I was a Nurse Specialist. Interesting that we share that. Mine was with children.
Beautifully written Susan.
Kia Ora Susan!
I love your bread blog – and your recipes – and the reasons why you bake bread. My mother always said: when in doubt, dear, bake bread. So I’ve done a lot of that. Lately though, feeling frustrated at the poky kitchen I have in my London, UK flat – and the bizarre, ancient little over. But… I am teaching myself to make sourdough rye bread because I love it – actually all sourdough breads. I’m a New Zealander and intend to go home at the end of 2009, and will need many things to sustain me in the South Pacific. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get the good hard flours in New Zealand that are available in Europe. So I am going to have to learn to make a decent sourdough with less wonderful rye flour. If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them.
I’ve booked marked your blog – keep going – it’s so great to read what you are doing, and some of the recipes are fabulous. How did I find you – I have just gobbled a couple of tortas de aceite de Ines Rosales from Seville – we can buy then in the supermarkets here and they are my most favourite sweet sin because I have to watch my cholesterol intake. And lo and behold, you have a recipe for these little joys on your blog! thanks
and all the best
Tanna: Many of the finest people I know are nurses.
Paddy: Welcome! I hope to one day visit New Zealand. I can’t give any advice on baking with flours available there, but I’m sure you will find your way because it sounds like you are very determined.
norma johnson says
Hi Susan, Just read your “Why I bake” and wonder if we were twins separated at birth. (In a strange and wonderful way, baking bread with the fervor I do is really sexy!) I’m going to go through your whole blog with interest and excitement. Although it’s frustrating when I try for a standard set by the wonderful artisan bakeries I have visited from coast to coast, that doesn’t keep me from trying. I had a week at SFBI which was great, but I have a fantasy that someday, somewhere, there will be a workshop for Serious Home Bakers who are stuck/blessed with the equipment in our own home kitchen. In the meantime, on to trying your doughnuts and English muffins.
Sue Hansen says
I feel as if I have found a soulmate when it comes to baking bread. Although I learned to bake bread as a child, as a serious baker I’m a beginner (a friend gave me some sourdough starter last year, and I’ve been baking ever since). I lurk on thefreshloaf.com,
and hope some day to bake something worthy of sharing about. Your quote from Michael Pollan is on my business card.
For me there is something almost religious about baking, especially when using locally produced, stone ground grain, baked in a wood fired oven, shared by all the people involved, from the farmers who grew the grain to the bakers.
Gena Lora says
I love your blog and you as well. I feel exactly the same about baking bread that is why I love this site. I can always find intelligent answers to my bread question. Keep up the good work, and yes please post on pre-ferments and the science behind it.
Tzirel Chana says
I also bake a lot of bread, mostly challah but lately other kinds too. I started a sourdough starter using the Joy of Cooking’s recipe. Yes, I know I”m not a purist; it includes yeast. Anyway, my fridge broke yesterday–its fixed now and I had my starter inside of it. Is it still good. Do you have a good easy starter recipe that doesn’t require a lot of attention?
Hello, I love your motivation to bake bread. I love bread too but sadly am now gluten intolerant. I recently read that proper sour dough has such a negligible amount of gluten that it is regarded as gluten free. I thought making my own sour dough bread might be einteresting in pursuing. Although where to start? And is it really gluten free? I will be looking through your blog for inspiration and ideas. Thanks for sharing.
I hear you. What I miss most about my chef/restaurateur days is the smell of the home-made bread that we served our customers. I still make all my own bread and one of the reasons is that good bread – supposing I could buy some around here – is (rightfully) very expensive compared to the home-made stuff.
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Ah, I just found your blog today, by following a trail of breadcrumbs from other blogs and stopping here when I discovered a kindred spirit. I am sure I will enjoy exploring your posts as I find the time over the following days and weeks. When it is too hot to bake here (in SoCal), I read about baking. Or write up those blog posts I meant to write umpteen weeks ago. Or make english muffins because you dont need to turn the oven on. Blessings and happy baking!
I’ve been following your blog for some time now and I really like the diversity of food you’re making. keep it coming.