I first made bread in 1994. I bought a bread machine from a friend for $75. I made one loaf, and it came out perfectly. I made a second loaf, and it was about half right, half edible. The third loaf was completely wrong and inedible. I had no idea why.
At the same time, my mother gave me an old hippie cookbook called Laurel’s Kitchen, a vegetarian cookbook published out of Berkeley in the mid-1970s. The vegetarian recipes were awful – way too bland for today’s palate. But the bread recipes were wholesome and excellent. While I was failing with my bread machine, I started attempting bread by hand. It was awesome! I made whole wheat bread, rye bread, and I don’t even remember what else, but it was all so good. I sold my bread machine for $75.
When my oldest daughter was born, I found freedom by carrying her everywhere in a Baby Bjorn. I remember the first time I decided to make challah. I put Sophie in her carrier, and mixed my dough. I remember kneading the dough on the counter, and noticing that the gentle rocking, back and forth from my heels to my toes, had put Sophie to sleep. It was, indeed, entirely soothing to me, too.
And then, I discovered a bread revolution happening around me. Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread method started sweeping through the DIY foodie community, so of course, being somewhat undaunted by the bread process, I tried it. CRUSTY BREAD!! And it was so easy and OUTSTANDINGLY delicious! I joined a bread group on Facebook, and someone recommended Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Yeast Salt. Now this was serious. I read every page and followed the instructions exactly as written. And I was becoming more advanced with every boule I made.
The next big step was attempting sourdough. I’ve failed many attempts at growing things. I used to say that I could grow anything, as long as I could nurse it. But again, I followed Forkish’s instructions, and I made sourdough! I was making bread rise with a precious mix of flour and water!
I noticed that every time I put my hands in dough that any tension, stress, or frustration I had, dissipated. I was calm, focused, content. Making bread requires presence. All the mathematical calculations (it’s a ratio, yo), the weighing, the testing, and then working the dough to where it feels right, feeling how it changes over time…. You breathe into the process. It’s a meditation.
Now, I’m a member of a global community of people who nerd out on milling grains into flour, trying different kinds of breads from all around the world, and who strive to perfect our craft. But bread people are also generous and kind. Someone posts a picture of a crusty boule that pancaked when they put it into the oven. “Does it taste good?” That’s all that matters. Everyone makes a loaf that doesn’t perform the way you expected sometimes. It doesn’t matter. Try again.
I started selling bread to friends less than a year ago. My first week, I took 25 orders. The week before Christmas, I took 73 orders. Every week since I began, I have gotten one to two new customers. People are hungry for fresh bread. People are so happy when they get bread from me. Bread is goodness. Bread is for feeding your body and your spirit. Bread is for feeding your family. Bread is for sharing. Bread is love.
About the Author, Joy Plummer
Joy Plummer has been working in the food industry for seven years as a baker, caterer, and personal chef. A desire to set boundaries on food intake led her to a brief 2-year stint as a vegan, but she decided that she loved food adventures and her zaftig body more. She continues to serve personal chef clients, but bread is her true love. She plans to open a bread-centered restaurant in 2018. Joy lives in the San Francisco metropolitan area with her husband and three kids. Learn more about her on Facebook.