When I moved in with my boyfriend, I realized two things.
One: we both loved good food. Two: we were poor. We could easily spend $150 a week on quality meats and cheeses and bread. There is a little Italian bakery two blocks from our apartment that specializes in cannoli and large, round, earthy boules of fresh-baked bread; needless to say, I was hooked.
After a few months of overspending on food that we enjoyed, but sometimes forgot about, my boyfriend and I started to budget everything out. Our goal was to eat for less than $80 a week, which meant eating meat once a week, and not having four different types of goat cheese in the fridge. But I like bread. And so does my boyfriend. There was no way I was going to start eating Wonderbread from the grocery aisle; I like crunchy crusts and large crumbs. But artisan bread is hard to fit into a tight budget.
Thus began my search for edible bread. At first, we would buy the biggest loaf from the bakery and try to make it stretch for the whole week. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Occasionally, the bread would start to grow mould and my gluten-loving heart would break.
One day, I spied a book in my cupboard. It was Ken Forkish’s Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast that I had bought a month before moving. I had only glanced at it cursorily, but was willing to give it a try. After all, I had made oatflake bread with my grandmother—how hard could it be?
My first loaf was a disaster. I’d halved Forkish’s recipe for a Saturday white loaf. (I’m very glad I didn’t do the whole recipe. That would have been a kilo of flour wasted!) But my apartment is cold in the winter (with all the drafts coming from the window with a HOLE in it…) and the bread barely rose. The crust was delicious, but it felt like I was chewing playdough.
The second attempt was a little better. I placed the bowl next to the radiator and the extra heat gave the loaf a little more volume. But the dough hadn’t quite tripled in size. Normally, I am quite good at baking, so I took the second loaf as a sign that bread was not going to be my forte. I cut into it, defeated, ego destroyed by this dense lump of chewiness.
I’ve always been a sore loser, though. The first chapter of Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast is a background into what my boyfriend calls “bread theory.” Because I didn’t know why I had ruined the first two loaves, I wasn’t able to fix them. But Forkish fixed that for me. I learned the relationship between water temperature and yeast growth (hint: the colder the ambient temperature, the warmer your water should be). I also learned that water over 114 degrees Farenheit kills the yeast.
With the first two loaves, I had merely guessed the temperature of the water. I boiled the kettle until it was about 70 or 80 degrees Celsius (far, FAR hotter than it should have been) and killed my yeast. No wonder my bread didn’t rise! The second time, I ran the tap until the water was lukewarm—way too cold for this time of year, and in Canada, to boot. The best investment I made for this project was my little thermometer. It tells me when my water is the right temperature.
My third loaf of bread was perfect. It tasted exactly like the bread from the Italian bakery down the street. It was warm, crisp, and soft all at once. The best part about making your own bread is that it dramatically reduces the costs. Since I work from home, I can start the bread in the morning, give it a few folds while I work, and let it rise through the afternoon. Depending on the price of flour, a quality loaf of bread can cost anywhere from 40 cents to a dollar per loaf.
I found my edible bread right in my own kitchen. If my editing career takes a turn for the worse, I may just have to open my own bakery.