2020: The Year of the Loaf

“All sorrows are less with bread.”-Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Before the pandemic, it was easy to take staple grocery items, such as sliced bread, for granted. As of this writing, the common loaf has become a rarity in many grocery stores across the U.S.

This shortage of bread has influenced many to look online for guidance on how to birth their first yeasted bread at home. It didn't take long for yeast and flour to join the list of largely unavailable grocery items.

Bakeries began to prioritize making bread over their usual pastry fare. I experienced this first hand at my place of work. My coworkers and I baked as many loaves as we could to satisfy the neighborhood demand for comforting carbs.

Despite working late hours, I felt joy knowing that I was contributing my energy to help bring some sense of food normalcy back to the community. Do not underestimate the amount of relief a good slab of bread and butter bring!

Yeast: One of the rarest commodities of 2020. Or is it?

So, you finally found a bag of flour, but now you need yeast, right? Observing people scrambling to find yeast on the grocery store shelves could lead one to believe that yeast can only be obtained as a packaged product. But in fact, yeast is present all around us!

 Yeast is simply bacteria that loves sugar. It feeds and grows when it comes in contact with a form of sugar (e.g. honey, cane sugar, or the maltose present in flour). As it ferments and develops, it produces carbon dioxide, which is responsible for the rise of bread and all those beautiful craters in the crumb. Your role is simply to help cultivate the conditions in which yeast naturally thrives. In exchange for food (i.e. flour), the yeast gives you food!

All you have to do is combine flour and water and let it sit on your kitchen counter with a loose-fitted lid (or cotton fabric) and the naturally occurring yeast from your very own kitchen will begin to feed on the maltose of your flour mixture and grow strong enough to leaven your loaves of bread at home.

Many home bakers and cooks have already begun to cultivate their own yeast for bread—I find it so exciting! Just imagine all the starters (wild yeast) that are sitting on counters in homes across the U.S. with cute and creative names! (Here's a great guide to help you begin from King Arthur Flour.)

Fun fact! Sourdough starter/bread was popularized by gold-miners in San Fransisco, CA in the mid-19th century. They relied on this bacteria to make bread to sustain them as they worked difficult hours.

Love: A vital ingredient

I painted this as my interpretation of a homemade loaf of bread. I combined my love for sourdough with the idea that one reaps what one sows. The open crumb is colored blue and yellow to represent the energy that is put into anything one does (making bread in this case). The energy that one puts into any endeavor directly affects the quality of the end result.

So, for example, making bread begins with an intention (such as a craving for toast), which then sprouts and leads to action if it is compelling enough (toast WITH butter!).

When you bring a good attitude to the table, that state of mind will embroider into what you create. Imagine the growing pockets of fermentation to be care and love, helping the bread ballon as it prepares for the oven. 

It's easy to feel the love someone has for you when you taste the food they make for you.

I love to browse online to see some of the homemade loaves of bread that are currently coming out of the oven and into the world. I am happy that people are empowering themselves by making their own bread. More people are beginning to taste the joys of making something with their own hands.

I hope many who have recently picked up bread-making continue practicing beyond these difficult times. I hope that we all keep allowing ourselves to get curious about how things are made. Let's keep rolling up our sleeves, calling upon confidence, and reminding ourselves, "Hey, maybe this won't be so bad" before we embark on each new kitchen exploration. More often than not, we'll be astounded by the results of our efforts.

To bake bread is to decorate your home with the aroma of love and wonder.

Just keep baking.


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