The first lesson I learned during this pandemic is that not all flour is created equal and then I asked myself how on earth did I ever get so many different kinds of flour into my pantry?
I’ve got the flour hoarding vibes happening. I get anxiety onset when I see empty shelves in the baking aisles just as I did when I was desperately searching for hand sanitizer.
Like so many of us, shuttered into our pandemic lifestyles, I have pushed all my baking bread limits. Not “bread maker machine in your kitchen” kind of bread (and that’s no slam on those who have bread makers, I’m just not one of them) but rather the kind I can make with my own two hands. It feels pretty darned good when you make something that we actually want to eat and it really checks all the boxes if it tastes good.
My social media streams are constantly filled with pictures of bread from skillets to InstaPots. There was no shortage of flops and I have to say people were pretty good sports about sharing their kitchen fiascos. It ain’t all winner, winner moments.
The second lesson I learned was that baking, for me, is in large part about science and, as we all learned through the school of hard knocks, following the science makes good sense. If you haven’t already learned, here’s a few common sense things you need to know about baking:
- It’s time to toss that 3-year old container of baking powder. While you are doing that you might also want to check the best before dates on those little packages of Quick Yeast or the jars of yeast in your fridge. These are active ingredients or what I refer to as accelerants in recipes. Like anything, they can get stale and their efficacy wanes. So, when you wonder why you just didn’t get that rise on your loaf of bread and it looks nothing like the photos, that’s why. Oh, and by the way, baking powder and baking soda are nothing alike. You have been warned.
- To knead or not to knead. Look, let’s just be honest. A big part of baking bread involves time and patience, or in other words it’s often in the proof. Proofing is about fermentation. Even no-knead bread calls for a proofing time. Good food takes some time, so if you want to make bread, you’ll need to work on patience. Some of my favourite no-knead bread links includes Gimme Some Oven; The Kitchn; Leite’s Culinaria; and for the really I want it now there is the 17 recipes for bread in an hour (good luck with that).
- I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t hit upon the Sourdough Starter. I’ve seen lots of postings from friends offering up a piece of their sourdough starter, akin to breaking your plants apart in spring. There is just a bottomless pit of information about sourdough starters. A great place to start is this 20:00 minute video from Food52. It’s literally a mini master class on different sourdoughs, because like different kinds of flour, there are a multitude of sourdoughs. It can be all very overwhelming at moments. A few other links to sourdough recipes that I’ve tapped have included: Allrecipes Sourdough recipe; Alexandra’s Kitchen; and The Top 50 Sourdough Recipes.
The third lesson is to thoroughly inventory your pantry. Make sure containers are securely sealed. Keeping things air tight and dry is an important factor in quality and food safety around baking. In my previous post The Walking Fed I talked about the fridge, and bringing older products to the front, that rule should still apply in your dry goods pantry.
Lastly, if all else fails, just hit up your nearest local bakery. I’m sure they’d appreciate the business and you can just turn off the oven.