A commonly held belief amongst baker/homemaker/mom-type people is this: there is nothing better than homemade bread. Dear Reader, these people are correct.
I’ve wanted to make bread for a long time. Growing up, my grandma had a breadmaker which she used on pretty rare occasion, so my brain took that mixed with the fact that to make bread you need this living ingredient called yeast and decided that making bread is incredibly difficult–so difficult that one needs a machine that’s sole task is to make bread–and I just never attempted it. Also I knew it was time-consuming and I think we’ve established here already that as a millenial I need instant gratification.
But all of that was super dumb of me because, like, I have the entire internet and can learn to do just about anything while sitting on the couch in my underwear, and if I’d taken two seconds to watch a video of people making bread I would have realized long ago that this shit is easy AND yields amazing results. I can say with certainty that homemade bread, unlike Pacific Rim and becoming an adult, does in fact live up to the hype.
So I watched about twenty videos in which everyone did things just slightly differently, and because I have a very weird personality where I can’t just do the easiest version of something because I assume that’s too easy so it must be cutting corners, I picked out a how-to that seemed just difficult enough to not be faking it, but easy enough so that I would succeed because another facet of my personality, stemming from being only slightly above average as a child and thus praised for what I thought was pretty normal behavior, is that I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT FAIL AT ANYTHING EVER. (I mean I do, but it really fucks me up when that happens.)
Step one was to make sure the yeast was alive and to feed it. Dear Reader, I gave up meat over a year ago because I don’t want to eat things that are alive (except fish which I’ve convinced myself, well, I know they’re alive okay? I’M TRYING HERE), and yet there I was, offering a meal to the little yeasties, literally fattening them up with with sugar like a forest witch coaxing strange children into her house to eat the walls. But I did it. I brought the yeast to life just to murder it. And I’d do it again.
After you’ve noted that your yeast is foamy (and smells like a frat pledge who died of alcohol poisoning), you make dough. Did you know that bread is basically flour and water? I assumed there were other things like butter, milk, eggs, and all the other baking type things (perhaps a soda or a powder or even both!), but no, it’s basically flour and water (and yeast and sugar and salt and oil in the case of what I made but IT’S BASICALLY JUST FLOUR AND WATER, OKAY?) And boy oh boy is it a LOT of flour. I am very into being healthy and making good food choices, and bread is really…not that, but it is delicious, and because carbs were so scarce for our ancestors we crave them now, which all basically makes bread impossible to resist so because biology and evolution are against me here, I feel okay about giving in.
Beyond homemade bread smelling and tasting amazing, the action of kneading dough is so pleasantly visceral that I would say the experience of physically making the bread is almost necessary to get complete enjoyment out of it. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy baking, so maybe this is just another aspect of my odd character, but when I make food I need to know knowing why I’m doing what what I’m doing, that kneading the dough is building up gluten and moving around the yeast to allow it to eat more sugars, and that will contribute to a fluffy final product. The food didn’t just happen, I made it happen, and there’s some science behind it that I can put to use when making other things. (Thanks, Alton Brown.)
But more than that (and warning: this is fucking weird), the act of kneading dough felt very ancient. Like praying or walking alone in the woods, it felt a bit like I was calling up muscle memory from my ancestors. Smashing this squishy ball of processed ingredients that I didn’t work hard at all to collect over and over into a counter top that I didn’t craft in my air-conditioned kitchen somehow made me feel like I was doing something wholly organic and vital to the human condition. This was a part of why humans exist: to experience this exact act.
I told you it was fucking weird.
So I made the dough and I set it to rise:
And it rose because THE YEAST IS ALIVE:
And I punched the fuck out of it, placed it in a loaf pan, let is rise again, and baked it and omfg, Dear Reader, omfg.
I. Made. Bread. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.
And then I made that bread into a motherfucking grilled cheese sandwich because I am that extra.
This isn’t something I can do often because the next day I felt like death. In fact, I’m still suffering a bit from wheat gut two days out, but it was worth it. This bread was marvelous and it made me feel a little (actually, a lot) like a hearth goddess. So I implore you, Dear Reader, if your soul is craving something you just can’t place, put on your wheat crown and knead you some dough.