food

Baking Bread and the Art of Nostalgia

I've been feeling rather nostalgic lately. I'm not entirely sure why but I think it has something to do with all of the extra work I've been doing in the run up to the release of the Governess series in September. In times of high stress, I find myself turning to the familiar. I read books I've read before and watch movies that I've seen so many times I could recite the lines back (I'm looking at you Ten Things I Hate About You and Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility). I also cook comfort foods that are really familiar like my mother's beef stew and roast chicken or my father's ground beef/tomato/rice casserole dish that has never had a name but kept him fed through grad school.

I suppose that's why it makes sense that around the end of July I've started baking bread.

My father is the baker in the family, and he's wonderful at it. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to find him in the kitchen of the little Altadena bungalow we once lived in, his hands covered in flour as he kneaded bread dough. To a small child, bread dough was magical. All you had to do was leave it alone in its ceramic bowl and it would turn turn puffy and warm under its plastic wrap.

My favorite time of the weekend, however, was Sunday nights when Dad would head up the oven with its heavy pizza stone and bake the loaves he shaped earlier that day. The whole house would fill with the most delicious, yeasty bread smell, and if I was really lucky he'd let me cut off the heel. The bread was so warm that it would melt the butter I'd slathered on right into the crumb.

Now I live in New York. Fairway Market makes wonderful breads that are priced reasonably-ish (for New York City), but recently I've found myself missing the scent of bread in the house. I wanted the real thing, and I wanted to do it myself. I've baked bread before (especially when I was dirt poor and paying $4 or $5 for a loaf was way out of my budget), so I pulled out my laptop, looked up a bread recipe, and got baking.

After this weekend I've got a sourdough starter bubbling away in my fridge and a loaf of sourdough sandwich bread and sourdough boule on my cutting board. The results are good but I'm looking to improve, including getting a crisper crust on my boule.

Freshly baked with a brand-new sourdough starter! #bread #sourdough #baking

A photo posted by Julia Kelly (@juliakellywrites) on

I also pulled out my phone, called Dad, and got some advice from a man who has been doing this for more than two decades. We talked about why he started baking bread (what was available around where we lived at the time wasn't very good) and how maybe he'll start baking regularly again (I'd like to think this is all inspired by my good influence).

If you want to try your hand at baking too, this is a good place to start because it doesn't require the learning how to knead bread:

Late-to-the-Party No-Knead Bread from Big Girls, Small Kitchen

If you're a little more advanced, I gave a Martha Stewart cinnamon raisin bread recipe similar to this one a go last weekend. I wasn't completely happy with this bread and I find her recipes to be a little inconsistent so I'm on the hunt for a better one:

Cinnamon Raisin Bread from Martha Stewart

And this is what I made this weekend with my sourdough starter:

Beginner Sourdough Sandwich Loaf from The Kitchn

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