Bread is making a comeback. Long reviled for carbs and gluten, good bread (made with care, quality flour, and wild-fermented yeasts) is popping up everywhere,in restaurants, bakeries, farmer’s markets, and our Instagram feeds. Even in LA, arguably the most gluten-averse city of them all, deliciously crunchy baguettes, dense Danish ryes, and perfectly crumbed boules are suddenly all over town. And while being able to buy quality bread is a great thing, for many of us, there’s nothing quite like a homemade loaf.
From the intoxicating smell that fills your house as it cooks and the sensation of cutting through the perfect crust to the pure bliss of that warm, better-melting-on-top first bite, homemade bread really is worth the effort. It seems simple: Bread made with a sourdough starter requires just three humble ingredients (flour, water, and salt), but, mastering the technique takes skill and practice. Which is why we asked Andy Kadin, the man behind Bub and Grandma’s (some of the most sought-after bread in LA) for his thoughts on the subject. Below, he shares some seriously helpful bread-baking tips, why bread doesn’t deserve a bad rap, and offers up a list of tools to make things easier for anyone attempting to make a boule at home.
A Q&A with Andy Kadin:
What exactly is “wild-fermented yeast” and what makes it helpful in bread baking?
Do most bakers prefer it to commercial?
Wild yeast is just that—yeast that exists around us, on us and inside of us. Bacteria is most often incorrectly lumped under this header and helps in this process, too. The engine behind sourdough bread, these bugs in the air feed on the sugars that are released from wheat when mixed with water. The more whole grain in your wheat, the higher the sugar content and the more amped up the bugs get. A byproduct of their digestion is carbon dioxide which gets trapped in bubbles within the dough. Those bubbles, if maintained properly, give the bread its distinctive tang and expand in the oven when exposed to heat, forcing the bread to rise.
I don’t know that I’d say bakers prefer wild yeast, it’s just one of the tools we use to get a desired product. Sourdough is the healthiest method for making bread, which is part of why it’s so popular right now. When you add commercial yeast into the mix, a lot of people will confuse how it makes them feel with a gluten intolerance. Eating yeasted breads may give you a little headache or make you feel groggy. The back of your throat might get a little scratchy. It’s not gluten that’s bothering you (unless you have Celiac); it’s commercial yeast. That said, we use commercial yeast in our baguette and ciabatta. It gives us a thin crispy crust and an open, light interior. I’m willing to exchange feeling a little drowsy for a few minutes after eating a really tremendous sandwich when the baguette it’s on matches how I hoped it would taste and feel.
How do you feel about bringing bread back to an increasingly gluten-free city?
Trends are called trends because they come and go. I sympathize with folks who have Celiac or other gluten sensitivities, but that diagnosed population is very, very small. The real issue is bad bread—and marketers using fear to engineer new avenues for profit. An entire generation was raised on white-flour-rich, preservative-filled, commercial-yeast-heavy supermarket bread that magically stays “fresh” for two weeks on the shelf. That’s the stuff that generates headaches and grogginess; it’s what helped engineer the myth that this is all about wheat. So our work is to reintroduce people to real bread—long-fermented, 3-ingredient bread (flour, water, salt) made with larger percentages of fresh-milled whole grains—and to push for a diet based on moderation, not replacement.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d gotten when you started baking bread?
Ugly bread still tastes good. Don’t beat yourself up if your home-baked bread doesn’t look like the art-directed, single-best-loaf-of-300 bread you see on Instagram. It’s posturing and it’s pointless. Also: While making bread every day in a commercial bakery is difficult, baking at home is even more so. As professionals,we’re able to isolate variables and fine-tune our process every day. Baking a perfect loaf of bread every two weeks with an only somewhat maintained leaven in a home kitchen rife with variables is damn near impossible. If you’ve succeeded, feel good about yourself. If not, don’t feel bad about yourself.
What’s the most common mistake new bread bakers make?
They don’t pay attention to temperature. If your loaves are mixed to 90°, and you leave them bulking [rising] in direct sunlight next to a preheating oven in Phoenix, your fermentation time is going to be significantly faster than if you mix to 75° and monitor your temperature to keep it consistent throughout. Know the temperature of everything you use (water, flour, dough, leaven, etc.), at every stage of the process to ensure you don’t end up with a sad bread pancake.
What’s your favorite thing to do with stale bread?
Stale bread is a rarity over here. If I’m not certain that we’re going to be able to eat the loaf in 3-4 days, I just slice it, put it in a plastic bag and freeze it. We can pull out slices to toast as needed and the stuff stays good for weeks
Get (Bread)-Baking—the 11 Essential Tools
“Wicker bannetons, bamboo baskets, a plastic serving basket from Popeyes with a floured towel—you can use any basket to proof your bread in. Just make sure you flour the thing, so the bread doesn’t stick.”
“Making bread should all be done by weight, not volume. There is a significant difference between a packed-down cup of flour and a fluffy unpacked one. Working with weight eliminates that issue.”
“Don’t mangle your creation with a chef’s knife or otherwise.”
Plastic Wrap or Linens
“Don’t dry your proofing loaves out in the fridge. Place the dough-filled baskets inside sealed plastic bags or lightly wrap in plastic wrap.” (A note from the goop Kitchen: A linen towel also does the trick.)
Dutch Oven or Combo Cooker
“The ultimate pan for home-baking bread, Lodge combo cookers are $40 on Amazon and allow your bread to rise in a sealed, humid environment before you remove the lid and finish the bake to develop your crust.”
(A note from the goop Kitchen: This do-it-all Staub also makes a great oven-to-table piece.”)
“Depending on how much dough you’re making, this could be mixing bowls or plastic Cambros or any large, lightweight vessel.”
(A note from the goop Kitchen: Cambros are big plastic containers restaurants use for storing food—you can find them at any restaurant supply store, but if you’ve already got big mixing bowls, just use those.)
“Some special people are able to make bread while staying flour-free. I am not one of them: Flour finds me and flour attaches itself to me. Protect yourself from wheat onslaught with a simple white apron.”
“Gotta cut that dough.” (A note from the goop kitchen: A good scraper also helps tremendously with shaping and cleanup.)
“Temperature is the gas pedal of fermentation. The warmer the dough, the faster things move. It’s essential to take the temperature of everything you’re doing, from start to finish, to ensure your dough temperature remains fixed throughout—somewhere in the 75-80 degree zone.”
“Getting your proofed bread into the preheated pan can be a pain, especially if you’re trying to flip the thing directly inside. Instead, flip your bread onto a floured cake pan liner, score it and then, using the liner as a sling, transfer the dough into the hot pan.”
“In order for your loaf to rise to its fullest potential, you have to release the tension in it by properly cutting the dough. A single razor blade score along the top of the loaf pre-bake will open the thing up nicely. We like the Feather brand from Japan.”