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November 06, 2013

What Inspires Me: Bread

November 06, 2013

A lot of what we do at SmallBox revolves around processes. We discover, ideate, plan, create, publish, analyze, report...and even this list can be sub-divided into smaller, more granular methods. Finding the correct “recipe” for a specific project can involve multiple lines of inquiry, consistent testing and re-testing, and a constant need to be updated on new developments and technology.

At home, I like to rest my eyes from the screen, but still find myself undergoing a lot of the same processes while exploring the world of bread. (Warning: this post contains gluten.)


My mom cooked, baked, broiled, and boiled, and fried all the time when I was growing up (including a period of spelt loaves that I derided in my teenage haste as “unacceptable”), but it wasn’t until visiting my brother in Washington state a few years ago that the thought of baking my own bread entered my mind. My sister-in-law, Megan, had baked a beautiful, bronzed buttermilk loaf that sat on the wooden counter. Only with extreme willpower was I able to resist eating it in one sitting.

Bread Bible

(That loaf came from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible.)


For the next year or so, I was immersed in kneaded, yeasted breads, often with an egg-wash on top to make them shiny and smooth like they’d been Photoshopped (they hadn’t). I riffed on the same recipes over and over until I understood their feel, the optimum baking time in my oven whose thermostat was inconsistent at best, and how long I had to eat the whole loaf while it was still fresh!

Eventually, my bread journeys lead me to experiment with naturally leavened breads that contained only flour, water, salt, and a “starter”–like the famous loaves from Tartine in San Francisco. However, baking these loaves at a really high temperature during the humid Indiana summer in a non-air-conditioned kitchen...well, that wasn’t even close to an ideal experience, and my loaves suffered, coming out more like oversized hockey pucks than the aerated beauties below.

Tartine Bread

(Recent column on the pre-eminent American bread artisan, Chad Robertson.)


Baking the perfect loaf depends on so many variables (time, temperature, weight, how your bread “proofs”–the final rise before baking, even the kind of salt you use...) that it can take continuous analysis to determine what works for you in your particular kitchen environment–as well as the taste that you prefer, or the texture that you need for a meal, sandwich, or recipe.

(Looking good, right?)

Lately, I’ve been tweaking my take on Ken Forkish’s Saturday loaf from Flour Water Salt Yeast. Variable timed folds (instead of kneading), poking & prodding, overnight fermenting and switching up my proof temperatures have finally gotten me close to where I want to be. It’s a long way from where I started, but I know that no analysis is ever completely finished. The next recipe I crack open will start the Discovery process anew!



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