One of my first projects after returning to the ranch was teaching myself how to bake bread. Not just easy bread like the Irish Brown Bread from a few posts ago, but real European style bread, made with levain (a wild yeast and bacteria starter made by cultivating airborne organisms in flour and warm water). I didn’t exactly do it all on my own, I had the help of an incredible book by Chad Robertson, who started the wonderful bakery in my old San Francisco neighborhood, Tartine. From time to time, certain longings for city life are rekindled in me, and they are more often than not triggered by memories of walking Lola to Dolores Park early in the morning, and stopping by Tartine for coffee and croissants on the way. Sigh.
Anyway, I found breadmaking extremely intimidating. I’m an excellent cook but real baking is a hybrid of science and alchemy and doesn’t allow you the barometer of tasting your creation in process. It was kind of awful at first to think about putting so many hours into something and having no idea if it was going to be edible until the very end.
For that reason, though, it turned out to be a very good meditation for me as I came down from the frenetic pace of my former life. Baking requires patience, the ability to nurture, force and gentleness in the hands, method, and a little bit of faith. My first loaves were too chewy and didn’t have enough spring, but they bore qualities of real bread that inspired me to soldier on.
It got better and better, and I was eventually able to share it with others proudly. I started adding things like kalamata olives and rosemary and lemon zest or sundried tomatoes and big chunks of garlic. I started salivating for that first slice, fresh out of the oven, crusty and light and smelling like heaven.
And then, as things will do, breadmaking was put aside for goat shed building and law practice building, for learning about bees and how to make cheese and so forth and so on. The starter I grew from air and water and flour finally succumbed to neglect. Bread started to come from the store again instead of the oven. It happens. I never said I was perfect.
But this morning as I breakfasted on long-awaited California avocado and (store bought) French bread, I decided that it’s time to bring breadmaking back! Sure the 500 degree oven won’t feel too super on 100 degree days, but a garden tomato on a slice of homemade sourdough will be totally,