On Baking Bread (By One Who Can’t)

photographs and text by John Ames




The Goal

I’ve always thought of baking as a fussy, magical, messy kind of enterprise. Part math, part Merlin and part “how did all that stuff get on the floor”.

I’ve occasionally tried baking myself with mixed results. (That assessment is a little generous.) When my boys were young I went on a sourdough bread baking jag and was OK at it for a while. But the problem with sourdough is that you need what the pros call a “starter”. Simply put it is a bunch of bacteria (lactobacilli) that live in a bowl of warm flour and water and multiply like crazy as they feed on it. One needs to replenish the bubbling stuff regularly and use it as a leavener for whatever you’re baking or the little bugs get nasty, smelly and die. This leaves a stinky mass of stuff that needs to be thrown out and making the “starter” has to be started all over again. I didn’t use my “starter” often enough and attend too many disgusting funerals.

My enthusiasm for baking lessened with each baking failure. The coup de grace, while not exactly technically a baking failure, was when my attempt at making pasta resulted in numerous clumps of damp, limp and very sticky extruded flour and water lying all over the kitchen floor.

The loaf that headlines this article is apple bread. Sarah baked it quickly and professionally to use up some of the applesauce she had put up this summer in our freezer. That temperamental beast died of electrical failure a couple of days ago and we needed to find some creative uses for an overabundance of applesauce. The loaf pictured is still warm and the chunk out of it was my doing. It was delicious! (The fact that Sarah served it with vanilla ice cream didn’t hurt a bit.)

Bon Appetit! May you bake better than I.