Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.
I love bread. Except for the brief, misguided interludes where I become overwhelmed with the need to immediately shed 5 percent of my body fat and stop consuming carbs or anything else I like, I eat some form of bread with almost every meal.
But because I am a thin-wristed blogger who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn in 2018, and not a brawny, weather-hardened frontierswoman who lives on a homestead in 1876, it has never occurred to me to actually bake my own. Growing up, my dad would tell me about making bread for my mom when they were first married — a couple of college students, gorging themselves on academics, gluten, and cheap wine — but instead of motivating me to cook, I saw it as the inspirational tale of a woman who came home at the end of the day to a loving partner and warm carbs. Thus far in my life, though, no one has made me bread. Not even my dad, who keeps bragging about all that great college bread he made and purports to love me. Clearly, it’s time to take matters into my own hands.
Over Christmas, my dad showed me the recipe he used in college. He opened a well-worn copy of Jeff Smith’s Frugal Gourmet, and turned to a recipe for classic French bread, repeatedly telling me how “easy” and “relaxing” it is to make. Being neither particularly frugal nor a gourmet, I had my doubts.
Because I am a little intimidated by Smith’s recipe — he specifically calls for “hard Montana wheat flour” and says “Even the French love hard Montana wheat flour,” which sounds like fake news, but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to refute his claims — I supplement his instructions by Googling “how to make bread easy.” It is in the depths of my quest for clarity, combing through various cooking sites and domestic blogs, that I stumble upon the Happiest Place on the Internet: Breadit.
Breadit, according to Breadit, “is a community for anything related to making homemade bread!” Its members are asked to include recipes and “crumb pics” (a picture of the inside of your loaf). It is a loving, supportive space for people to share their bread-related hopes, dreams, and failures. Like jjstone3997, who posted a picture of her first loaf with the caption, “My first bake! Country loaf,” to which miss_scarlett-ohara replied, “Look at that gorgeous crust!” They even have their own memes! I don’t know who any of these people are, but they are my family now and I love them.
Eventually, I find a recipe that seems to complement Smith’s and, emboldened by the support of my Breadit community, I throw myself into baking with a renewed confidence. Bread, I’ve read, is more forgiving than other baked goods, and even though I’m unable to find “hard Montana wheat flour” at any of the six and a half groceries stores near my apartment (maybe I am kind of a frontierswoman after all), and at one point I lose count of how many cups of flour I mix into the dough, I am confident that, like my friend thistooshallpass01 who struggled with the braids on their chocolate chip challah but ultimately prevailed, it is likely that I, too, will be successful.
I will say this, though: Making bread is SO boring. It takes approximately 500 hours, and 90 percent of that time is spent watching your dough rise like some sort of shapeless, fleshy yeast monster, and wondering whether it will eventually develop a conscience and limbs and decide to break off pieces of your body to dip in olive oil instead of the other way around. Before all that waiting, though, you get to spend 15 to 20 minutes punching, kneading, slapping, bashing, and generally annihilating the dough, a tremendously cathartic activity that I wish I could do at least four times a day.
To kill time while my monster rises, my roommate and I watch Fifty Shades Darker, the second movie in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which is very funny and I would highly recommend. At one point, the protagonist is in a terrible helicopter crash, and somehow that doesn’t affect the plot at all! Incredible.
After Christian Grey proposes to Anastasia Steele and they watch fireworks explode over the Puget Sound, I separate the dough into four loaves and let it rise for 40 more minutes. That is just about enough time for one episode of The Bachelor, the one where Arie tries to convince all the girls to drink their own pee.
What feels like 37 years after I first mixed the flour and yeast together, I put my dough in the oven, where it bakes for 30 minutes and fills my apartment with that warm, buttery, fresh-bread smell. There’s no way those Ben Wa balls Christian made Anastasia wear to the masquerade ball could possibly be as satisfying as that aroma.
Finally, I pull out the four loaves, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this bread was the single best thing in the world. It was dense and aromatic, firm and crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. My roommate and I kept cutting off slices and slathering on butter until we had finished an entire loaf and I thought I was going to throw up. But don’t just take my word for it: When I brought the bread into work on Monday, my co-workers described it as “good!” “very good!” and also “great.”
Was it the recipe my dad suggested, the support of my Breadit friends, or the lite BDSM that made my bread such a success? We may never know for sure, but unlike Christian Grey’s helicopter, my love for bread remains strong and true.
Preparation: A+ (loved punching!)
Final grade: A+++++ times infinity