First of all, I did not grow up with homemade bread. My mom is an excellent cook and an incredible baker, but fresh bread was not something we had coming out of our oven. In fact, I think middle school was the first time I remember going to a friend's house and having bread that her mom had made, and I thought it was really weird. Who makes bread, I remember thinking, don't you just buy it at the store? Ahh, what a city kid I was.
The first real experience I had with making bread was when I lived in this hippie/environmental co-op house in college. Every one of the seventeen people who lived there had a house job (coop shopper, bulk food orderer, tofu water changer, composter, and of course: bread maker). For some reason, the people who were bread makers when I lived there could not make a fluffy loaf of bread to save their lives. Every loaf that appeared in that kitchen was super dense, dry, and crumbly. Not an enjoyable culinary experience, to say the least. This furthered my belief at the time that it was really hard to make bread. I volunteered to be the stand-in bread maker for one month just to try this whole mysterious thing out, and I'll just say that it went alright. I began to overcome my fear, but it still seemed really hard to make a good loaf of bread. Further explorations (largely based on this book) continued for a few more years and more and more I began to really love making bread. I especially loved making challah for the holidays, although I hardly ever make this anymore due to the high egg content, and Jared's lack of egg consumption.
A few years ago, when I was living in Berkeley being unemployed (again), I got a job at a bread bakery in the hopes of improving my skills. While I was certainly not baking the best bread in the world (excessive use of "corn sweetener" aka high fructose corn syrup- yuk!) I did love being surrounded by all that dough everyday, and some of it was pretty tasty. During the year (ack!) that I worked at the bakery, I almost never made bread at home. It was just too much. In fact my whole diet went to hell that year- mostly the result of a whacked out sleeping and eating schedule (getting up at 4:30 am and not going to bed early enough for that). I can't say that I learned any recipes or anything like that from working at the bakery (seeing as I'm not planning on making 100 loaf batches of bread anytime soon, nor am I planning on using "corn sweetener" anytime soon), but I did finally get over my fear of bread dough. See, I had always harbored this idea that yeast was so super sensitive and if you pissed it off somehow, your bread would never rise and would just be ruined. Well, for any of you out there who share that fear, I'll clear things up for you...don't mess with your bread dough too much, but it is okay to play with it. If the dough feels too hard, add some water. Too sticky (as long as it's not supposed to be a sticky dough), add some flour. And be patient. If you bread isn't rising, give it some more time. Sometimes it takes longer than you think it will. I was really happy to see so many others making bread this weekend.
Whew. I didn't realize I had so much to say about homemade bread. Nowadays, I try to make a loaf every week, since, well, I just love homemade bread. And you just cannot beat the smell of baking bread. It feels like home.