Much like how I’ve always loathed elaborate math problems and thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles — they’re just so … precise — baking seemed like a far-too-scientific fool’s errand for the first 38 years of my life. At least that’s how I felt before I took an intense Artisan Breads Immersion class last fall. Often commanding long wait lists at Minnesota’s small-but-mighty North House Folk School, the almost three-day course taught me that it’s going to be okay. I can make custom boules, za’atar-dredged flatbread, long ciabatta loaves, seeded German-style rye bread, and a beautiful version of the briny focaccia that Samin Nosrat slayed on her Netflix show, Salt Fat Acid Heat.
And you know what? Despite Twitter claims to the contrary, you can, too. Bread-making is like any other skill. If you’re willing to put the work in, the process quickly goes from being irksome to instinctual, rough to rewarding.
It’s also quite addictive: Once you get the hang of a few recipes and rhythms, you’ll be left wanting to rock just one more loaf every time one is wrapped. Why, just this past week, I baked a hollow, chewy hunk of cherry-walnut sourdough; puffy little pitas that would make Alon Shaya proud; slim, crunchy slivers of coconut roti; and a Roberta’s-inspired margherita pizza with just the right amount of char and chew.
Of course, there is one potentially large problem with becoming a home baker these days. With the internet suddenly declaring bread-making the fidget spinner of the COVID-19 age — stress reduction by way of bubbly starters and stretchy gluten strands — its foundational ingredients, yeast and flour, have become as scarce as hand sanitizer and TP. In fact, there’s such a nationwide shortage right now that King Arthur Flour has started posting flourless recipes in the hopes of satisfying its cult following until the grade A grain starts flowing again. (Judging by the downpour of teary emoji and despair in its comments section, it’s not working.)
That said, don’t give up. We found flour here, for example. The other tools that bread-making requires — other than time and patience — are widely available if you’re willing to wait a week or two. The list below includes the essentials I bought right off the bat, the game-changing gear I’ve picked up since, and a few loaf-elevating products I’ll be lusting after in the weeks and months ahead. You don’t need all of it right now. Just buy the basics and learn some foundational recipes, whether it’s something as simple as Sullivan Street Bakery’s no-knead bread or as complex as a best-selling beast of a book like Flour Water Salt Yeast or The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.