If social media is any indication, 100 percent of American households turned into upscale boulangeries in the year 2020. Endlessly filtered photos of golden, crusty, airy, homebaked loaves have been flowing by on everyone’s feeds, even during the pandemic’s early days when flour and starter were scarce commodities. But while achieving the perfect crumb-to-crust ratio became a mainstream obsession fairly recently, it has long been a goal of Andy Kadin, the ad exec-turned-dough maestro behind Los Angeles’s favorite bakery, Bub & Grandma’s (and one of the featured stars on the engine-revving, traffic-dodging, car-focused LA episode of Eater’s Guide to the Entire World, now streaming on Hulu).
With his tall frame and deep blue cotton workman’s jacket, leaving dust trails of flour in his wake, Kadin fits right in with the modern urban bread aesthetic, and you’ll find his loaves on the menus of many of the city’s most beloved restaurants. Which means that when he and his team aren’t busy baking, they’re hitting the road, hauling pizza dough, baguettes, and fluffy milk bread along freeways and down back alleys to hot spots across town. Not on his delivery route? Kadin has some tips to help you up your own at-home bread game, taking you from part-time baker to social media carb star in just a few weeks’ time.
1. Use a thermometer
“Temperature is the gas pedal of fermentation,” says Kadin. Whatever the number on the thermometer, those digits tell a story about where your dough is at, where it might be going, and how fast it’s going to get there. “Eighty degrees is a good mark,” says Kadin, when thinking about where to cruise-control your doughs, which means keeping your ingredients and your dough at a uniform temperature throughout the process.
2. Work by weight
You can’t just keep pushing on without a standard for measuring your ingredients, and that means weighing out everything — yes, everything — in a consistent way. “Think about the difference between a packed-down cup measure and a non-packed-down one,” says Kadin. “If you do everything by grams, that eliminates any discrepancies in how much flour you’re actually using.” As it turns out, the old American at-home baking system of “eyeballing” measurements and adding “dollops” of this and that? It’s fine for Grandma, but not for folks trying to improve their breads over time.
3. Repeat, repeat
“Don’t drastically change your process every time,” says Kadin, “or you won’t learn anything.” This may be the single most important tool in the baker’s arsenal: patience, along with a rigorous ability to do the same thing over and over again. Just like any scientific experiment, baking is about sorting through variables and tweaking them over time to achieve new results. The good news is you get to learn along the way, and you become more comfortable with the process overall just by sheer repetition. Just beware of chasing that elusive “perfect loaf.”
4. Use good flour
Even the most gorgeous (and delicious) loaves come down to a combination of ingredients and techniques, so weak flours will only get you so far. Kadin recommends as much whole-grain, locally-milled flour as you can get your hands on, for a variety of reasons. “The whole-wheat berry is where flavor, texture, and longevity in bread comes from,” he says matter-of-factly — and that means throwing out that crusty old bag of heavily bleached, low-protein flour you’ve lugged from apartment to apartment.
5. Go for cast iron
Here comes a curveball from Kadin: Don’t bake with an enameled Dutch oven — a popular method touted by many in the “no-knead” camp of low-lift breadmaking. They’re great for lots of things, but have serious limitations when it comes to bread. Instead, Kadin says, opt for a cast-iron combo cooker, which comes with a thinly rimmed skillet at the bottom and a heavy, tall pot to use as a lid. “They’re $40, last forever, and have a lower lip so you don’t burn your wrist while trying to score a loaf,” says Kadin. After all, “the cast-iron pan has been around since 1880 without changing a thing,” he adds wryly. So keep the enameled Dutch oven around for cooking all those beans everyone is also making during quarantine, and leave the bread baking to the cast-iron combo cookers.