In its simplicity, bread is greater than the sum of its parts. Flour, water, yeast and salt combine with elbow grease and patience to result in an amazing food. According to famed chef, writer and gourmand James Beard, "Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods."
Wheat is fourth on the U.S. Major Crop List, after corn, soybeans and hay. While some wheat is grown in the Mid-South, the quantity is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of our food system.
What we do have locally are a plethora of bread makers. They are rightfully called artisans and should be ranked right up there with rock stars and artists, or whoever garners your admiration and appreciation.
Sure, you can get airy white bread for less than a buck a loaf, but why? Julia Child said it best: "How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?"
Good bread, with taste and texture, isn't always cheap, with some local artisans getting up to $9 per loaf (and regularly selling out). But when you spread the cost over the week it takes to eat the loaf, the pinch to the wallet lessens.
Bluff City Coffee, Shoaf's Loaf, La Cucina, Boulangerie Oliver (Hernando), Ladybugg Bakery (Hernando) and Café Eclectic make crusty, flavorful loaves of artisan bread. You have choices galore -- wheat; rye; studded with cheese, fruits and nuts; long baguettes; soft sandwich loaves. Take your pick.
Reading the label of a $2 grocery loaf reveals a list of 27 ingredients. Sure, some are vitamins, but why does my sandwich need azodicarbonamide? Is lunch better with something that's also used in foamed plastic production?
Enjoy the loaves, boules and buns of our local artisans, or bake your own, but don't relegate your beautiful summer tomato to a shingle of air and additives. You or a local farmer has put great effort into raising that arugula, eggplant, pepper and lettuce. You source local beef, chicken, eggs and pork. Your herbs are plucked from your own yard. You live greener buying food grown nearby. You have nothing to lose but time and a few dollars in ingredients, but you could gain the taste of "all the stars and all the heavens," if poet Robert Browning can be trusted.
Start with a bowl, a baking sheet and the willingness to try. Try. Then try again. You will get it right. Practice now because our abundance of fresh, local food deserves to be sandwiched between slices of great bread.
Melissa Petersen is the editor of Edible Memphis, a magazine that celebrates the abundance of local food, season by season. It is available at various locations around town. Contact her atMelissa@ediblememphis.com.
6 1/2 cups all-purpose or soft white wheat flour
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. instant yeast*
3 cups water
Olive oil or melted butter (optional)
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and yeast. Slowly mix in water until a ball of dough forms. Knead the dough in the bowl for a minute or two. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for about 2 hours. At this point you can keep the dough in the bowl, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until ready to use. Pull off a quarter of the dough. Shape as you see fit and place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Brush with olive oil or melted butter and let proof for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake bread for 30-45 minutes, or until bread is golden and crusty when you tap on it. Remove from oven and let stand for 20 minutes before slicing.
*Instant yeast does not need to be dissolved in water. You can substitute active dry yeast in the same quantity, but dissolve it in ½ cup of warm, not hot, water before adding to dry ingredients. Then you'll only need to add 2½ cups of water to complete the recipe.
Note: This recipe originally came from Mother Earth News, but I've changed it over time. It's bulletproof because you can do almost anything to it -- add a little more yeast, add olive oil, add honey, brush with butter, let it proof too long -- and it still comes out great. The dough keeps in the fridge for several days, so you can make a batch early in the week and have fresh, crusty bread any night of the week.
Source: Commercial Appeal
by Melissa Peterson