I’m certain at least 20 more people than usual baked some type of bread this past week—and those are just the people I know. While aimlessly scrolling on Instagram from my couch this past weekend, I ran into Story after Instagram Story of sourdough, banana bread, Alison Roman’s The Cookies, braided challah, focaccia, BAGUETTES. New York City has collectively turned into one giant Saraghina.
Turns out when society collapses, every single person has the exact same instinct and it is to bake bread
— Dana Schwartz (@DanaSchwartzzz) March 24, 2020
I get it! There’s something healing, and almost primitive, about baking. Humanity has been baking bread for tens of thousands of years (according to Wikipedia lol—my guess was “centuries”). We’ve tenderly raised loaves into maturity in pits and ovens and stuff for forever. And bread tastes like home, like comfort. To teach oneself how to bake bread feels like, at the very worst point of the very worst day, you can at least let yeast rise and knead a ball of dough and bake it and slice it and feel the warmth of it on your hands and know that you did that. You provided yourself with some comfort.
Even I–a notoriously garbage baker–had the audacity to dip my toe back into baking this past weekend. I once did the classic thing with a cake recipe where I accidentally added too much salt and baking soda and it was completely inedible. (In the words of Bart Simpson, “I wasn’t good at it right away so I quit.”) And yet, watching everyone with their lush loaves, perfectly golden, sliced to release a warm steam so palpable I could almost smell the yeast from my phone… I was determined to try again.
I baked gluten-free banana bread. (I’m mostly gluten-free because of hormonal stuff.) I had four browning bananas on my countertop, and I was excited to waste not, want not. I followed the instructions to a T and attempted to flip my mediocre-looking loaf upside down onto a wire rack. She splooj-ed everywhere. The consistency of the bread–which I still ate in entirety with a spoon–was that of gruel.
My roommate, meanwhile, baked perfect mint Oreos the day after. That pissed me off.
Tl;dr: We’re all baking. I’m baking, you’re baking, or you should bake. It will be raining all weekend here in New York, and I didn’t get that baking powder and baking soda for nothing!!! So in the spirit of trying new things, here are some amateur baking projects, ranked from most attainable to least, from someone who truly knows absolutely nothing at all about baking. Other than the stuff Claire Saffitz tells her. Do not trust me. Let’s bop.
1. Banana Bread
Listen: just because I tanked it doesn’t mean you have to! And the good news is, like I mentioned above, you can feel like a good citizen of the world baking banana bread. Use up your food! Play the long game! Buy a bunch of bananas you think you’re going to eat at the beginning of the week (looking at you, too, bag of arugula), and wait until the day when you, like me, realize they are no longer edible and you must do something with them. Add chocolate chips because you enjoy life. If you’re masochistic, don’t! And for the love of Georgia O’Keeffe do not turn your loaf over five minutes after it has come out of the oven.
Hey, this looks doable! I mean, I think I even have all those ingredients. Except yeast. Is yeast alive? Creepy. My roommate just told me I can find it at a grocery store, though, so that’s cool. And look, there’s no kneading! Is this my next project? Look how satisfying this recipe is, with overhead videos accompanying each step. This is like Baking for Dummies. Made for me. Made for someone like me. Not made for my roommate, Emmy. She can chill out and wait for #5 on this list smh.
Emmy, my roommate, who is clearly steering this ship (and to be clear I love her dearly–we’ve been friends for nine years), just told me this should probably be number three on the list. There’s no yeast in soda bread (woot!) and I know from experience that it is a delightful vehicle for ungodly amounts of sweet butter. I’m dropping Ina Garten’s recipe here because she is my Hamptons Queen, my Kitchen Mother, my Duchesse des Dinner Parties, my Contessa, but Barefoot. BRB listening to her say “This is One. Sticky. Dough. But that makes it delicious” on repeat from the clip in the link.
I just told you I don’t know shit and I’m not to be trusted, but I saw one Nora Taylor made a gorgeous three-braid challah bread this weekend, and I’m dying to replicate it. Kneading bread is one thing. BRAIDING bread is another. She sent me her recipe, linked above, and as always I did that thing where I scrolled for three minutes past 200 pages of the author’s memoir and, once I got there, I read through the recipe and got lost at shaggy dough. Shaggy dough? Shaggy dough? I think I’d need a phone-a-friend for this one, but you guys should make it and definitely tag me in your videos. Begging.
I am never attempting this. Never ever. I’ve watched the above linked Bon Appétit “It’s Alive” video with Claire and Brad three times, and it’s still terrifying. Claire Saffitz also elaborated on how to do it at home in her Instagram Stories this past weekend (surprise!), and I got lost after, like, step two—she was kneading so vigorously my head was spinning. There is just no way in hell that I get to the point where this will seem attainable. BUT, hey, Emmy, would love for you to give this a shot, and I will watch with admiration and awe like the world is your test kitchen and I’m just living in it. If you feel ambitious, I’d love to see your loaves. I’d love to see them rise satisfyingly in an oven.
Feature photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.