Whole grains, simple recipes. Bread can be better for you – and easier to make at home – than you may think.
Bread is back – not that it was ever gone. America just seemed to lose a bit of its baking mojo as prevailing diet philosophies shunned carbs in favor of protein and fat. But a new generation of health-conscious bakers has discovered bread doesn’t have to equate to empty calories (see Instagram feeds @danlarn and @bread_pete). Ancient grain, sourdough and almond flour breads pack plenty of health benefits alongside complex flavors that, frankly, can taste way better than old-school white. These whole grains deliver fiber, B vitamins, and minerals, such iron and magnesium, which help maintain healthy blood, muscles and bones. According to a 2018 Bon Appétitarticle, some people with gluten sensitivities have even found that fermented sourdough bread is easier on their digestive system, as the wild yeast and bacteria in the sourdough starter help break down a portion of the flour’s protein and carbs.
These revelations couldn’t come soon enough for home cooks who love the yeasty smell of a loaf fresh from the oven. Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread, a classic first published in The New York Times, is the “gateway” recipe that enthusiastic bakers hand their curious friends. The technique, which requires no fancy equipment and only four ingredients, seems too simple to produce a stunning loaf, until you bake it for yourself. The recipe has since won thousands of bread-baking converts, producing loaves that are crusty, springy and visually striking. Make no-knead bread once, and you’re hooked for a lifetime.
From there, the bread-baking possibilities are limitless: buttery milk bread, crusty pretzels, braided challah, earthy rye. Sourdough is considered by fermented-food fans to be the pinnacle of the bread-making journey, a taming of wild microbes to produce bread with not just flavor but terroir. Beginning and maintaining a personal sourdough starter, also called a levain, can truly be a lifelong project. But if you’re just beginning your love affair with bread, there’s no need – and no knead – to jump into sourdough first. Start small, grow confident and enjoy the many warm loaves you’ll produce along the way.
Rise to the Next Level
After tackling a quick almond loaf or no-knead bread, you may find yourself bitten by the bread-baking bug. To step up to a 202-level bread project, equip yourself with a book, such as Ken Forkish’s Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast or Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread. And don’t forget that pizza crust is a bread, too: Peter Reinhart’s new book, Perfect Pan Pizza, offers methods and tips for those who want to recreate Detroit-style pan pizzas or Sicilian-style pies.