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You Don’t Need to Knead: Discovering Artisan Bread

June 28, 2018 by

I was always afraid of bread baking. I had seen enough failed yeast projects that I didn’t think it necessary to add my own flops to the list. To me, baking any kind of yeast dough always seemed to be complicated and chancy, so – apart from making wine occasionally – I shied away from making anything that called for yeast. Besides, my wrists give me trouble, and kneading is painful.

Then in 2016 my wife, Marcelle, was diagnosed with ALS, and began a ten-month battle with this fatal disease. Christine, a friend, started coming each day to support my wife and to help around the house. Christine loved to cook and bake, especially bread. But I noticed that her bread had a different character: more solid and flavorful, just the sort that Marcelle and I liked. And it was absurdly simple to make; she could have it on the table in a heartbeat when necessary.

She called it artisan bread. When I later investigated, I found out that it’s not a new idea or technique, although it surged in popularity several years ago with some high-profile recipes and blog posts. But it was new to us, and we loved it. The texture was not to everyone’s liking; it was heavier and coarser than most breads – but then I never was a fan of Wonder Bread. And Christine frequently surprised us with delicious variations, like sun-dried tomato and black olive bread, or dried fruit and nut bread. Marcelle and I looked forward to each meal at which the artisan breads featured prominently.

Christine usually mixed up a batch, let it rise for two hours, and then put it in the fridge where it could stay for up to two weeks (aficionados insist that the longer you leave it, the better it is). Then in the morning she would scoop out as much dough as she needed and have a loaf on the breakfast table by seven o’clock.

artisan bread

Alas, as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” A few weeks after coming to help us Christine had to leave, and so ended our daily encounters with her bread. (We also mourned the loss of her muffins and cakes and cookies.) Yes, a string of other friends came by to help, and they also whipped up some great meals, but they weren’t bakers, so we had to go back to le pain ordinaire.

I missed the artisan bread, though, and after some googling, I found a basic recipe that had only four ingredients – flour, salt, yeast, and water – and no kneading necessary. Indeed, the recipe was so simple that I thought even I could pull it off. So I threw the ingredients together and baked my first batch. Apart from burning my fingers while taking the loaves out of the oven (never use a damp potholder!), I was pleased with the results. Over the next months I found that the recipe was virtually indestructible. No matter what new variations I tried – even if I made a mistake like adding too much water – the results were always satisfactory.

This was just the kind of baking that suited me, and I settled upon three favorite recipes: white, oat, and five-grain. I couldn’t get involved in a lot of activities while Marcelle was sick, because I wanted to stay close to her as much as possible, but one thing I could do was bake bread now and then. It was a joy to give an occasional loaf to a friend or neighbor, and I rarely offered a loaf to anyone who didn’t later hint that he wouldn’t mind having some more.

My wife and I had been married for forty-six years, so when she passed away a year ago (you can read about her courageous struggle here) my whole life turned upside-down. I moved in next to my son and his wife and four children, and now we spend a lot of time together. At my age of seventy, there aren’t a lot of things I can do for their family, apart from playing with the grandchildren and reading to them. But one thing I can do is make fresh five-grain artisan bread for our meals. And hopefully one day teach my grandchildren how to make it.

If you would like to try your hand at artisan bread, there are plenty of websites that will get you going, and you can download my three favorite recipes here. I’d love to hear how yours comes out! And, after you read the story of my wonderful Jewish-Moroccan wife, I’d love to hear your own struggles and victories in life. If you are interested in sharing your story with me, comment below and I'll get in touch with you. Make sure you enter a valid email address. (We will not share your information, or use it for any other purpose.)

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About the author

Allen and Channah

Allen Page

Allen Page lives at Darvell, a Bruderhof in East Sussex, UK. He helps publish the French version of the Bruderhof and Plough...

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