Top 5 Gifts for Bread Bakers: Your Kitchen, My Boulangerie
You can make terrific bread in hundreds of ways, using commerical dry or fresh yeast for leavening. You can also make a sourdough or natural levain bread, by making a poolish or pre-ferment or using starter. The easiest way of getting good starter is by getting some from a bread baking friend. Or you can make your own, using any of the many terrific recipes out there: Paul Bertolli makes his with potatos; Nancy Silverton with grapes; Naomi Duguid with bits of old bread. Here's Peter Reinhart's recipe, which uses pineapple juice. Or you can just buy some. King Arthur will mail you some for under $10. And Ed Wood, the Idaho sourdough bread guru who is as much of a cult figure in the world of sourdough bread as his namesake was to horror flicks, sells 17 different kinds through his company Sourdoughs International, including cultures from Bahrain, Finland, the Yukon and Egypt.
The simplest part of the equation and probably the most important. At its best, good bread is composed of only three ingredients: flour, water and salt. (The levain is itself only flour and water, unless you count the natural yeasts, which regenerate.) Which means that the flour you use is fundamentally important. You can buy quite good flour at ordinary markets: King Arthur is probably the best of what's easily found. Bob's Red Mill makes very good flour too, and you can find that most places as well. But unless you live near a mill, your best bet for excellent flour is the internet, where you can order remarkable flour from places like Community Grains in Northern California. Check locally at Surfas, Cookbook and the Cheese Store of Silver Lake.
Other random stuff to throw in your favorite bread baker's stocking: a peel (although you can use an overturned cookie sheet), razor blades for slashing the tops of the loaves, a water spritz bottle for spraying the oven, and a decent serrated knife. And of course as much good butter and jam and cheeses as you can find. Or make your own butter: just fill a Mason jar half-full with good heavy cream, tighten the lid and shake for about 10 minutes for an ad hoc butter churn. Something to do while your bread rises, or bakes.
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