By Alexandra Cuoco
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, millions of people all over the world were beyond bored, stuck in our houses trying to find activities to cure the boredom. After baking a lot of cupcakes, cookies, and muffins, I decided I wanted to challenge myself to learn how to bake bread.
Many people don’t understand the hard work and time baking bread takes, or the value a good piece of baked bread can add to a meal. The prime ingredient in bread is yeast. During the height of the pandemic, there wasn’t much yeast left in stock. I had to go to three different stores just to find yeast. Usually, recipes can call for active dry yeast or instant yeast. Typically, to create dough, you must “proof” the yeast, which means mixing the powdered yeast with warm water and sugar.
The first task I challenged myself with was to make my own homemade pretzel bread. At the time I was a vegan, so I searched for the best recipe to still achieve a moist pretzel bread while trying to opt for cleaner ingredients.
I used maple syrup while proofing the yeast with warm water. This gave the bread a sweeter taste. The secret to creating the pretzel crust that we all know and love is actually baking soda. After you’ve created your pretzel dough, the pretzel flavor comes from bringing water to a boil with added baking soda. Once the dough is in the boiling water for about 30 seconds, it will begin to puff up. Once taking the dough out of the water, add some salt and butter before baking and your pretzels will be golden (literally).
My second challenge was to try to master the baguette. This was more difficult, but I learned some tips and tricks along the process. First, make sure not to add too much salt to baguette dough. Because of how airy baguettes are inside, a small bit of salt can go a long way. Another tip I learned is to keep a small container of water in the bottom of the oven when baking. After my first try, my bread seemed too hard, but after adding a pan of water underneath, the baguette turned out moist and airy. After baking, broil the bread for a few minutes to make the outside crispy; just be careful not to burn the crust.
My final recipe and absolute favorite recipe was my take on Focaccia. Focaccia, which I actually baked in France, is extremely versatile. Focaccia originates from Italy, and uses the technique of poking holes in the dough before baking. The bread can also be decorated, using vegetables like peppers, spices, and herbs. Some of my favorite spices for focaccia are rosemary and thyme. I advise taking a small brush with olive oil on it and lightly painting the holes to keep the bread moist while baking.
Bread baking is a great way to challenge your baking skills and let your creativity loose. During quarantine, bread baking was my escape during a crazy time to help ease my anxiety. Try it out!