The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Your Bread Epiphany

Eli's picture

Your Bread Epiphany

Here is another question.

What started you on your bread quest? When did it start? Did you have someone teach you? Is there some significant point at which you realized "this is it"?

As for me, my family being southern, naturally loves the tradition. I am fortunate enough to remember my Great Great Grandmother (they lived to be in their 100's) and going to her house on Sundays for brunch. About 20 of us every other week. I remember her making biscuit and bread in a wooden bread bowl that had been made as a gift for her wedding in 1895. About 8 years ago the "dough bowls/bread bowls" as we call them were handed down to me. I started with biscuits and have not stopped since.

AnnieT's picture

I had played at making "bread" off and on, and even taught some friends the Bernard Clayton Cuban Bread when I lived in Flagstaff. I also remember baking baguettes which would have made good baseball bats. My "aha!" moment happened when a friend sent me an article from the Minneapolis paper about the No Knead Bread, just over a year ago. Of course I had to try it and one thing led to another - and The Fresh Loaf. Now I am totally obsessed! My family roll their eyes but I think they are relieved that it keeps me off the streets and out of the bars, plus they enjoy eating what I bake. No long line of bakers in my family, I'm afraid. My mother baked cakes but never bread. I did go to college to study domestic science but it was eons ago and I don't remember any bread baking. I did make a good Victoria Sponge cake, if I do say so, A.

spsq's picture

Great topic!  I had many failures when I was younger - periodically I would attempt bread and I got bricks - in retro, it was because I though everything had to be as warm as possible, so I put in quite hot water, had the bread rise in a VERY warm oven, and just murdered my yeast with affection.  Then to correct this, I would try to proof it longer.  Ha ha!  VERY discouraging - tried it once every 2 or 3 years!  But it kept calling me.....

 Mid thirties - 2 things spurred me again.  One: the beautiful, magnificant artisan loaves at the local farmer's market.  Not your usual homemade loaves (which are delicious too), but real organic, original, slow fermented, crusty, etc, etc ARTISAN bread.  I've travelled a little bit, and they're still some of the most wonderful bread's I've ever tasted.  Anyway, I read an interview with the couple in a local paper - and they mentioned their inspiration, the "Bread Alone" cookbook.   I got it, read it, savoured it..... and dreamed....

 Two:  I got a bag of that Amish starter for making amish loaf from a friend.  You know, the friendship loaf that you pass around the starter and the recipe.  As delicious as the loaf is, the recipe calls for "instant vanilla pudding mix" and baking soda/powder.  I thought, "this can't be a real traditional recipe?!"  And I was off.....

 Turned out my first sourdough bread using this starter.... tried again with the "bread alone" cookbook - but kept things cooler and trusted in ovenspring instead of overproofing and I was off!

dmsnyder's picture

Like spsq, I've had several phases of bread baking over many years.  

I first baked baguettes and croissants when I was working my way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" ca. 1974. I started again about 5 years later with recipes from "From Julia Child's Kitchen" and Marcela Hazan's "Classic Italian Cooking." I pretty much stopped baking when an outstanding boulangerie opened locally just a few years later. 

I started again about 3 years ago after a 25 year hiatus because I craved better SF-style sourdough and Jewish rye bread I could not get locally. I bought BBA and "Secrets of a Jewish Baker," somehow discovered TFL, and it has been an amazing learning experience and continual growing enthusiasm ever since. 


Oldcampcook's picture

to bake cinnamon rolls.  I think I was about 10 or so.  I baked them from then on until I went into the service.

Last year, at age 70, I decided to see if I could duplicate them.  That got me started. I got into sourdough by making my own starters.

Now I bake anywhere from 8 to 20 loaves of bread a weekend, which is shared with neighbors and fellow workers (I still work full time).  I also spend a lot of time on several sourdough and kefir Yahoo groups.

And I lurk here every day.


ehanner's picture

I was a late entrant to baking. I have always enjoyed cooking in a grand manner and tried to teach myself French Cuisine with Julia's Mastering book. An old friend of mine is a European trained Chef and has run some very fine kitchens. He taught me the disciplines needed to work in a high end culinary environment even if only at home. The funny part is he wanted desperately to get out of the kitchen and into aviation. So I taught him to fly and he taught me to cook. Today he is the corporate jet pilot out of Aspen CO and I'm happily churning out delicious bread. We traded professions sort of.

My mother first called me to tell me she broke down and bought a bread machine some 20 years ago. She enjoyed the smell of fresh bread in the house and found she could make better bread than at the grocer.In small town Michigan that's not hard to imagine. Eventually I bought a small bread machine and learned to understand the proper stickiness of the dough to not make door stops. Then one day I ordered a stone from the KA catalog and tried it free hand. Those first attempts were pretty rough. I still remember how confused I was about how to handle the dough. Eventually I found my way to Mike's Sourdough Home and things started to click. It was being able to try something and get feedback from the expert that really launched me into the next level. Eventually I found TFL and I do enjoy the interactive aspect of this site. Being part of this community is allowing me to give back some of what I received when I was still making mostly weapons.


Paddyscake's picture

1. I Love my husband
2. We Love sourdough
3. I Love to cook
and I can't do anything half way so I did an extensive research on the internet and found TFL a couple years ago. Then it was lots of trial and error.. Mike Avery is right when he says find one guru and stick with them. I spent lots of time trying a little bit of everyones techniques! Not a good thing to do..and then SourdoLady got me on my way. Now that I've conquered sourdough..wholegrain bread is next and I'm going to follow Jmonkeys lead and see where I end up....



JMonkey's picture

Great to hear! Feel free to drop me an email if you have questions:

Just remove the obvious.

PaddyL's picture

I used to spend my weekends baking when I was in high school, to unwind and take myself as far away from that convent as was possible.  The more I baked, the more complicated recipes I wanted to try, and that meant the yeast-risen coffee cakes I found in cookbooks.  As I grew older, I didn't bake nearly as much, though I learned how to mix and knead bread from my mother and her sister.  Then a French bakery where my father used to buy his whole wheat bread closed and the hunt was on to duplicate, if we could, Dubois brown bread, and I went through cookbooks trying everything I found.  One day I hit on it, in a Family Circle cookbook, a buttermilk ww bread with cracked wheat.  I baked it about 16 times before my father decided he'd take over which he did; he kept notes on every aspect of every batch that he made (I've still got his notes.) and he was still making it until about a year before he died.  My next Epiphany was when my sister gave me "The Great Canadian Bread Book" and that was it; I'm still baking all our bread years later.  When I have to stop is the day they can cart me away!

audra36274's picture

I too live in the south, and prize my grandmothers dough bowl above my stand mixer. Do you think that wooden dough bowls are everywhere or mainly here in the south? Mine shows a hundred years of love and use. She died in her nineties and that was 15 years ago. What a privilege to make bread in her bowl. I bake mainly for my family, and close friends and neighbors. Right now we are re-doing our kitchen, and when the new counters go down, bread is the first thing that is on my list. We have been counter top-less for 2 weeks now, and my husband has been poo-pooing at the "store bread" that we have been getting by with. I think that for most of us here, baking bread is something we couldn't do without. It is our interest, our nourishment, and our therapy. How lucky we are.

JMonkey's picture

What a treasure that must be. I love working with wooden bowls, but the good ones these days are so expensive. So I've settled on some stainless steel bowls that I use non-stop.

Eli's picture


It must be a southern thing. I have lived all over and no one knows what I am talking about. I also found a man in North Carolina, that makes them...I guess it would enable one to start their own tradition. He doesnt' finish them, they are kind of rough and small however, I purchased one and I have been using it a little here and there. It is made of Tupelo Gum. My family ones are made of Sweet Gum. One is large and has darkened throughout the years. I am wondering if they were all made of gum or a poplin? Good lightweight.


audra36274's picture

It is about 18 inches across and dark from age. Funny thing that I remember as a child, she never took the flour out. She knew the dough from feel to be just right, only taking out the amout of flour that she needed for the dough. I weigh out everything and still wind up with bricks sometimes!


Eli's picture

Mine are about the same size. It is funny you said she never threw the flour out. Mine didn't either. I remember being about 11 when she was leaving her house and we emptied it for the first time in probably 30 years. It was kept in a flour sack when it wasn't being used.

GrapevineTXoldaccount's picture

about  30 years ago, while visiting her one day, she announced that she needed to get her dinner rolls started, I followed her into the kitchen and found myself in utter disbelief.  I'm sure I must have said something along the lines of, "How can you do this?"  .. Doing anything with yeast had always made me cringe, well, maybe that's not the right word.  Let's just say I was always very humbled, a bit perplexed, and OVERWHELMED.  Yeah, that last one is the word I was searching for.   There was something about putting yeast into warm water, being patient, and then proceeding toward the finished product.   In that kitchen, on that very day, I would find myself forever changed.  Can you imagine how I must have felt when that very sister visited me recently, accepted a loaf of sourdough from me, ventured homeward and emailed me only to beg for the recipe?  I was OVERWHELMED.  Yep, there's that word again, but it's true.  I found myself in awe, first thought being, 'This is where I gathered my courage, with this very person, and now she would like my bread recipe?'.....I even wrote about it here, just a week or so ago. 

Fate, I tell 'ya, it's fate.

audra36274's picture

It was the first sourdough I had ever had. I was hooked. My grandmother did simple bread, (followed by the best bread pudding!) and of course biscuits and the like. But as a kid, you don't think that these are treasures. They are just what we ate. Years later came the ex-MIL with her amazing sourdough bread that she sold to a few in the neighborhood. That was about the only good thing that came out of that marriage! I couldn't believe that anyone would set their clock just to get up and knead dough! But yet here I was this morning before dawn, just me and Zolablues cinnamon roll dough and the cat. And I wouldn't have it any other way! To this day, when I think of how home made bread taste I think of that sour dough twenty something years ago. My x MIL, GrapevineTX'S sister, just goes to show be careful what you do. You might just inspire someone. Let's hope we always inspire to the good. And bread is definitely good!

Trishinomaha's picture

I've only been baking bread for about 1.5 years but one thing it's taught me is PATIENCE! I have never been known to have that particular quality (though I very much admire people who are born that way...). Anyway, I've learned that if it takes two days to make the kind of bread we like, that's how long it takes and ... I'm ok with it! So, I've learned not only to make passible bread but also more patience in other areas of my life. Amazing, eh?


JMonkey's picture

It's good that this conversation got started up again, as it's been about a year. The community is growing so quickly with so many new faces, it's great to hear everyone's stories.

I posted my own story right here, as did many others, about 14 months ago.

Here's another thread on the same topic from May of last year. Lots of interesting beginnings in both from lots of regular posters. I look forward to reading more in this one.

Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

...Would be kinda cool if Floyd made a How others got Started page with those.

staff of life's picture
staff of life

When I was little, my aunt would occasionally give us a loaf of her freshly-baked bread.  My mother would also occasionally make baguettes out of James Beard's book.  I thought that fresh bread was so wonderful, I wanted to learn to make it myself.  So when my husband and I got married, I thought I would impress him by making some rolls to go along with dinner.  I didn't really understand what the purpose of kneading was, so I didn't.  Needless to say, the bread was terrible.  I kept making bread, though still feeling like I was walking in a fog.  Then two things happened: While I was staying in the hospital once, I saw Alton Brown demonstrate windowpaning.  And my aunt showed me how she made bread, leaving the dough much moister than I did.  So my bread improved, bit by bit.  I learned how to use a sourdough culture, how to see if a loaf is fully proofed, the importance of dough strength.  When I needed to get a job after my kids were all in school, I wanted one that allowed me to work around their schedules, so decided to make bread and sell it in a local grocery store.  When the store closed three months later, I used a few months to upgrade equipment, and worked like mad to be able to make my first artisan loaves.  I worked so hard the next year (which actually, was last year) to bring as much bread as I could to sell at the Farmers' Market.  I had my share of mishaps along the way, but I would just tell myself that it's from failures that we learn, not success.  It's the start of the new season, but yesterday, at the local Farmers' Market, I sold all my 100 loaves by 10 am.  A local paper is going to run the second story in as many years about my breads on Wed.  I also distribute bread through two local stores.  I use much of my earnings to re-invest: a bigger mixer, more bannetons, another refrigerator.  I am working to save now for a separate kitchen, just for making bread (and with another electrical service!).  I am very proud how far I have come after those first lumpy dinner rolls!


Paddyscake's picture

Way to go!! and proud you should be. That is an awesome accomplishment. I can't imagine your schedule,,you do all your baking single handedly? and have a family to care for? I'm impressed!

staff of life's picture
staff of life

Hi Paddyscake--

The schedule is rigorous, but I'm doing something I absolutely love, which makes it so much easier!  I do have three kids--a nine year old and seven year old twins--but they're in school.  It is more of a challenge when summer vacation comes around, but last year I dropped doing the mid-week market just during their vacation, and I plan to do the same this year.  The only help I get is my mom's; she sends out the twice-weekly email with the bread schedule, and she comes to the Saturday market to take the money.  Otherwise, it's just me, but I like that for now. :)


Eli's picture

I would like to pick your brain if you have time and don't mind? I will share my e-mail with you if that would help.



staff of life's picture
staff of life

That would be fine!  Just give me your email.


Eli's picture

eli_jonas at hotmail dot com



Atropine's picture

I started on yeast breads after finding a copy cat recipe for outback bread (I think they have changed their recipe though, last time I had the bread in the restaurant, it was a plain wheat--good but not what I make and not what I had remembered).  I digress...


Anyway, having more ambition than ability, I just started doing it.  After the wheat gluten fiasco, I became determined to cook as much as I could with ingredients that I source (as much as I can).  My bread used to be so so, but a friend of mine worked briefly at a bakery and the only thing I remember was her telling me that a wetter dough made a moister bread.  That helped my baking GREATLY.


Then I found this place and have been picking and learning my way through.  It is still sort of a pleasure than a passion (I prefer to cook by feel instead of by recipe...much to the chagrine of my sweetie when I am not sure how to duplicate something I did that was good lolol).


Currently I have a loaf that is waiting to go into the oven.  I was thinking "OH! I could post pics of this one!" but then I figured people might ask me how I made it.....and I have no idea.  No measurements, just "dumping" lolol.  I DID try think the dough is too wet to do that!  Oh well we will see how it tastes--at least it is wet enough that it should not be a door stop.  A pancake, maybe, but not a door stop.


Maybe I will just call it my ciabatta lolol.

Windischgirl's picture

What a great thread!  As I mentioned in a post yesterday, part of my interest in baking has to be genetic.  My great grandfather owned a bakery in Austro-Hungary.  My grandfather (his son in law) was an enterprising young man looking for a business.  He bought the bakery and got the baker's daughter to boot!  (I was named for her).  The kneading board that I have was made by my grandfather (2nd career as a woodworker) and my grandparents' spirits are certainly looking over my shoulder as i bake.

When my parents came to the states, they both worked for Wonder Bread (yea, I wonder that they can call that stuff 'bread') but at home we ate heavy German ryes imported from Canada, and the same breads that Dan Leader talks about from his childhood...I wouldn't be surprised if I learned I was eating Masterman's breads at the same time as Dan (I was probably in line next to him at the Broadway Market!).

I started baking as a teen--it was my regular Saturday activity...yes, I was weird.  Worked my way thru Beard on Bread.  Baked on and off during the early years of marriage and kids, but as the kids have become teens (and as my oldest is a cancer survivor and we're very preservative-averse) I've baked more frequently, but American-style loaf breads from Farm Journal.

What finally did me in was a visit to Switzerland this past December.  My kids went bananas over the varieties, the crust, and the flavors of breads.  Once back home (and after all the laundry got washed), I started raising my little pet, the stater.  Now I've got it bad, real bad.

My parents gave me birthday money--y'know, buy a suit, a nice briefcase.

 I bought Reinhart's and Hamelman's books instead.

I am supposed to be writing up 2 presentatations for work today.

I am currently rising a Rosemary Filone from "Local Breads" instead.

Yeesh.  I don't think there's a cure. 


Paula F

Philadelphia PA

clazar123's picture

Interesting thread- I thought I'd add my thoughts as I feel I've just "gotten" it.

I have made bread or seen bread made my whole life. My mother was the youngest of 12 kids.She watched her mother make bread for the whole family every week but being the youngest, did not have the same benefit over time as her older siblings. Some of her older brothers were pretty good bakers but they looked at it as a chore-a necessity. Very little true enjoyment that I witnessed. My mother had 5 kids and while she didn't make bread often, she made it often enough and tried to teach me about how to make bread. Looking back, she didn't have the experience or understanding of the science of bread that is available now and I would call her bread "ok" but very inconsistent. BUt it was enough to instill an interest in me and gave me some very basic techniques.What she passed on was more "rote" knowledge and she didn't have any particulare recipe she made-she tried many. I was the baker in our family but until recently, I had not focussed on bread.

Then I found  The Fresh Loaf. What a difference! About 6 months ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to make bread and to understand what was happening.My inspiration was a timing of need for a new focus/activity/accomplishment and a loaf of homemade bread from my friend's mother-who grinds her own wheat.Wow!

I have been baking every weekend since-I now grind my own wheat-I am beginning to understand how simple and complex bread is. I have consistenly progressed in my knowledge and experience-thanks to everyone here.

Life is good.

Cara's picture

My husband is military, we met in OK and all that time I worked full-time as a stock broker (the past 7 years).  During that time I would find different recipes in magazines etc.  I always wanted to try this sweet chocolate desert kind of bread recipe in one of the kraft mags so I bought yeast.  That yeast sat in the pantry and ended up moving to GA with us 4 months ago.

My mother used to make bread in the bread machine when I was younger (like 5, I am 25 now).  That was about the only experience I had with it.  I have always loved cooking and recipes, etc. just never had the time to cook.

When we moved to GA I decided to stay home full time with my 2year old son.  After getting everything unpacked I found I had time on my hands.  I am the sort of person who has to have something going on all the time, a definite multi-tasker.  Once day I saw the yeast in the pantry and seeing that, coupled with getting tired of paying a fortune for a loaf of bread, started my adventure.

My first recipe was a french bread loaf I found on Allrecipes.......some would call it a doorstop, but I woul liken it more to one of those things that runs the length of the door to keep the draft out! I took a home economics class in HS so I had made one loaf in my life, and knew to proof the yeast.  The thing was so hard, but my dear husband choked it down anyway.  After that I made another loaf to use the rest up and it was a little bit better.

My husband asked me if I could make some sourdough (lol errr yeah right) but to apease him I did some research online and found Mike's website for sourdough starter.............and found his basic white bread recipe.  That was the first bread that I made that turned out really made it with bleached AP flour and rushed through the loaf, but something must have been right b/c it was gone in two days.  A few days later he came home and wanted to know where the fresh bread now I make bread about every other day. 

My husbands family all lives here on the East Coast and his father is in GA.  He has become adicted to my bread and so now everywhere i go, i take yeast with me (buy it in bulk now of course). 

I am definitely adicted to bread baking.  My 2 year old is now a bread snob and makes "yack" sounds if offered bread from a bag at the grocery store.  He even gets his own piece of dough to knead and mess with as he pleases (i'll take teh loaf being of by a few ounces).

This site has been awesome as well, you people are wonderfully helpful.  Eric Hammer has helped me so much, it is nice to have someone to e-mail with my problems as they arise.  Thanks Eric!

ehanner's picture


Thanks for sharing your "how I got started" story. It is interesting to read how all of our experiences are similar. Baking is such an immediate gratification activity, the feeling of pride when you pull a well done loaf from the oven is very good for your self esteem.Learning the methods of this ancient craft is an honorable endeavor.

Hearing  you are a military family makes me all the more happy you are finding success here Cara. I have the highest respect for the commitment's you and your husband are making for all of us. My most sincere wishes for a safe and healthy New Year to you, your family and all that are serving.

I've enjoyed chatting with you Cara and look forward to see your work this year.


cordel's picture

Hmm, I hate to say that my epiphany came very recently, since I have been baking for 45 years. My mother baked for a family of seven, mixing by hand in a washtub that was at least 2 feet in diameter, and I am sure did it by feel. She bought flour in 100 lb bags, and we used the sacks for dishtowels. Her recipe had probably originally been one for Baguettes, but she formed two balls, and put them in a loaf pan. They were great the first day, not so great after two or three.

But then, she won a Westinghouse mixer (at that time, we did not even own a fridge) and the book that came with it had a recipe for rolls. She tried them once, and they were incredible. They had eggs, and butter in them, and were made with milk. Since we lived on a farm, only the butter was an expense, and so a tradition was begun. Mom made rolls for all special occasions, and as we moved away, every time one or more of us came home.

When I moved twelve hours driving away, I got the recipe, and the first time I made it, the rolls were spectacular, better than Mom's usually were. The next time, I made them for her, and they were still great. They became my tradition. But I couldn't make a good loaf of bread. Eventually, the quality went downhill, and I never figured out why, and I only made them when the kids came home. They love anything homemade.

Last year, I started coming here, and learned to make sourdough, beginning by making my own starter. I still knew nothing about the science of baking, though, and while I did the no-knead for a while, and it worked, sort of, I am a slow learner, and did not figure out why. I did some other bread but they were not great either. But then, someone here said (and I am embarrassed that I don't remember who) that a newbie here should choose a recipe and do it over and over and over exactly as the recipe said until s/he felt it was perfected, and then to start adjusting, but only one thing at a time. Well, I knew that...only I had never really done it.

So, back to my old-familiar roll recipe. I made some when my brother-in-law was here, and while they tasted fine, the texture was awful, and although I had used high-gluten flour, the skin had little strength, and no amount of kneading made it elastic. There were too many holes and they grew too fast, bubbled all over the place. But then someone here had the same problem, and a member mentioned that you have to reduce the yeast when you go to instant, so I tried that, and it was an improvement, and the time after that, I left the batter to beat a while in my 35 yr old Kenwood after I added the yeast, but before I added the last couple of cups of flour. (I can't after, or the machine walks off the counter) Now, I had rolls that had a smooth texture, felt resiliant, and when formed, grew and grew. When they came out, they were spectacular. Since then I have reduced the yeast further, replaced the butter with olive oil, taken care to make the rolls even in size so they are all done at the same time.

According to other things I have learned on this site I plan to reduce the yeast even further, and after that I plan to start adding things. I have decided I like using my Kenwood, so I will eventually try making different doughs in it, eliminating one by one, the milk, the eggs, the olive oil, but keeping the liquid to flour percentage the same. If that works, I will then exchange the yeast for sourdough. I want European style bread, but I need it to rise enough that my husband will not object. I will gradually move to more dense bread, but so far, he likes the fluffy stuff, and while he accepts commercial multigrain, he is not so happy with mine, so far. So fluffy multigrain, here we come, slowly.