Friend, have you heard the good news? Bread is back. After a 20-year period of privileged carb-fearing in America, our hunger for hearty artisan bread has returned in a way that we haven't experienced since the '90s. It's once again romantic — healthful even — to eat preservative-free, crusty, craggy bread, the bread we call "naturally fermented sourdough."
Your local bakery likely sells decent loaves of it, your favorite farm-to-table restaurant is charging for it, and if you keep the company of millennials with sufficient disposable income and leisure time, you're surely fewer than two degrees of separation from a sourdough bread-baking hobbyist. These well-off, internet-raised 20- and 30-somethings have turned to baking bread to self-impose a little offline time — it can take upwards of 40 hours to make just one loaf — to get closer to their mythical human roots, to go back to a time when everything took forever and nothing could be Seamlessed. If you didn't know about this new offline hobby, don't worry, it's being obsessively documented online. "Crumb shots," images of the interior texture of a loaf of sourdough, are now as pandemic on social media as novelty milkshakes once were.
Hallelujah, bread is back. But these new bread beasts are not the bakers of yore, early risers peacefully toiling at their craft, their secrets trapped just beneath the crust of a fresh loaf whose sweet smells are wafting through the streets. No, this bread is engineered. With custom-made bread ovens, temperature-controlled proofing boxes, at-home grain mills, laser thermometers, and a $600, 52-pound cookbook. A sample caption from breadstagram: "Loaf from yesterday's cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume)."