Celebrating his first book, past Campaign ambassador Jack Sturgess explains his home baking ethos and mission.
Throughout my career as a chef, I always became fascinated by the unknown and intrigued by the mysterious. Certainly for a while, bread was one of those things. I just could not believe that such simple ingredients could come together into something so triumphant. Crafted by human hands, the characteristics of each loaf are as unique as the person who made it.
Homemade bread doesn’t have to be a mystery though. Following a handful of principles, I believe EVERYONE can make amazing bread in their own kitchen at home, so much so that in 2013 I created Bake With Jack. I began hosting classes in people’s homes, allowing us to discover together exactly what is possible in their own ovens.
Since then, Bake With Jack has grown and evolved to include a YouTube channel, blog, live demo’s and now a book. They all serve the same purpose; to remove the mystery and barriers between you and amazing bread at home, putting into your hands the power to have success every single time.
You are a key ingredient
Learning is infinite. It’s the hook that’s so appealing about kitchen life. Oftentimes it’s the little things that can make a huge difference, especially with bread. Things like WHY we knead dough, WHERE is a good place to rest it, HOW a loaf holds its shape as it puffs up, and WHAT we can do to help make that happen. This knowledge and understanding is POWER. Bread is a love story of practice and patience. It’s not just flour, water, salt and (sometimes) yeast, it’s also YOU. You are a key piece of the puzzle. Bread dough is alive, which will happily puff up and do its own thing but it’s us, the home bakers, who coax it into form, helping it to become the best bread it can be.
As we learn and practice, it becomes truly evident that a recipe is only part of the picture. There are so many of those ‘little’ things NOT written into a recipe that are of great value and can be complete game changers for us on our bread making journeys. Equally, there are things written into some recipes as ‘safety nets’ that aren’t entirely necessary, which could actually cause more harm than good. Something as simple as ‘knead on a floured surface’ could really stitch you up! Adding flour into your dough as you’re kneading can lead to a tightened, yet underworked, dough that won’t puff up properly.
What we need as home bakers is KNOWLEDGE, and I’m not talking about bacteria strains or the intricacies of fermentation. I’m talking about PUFF, the strength in our dough, building tension while moulding to get the nice shape we wanted all along, how we steam up our ovens for great lift and golden colour.
Trust and celebration
For me, a successful bread is one that has puffed up and that we can eat. That’s a MASSIVE win! Everything else; that beautiful burst on the top of a sourdough loaf; the perfect crust on a baguette, is also completely achievable in your oven at home and will come over time. The biggest secret of them all is that breadmaking is a craft. Roughly translated, this means things probably won’t go perfectly to create an Instagram-worthy loaf the first time round but with practice it will come in time, I promise. Every time you make bread, you will learn more and develop a real feel for what you are doing. Even if you feel like you’re not at the time, you really are!
Trust the process and, when you’re done, celebrate it. Your homemade bread, your effort and work, your courage to be on this journey NEEDS recognition. With your own bread at the centre of the table, it really doesn’t take much to turn it into a proper meal. You can really shine a light on your bread by accompanying it with a few carefully-constructed, wholesome salads, a baked cheese, some cured meats or perhaps a soup.
Then (it’s not over yet) use it WELL - Every Single Crumb. We all know that homemade bread doesn’t always last like an industrial loaf product. That’s because there’s nothing weird inside - no magical powder or hocus pocus; nothing artificial. Homemade bread ages and that’s not a negative thing. Stale bread can still be celebrated for what it is. This stage is like a new chapter in life! It can become amazing croutons, hands down the best. It can be toasted and topped or soaked and used in meatballs, turned into amazing French toast, crumbed and pan fried… The possibilities for turning it into something entirely new are endless, ensuring that our food and our efforts are never wasted.
Along your homebaking journey, I hope you get as much value out of making your own bread as I do. Building knowledge helps understand potential ‘failure’. It gives us the freedom to create our own recipes and methods that fit us well as individuals. Practice helps us to understand that there isn’t truly such a thing as failure.
It’s a long game. In an age of instant gratification, that may not translate well as a standalone statement. But it is that long-term process that means we are always learning, growing, improving bit by bit while we let go of ourselves, enjoying the process and peace within the practice.
Celebrate your bread, in all its homemade glory. Build a meal around it. Invite your friends and family, because YOU MADE IT. Shout it from the rooftops and use up every single crumb!
Bread Every Day by Jack Sturgess is published on 5 May 2022 by Ebury Press. RRP £22.
Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 50, April 2022
Published 5 May 2022
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