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Keep calm and bake on: Breadmaking tips for a global pandemic

Two loaves of bread
Sara Molinaro
Running out of ways to keep yourself occupied? Try baking bread with a few tips from Zingerman's Bakehouse instructor Sara Molinaro.

You’ve probably seen at least one or two homemade loaves of bread on your social media feeds as most of us are stuck at home in quarantine. Maybe you’ve even tried making a loaf of sourdough or challah yourself. So, why are so many people turning to bread baking in these uncertain times? We posed that question to expert baker Sara Molinaro. 

Molinaro is the lead instructor at Zingerman’s Bakehouse. She said she thinks the breadmaking craze is due, in part, to the uncertainty of this moment. People don't know if the grocery store will have what they need or if they'll find empty shelves. So, she explained, people have decided to try making their own food where they can, and bread seems like a safe bet.

“I think there’s something very comforting about bread. Period, full stop,” Molinaro explained. “I think the fact that people are able to, with the right recipes, with a minimal amount of equipment, bake bread at home and nourish their families, I think there’s something very comforting and reassuring about that in a time when very little else is.”

While eating a loaf of freshly-baked bread is comforting, making one yourself can be a little intimidating. Molinaro told us that a lot of newbie breadmakers are afraid about working with yeast, which can sometimes be persnickety. But, she said, the only way to learn is to actually start baking.

“I can tell you that so much of what I’ve learned about baking came from making lots of mistakes.”

One of the common mistakes bakers make, Molinaro said, is not giving their dough enough time to rise. Yeast reacts differently in different temperatures. A recipe may call to leave bread to rise for one hour, and on a 70 degree day, that will be plenty of time. But on a chilly, mid-April afternoon, it will need extra proofing time. 

“Learning to understand that your home environment, and whether it’s cooler or warmer, or whatever’s going on outside and inside really come into play,” she said.

One side effect of the breadmaking craze has been a shortage of ingredients like yeast and flour at some stores. Molinaro said that while there are options to make your own yeast, you might have better luck at a smaller store than a larger grocery chain.

“I have been surprised that what’s totally out at one store, you know, I drove to a smaller market or sort of a more local chain and I had everything I needed,” she said. “I found that those stores need our business more anyway.”

While Sara isn’t teaching any in-person classes right now, she’s still sharing her breadmaking wisdom on Zingerman’s Facebook page and blog. Her other job? Keeping Fred and Jerome—the bakery's sourdough starters—happy and well fed. 

This article was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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