The magic of home baking at your fingertips…
As some of you you know, Ben and I have recently spent some time in Italy, and just as I had imagined, during our stay we got to eat delicious food. We had lots of cheese, pizza, and pasta, of course; bread, crackers and grissini were always on the table. We never ate meat, but plenty of fresh vegetables, and some fish.
“I’ll go back to the gym as soon as I’m back,” I had said to myself.
Three weeks passed, we enjoyed every specialty that my home country had to offer, and we did not gain weight. After much thinking, I realized that the reason why our bodies had so positively reacted to the food had to be found in the ingredients rather than in the ratio calories/nutrients; everything we ate, in fact, was either homemade or artisanal.
So I returned to Los Angeles with a mission: to recreate the ‘Italian experience’ here at home. That’s how my ’30-day home baking challenge’ started. And this meant no processed food of any kind, no pre-packaged bread, cookies, crackers, etc.
To be fair, I must say that we walked a lot in Italy. We hiked the breathtaking mountains of Valle d’Aosta, for hours we walked the beautiful, historical streets of Turin, and the medieval boroughs of its nearing cities. But walking wasn’t the only reason why we had not gained weight: what we ate was. No unpronounceable ingredients where listed on the labels of our food, no corn derivates, no high-fructose corn syrup, no ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), calcium citrate, cellulose, vegetable, powder, maltodextrin, citric acid (thickening agents found in sauces, frozen food, salad dressings, ice cream), no dextrose (glucose), or ethanol, just to name a few we encounter daily in our groceries stores. We always sat at the table and ate our meals slowly, taking the time to enjoy every flavor, whether new or familiar. We never ate in the car or in front of a computer; we never munched on popcorn, candies, crackers or chips in front of the TV, but we had dessert at the table, with an espresso or a cup of tea.
In this blog, I decided to use bread as an example because, even though home baking isn’t my field of expertise, the transformation of flour, water, salt into bread has always fascinated me — pure magic, a miracle of nature.
According to the Dictionary of the English Language:
a basic food made from flour, water, and yeast mixed together and baked
I am very careful to what I buy; only local and in season, organic, raw, rarely wrapped in plastic or paper (eggs, for example, or Beyond Meat products, from time to time, or tempeh, and artisanal ice cream). However, no matter how thoroughly I read every label, I still find myself occasionally eating ingredients that are not ‘native’ of a certain food.
On the list of ingredients in one of the best pre-packaged organic bread I used to buy at Whole Foods, Rudy’s, I read:
Made with stuff you can pronounce and ingredients you recognize:
organic wheat flour, water, organic evaporated cane juice, organic oat fiber, organic high oleic sunflower/safflower oil, organic potato flour, sea salt, organic oat flour, organic vinegar, yeast, organic wheat gluten, cultured organic wheat starch, organic whole wheat flour, ascorbic acid, natural enzymes.
Rudy’s is actually a good enough product, but the discrepancy between the two definitions of bread is evident to anyone, and it applies to cookies, breadsticks, cakes, muffins, crackers, etcetera.
“I haven’t bought bread since I found the recipe for a no-kneading loaf,”
Madie, my facialist, told me in her strong French accent a few days after I had returned from Torino. Similarly to what had happened to me in Italy, every time Madie went back to France she noticed the different effect of food on her body, so a few years ago she created a diet as similar as possible to the one she followed in Europe. And bread-making was a key factor.
“Where do you find the time to bake bread?”
I asked her. I have always found home baking quite daunting.
“It’s easier than you think, I promise. Just try…you can even freeze the dough, if you don’t have much time,”
she had reassured me.
Hesitant but curious, I drove back home, sat at my desk and googled ‘no-knead bread’: life here at the Tenches hasn’t been the same ever since.
The first recipe that appeared on my screen was by Mark Bittman (always a safe source). I read some of the reviews, and they all had five stars. “This recipe is very forgiving…” I remember reading. The word ‘forgiving’, in the kitchen, is as sweet as pastry cream, merengue, and nugget all mixed together in a warm, buttery waffle cone. I love the word ‘forgiving’ in the kitchen.
One month has passed since Madie and I talked about bread; now I make fresh dough every two days, so Ben and I can have homemade rustic bread at every breakfast.
Riding the wave of my recent home baking success, a few days later I thought about the many sweets that we had in Italy (my mom rarely buys them at the store, she likes to bake); why couldn’t I use my grand Viking oven for biscotti, cakes, and muffins?
I kept at it, and my first two experiments consisted of lavender & oat cookies and taralli (recipes below).
They were delicious.
So I baked some more: crackers (plain, with sesame seeds, with anise and fennel seeds, with olive oil, and with sea salt and black pepper), more cookies, shortbread with lemon and rosemary, oat with chocolate and hazelnuts, oat with coconut, lime, and mango, eclairs, and flatbreads.
At the end of the 30-day challenge, that today has become 365-day norm, I can easily see the change that took place in my body, in my heart, and in my daily life. I work hard at not making weight a priority, nowadays, but neither I nor Ben have gained a pound. We actually eat less sweets, perhaps because, when we do, we eat real and healthy sugar, not its cheaper and addictive surrogates. Something has changed in the way I feel, more present and aware, more energetic, and in a more balanced connective with my life as it is today, not exactly a walk in the park.
Many are the things in life that we cannot control and change, but the food we eat is not one of them.
Real change starts from within and it spreads out to our families, friends, and communities. Food is one of the most powerful and beautiful tools that we have at our disposal to change our lives, to leave a better world to our children, and to respect our planet by being present in every step of its development. What we eat is what feeds our brain: food can cure diseases, it can improve our mood, and it has the incredible power of bringing people together, something that we desperately need these days, both as a country and as a species.
Please, try this bread, you will not fail, and you will not go back to the store. HERE
Also, try my taralli with fennel seed, and you won’t ever buy Goldfish as your ‘guilty’ pleasure (they used to be mine…): HERE.
Have fun, be messy, involve your kids and friends, be creative, and enjoy the result. Contact me through the website for support and advice. I’d be more than happy to walk you through this amazing culinary journey!
The magic of home baking at your fingertips…