8 baking practices we should bring back

1. The communal oven

communal oven

One of the greatest costs of industrialization was the death of baking practices that both built and sustained communities. You didn’t need to live in a small town in the Middle Ages to reap the benefits of the communal oven. Many Parisian neighbourhoods also featured communal ovens around which its residents talked, learned and evolved.  So do some small towns up until not that long ago. Besides the ample social benefits, which Pierre Delacretaz has done a beautiful job of documenting in his book, Les Vieux Fours a Pain (Old Bread Ovens), many parts of the world still make use of communal ovens for both practical and cultural reasons. Imagine dropping off your dough in the morning to pick up an amazing loaf on your way home from work, or a ceramic pot in which your dinner would get slow cooked all day (à la Tangiers), or a whole stack of cinammon buns made from your own backyard teff.

2. These things

(credit: Taste & Tell blog)

3. Itinerant bakers

What’s this, you ask? It’s a professional baker with a heart of gold, equipped with a bike and a whole satchel of passion for bringing baking into people’s homes. Aka, “boulanger itinérant” or baker on the go”. S(h)e’ll come to your house and bake with you and your friends, teaching your simple ways to do it on your own down the line. When you’re done, you’ll have a whole bunch of pro loaves, buns, and other goodies to share around. The best part is the baking expertise that no one can take away from you. Here’s one in Montréal that is worth calling up. If you’re still not convinced, I wrote more about him here.

4. Home bread mills

Imagine being able to bake from anything, any starting point whatsoever. Kernels of corn, millet or rye. Why not mill at home? Mills cost a lot less than you think. What’s more: you,re not even limited to grains. When I was in living in France in the early 2000s, I worked in a chestnut orchard. We milled the dried chestnuts and made a delicious, nutritious chestnut flour. It combined beautifully with baking flours or other alternative flours (for the gluten intolerent) to create breads, scones and pastries of all types. Milling at home is not as hard as you think. Mother Earth has a great rundown of how to begin your home bread mill search.

5. This ancient mesopotamian bread

Ancient mesotopamian

(There’s even a recipe that has survived 5200 years)

6. Making pie crust with finger tips

A shortcrust, once a staple of many Anglo-Saxon savoury & sweet dishes, has long gone the way of grandma’s cookbook. The thing is, it’s so ridiculously easy and superiour to store-bought crust that its absence in our daily life boggles my mind. Here’s a quick, tried and tested technique (apologies, but Mr. Jamie Oliver does it best).

7. Date squares.

They’re just not made often enough.

Date squares

8. Baking in sand, embers or stones

Baking flat breads inside a solid heat source, as it were, is a famously Berber technique (think lots of sand dunes and not a lot of electricity), but it’s indeed been the go-to baking method in most corners of the world. In North America, however, we’ve long grown distant from our indigenous roots, and most of us would never consider it a way to get that yeast rising, or golden crust forming.  But it is something to bring back. Still not convinced? Just watch this:

Berber oven

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