Last week I attended the úll conference in Killkenny, Ireland. Besides being an excuse for us to take Magnus on his first trip to Ireland, the 3 days of the conference let me recharge my inspiration battery a bit and also have a bunch of great conversations with a lot of really smart people. Isn't that what conferences are for? On the second day there was a call to give lightning talks and I volunteered to talk about something thats been very much on my mind lately: Dough. I picked up baking (more specifically Pizza and pasta making) again recently, and the trial by fire has had me thinking a lot. I'm not going to post the slides because they're really just pictures, but what follows is the transcript.
This is a call to action: start making dough.
Listen, when the electricity gets and we're all holed up in a post internet globe of apocalyptic struggle, when the zombies come and you have to hold fast, well, your paleo gluten free shit is probably going to have to go out the window with all your obscure knowledge of dynamic programming languages and Simpson's halloween specials and you're going to have to learn how to feed yourself.
You're going to have to learn how to make dough.
But its not just survival, theres an amazing magic there. If you think theres craft and wizardry in making web applications, turning 3 simple ingredients into a loaf of bread. Dough is the original abstract framework. Its one of the original crafts. People have been turning ground wheat and water into bread since 8000BCE. If you think it takes 1K hours to master something, try 10K years.
Look, I didn't come to this naturally. I was pushing myself through learning how to cook everything. Following my obsessions: charcuterie, pickles, cheeses, bbq. Brining, Curing, Grilling, Braising my way through it all. But I resisted dough. Oh, I tried. And failed. All the other things came so easily to me, but bread, pasta, pizza, I kept fucking up. And spectacularly at that, flipping an uncooked pizza on to the floor, getting dough cemented into all the tiles of our kitchen.
There was a reason though. Dough IS a craft. It's something that comes with practice, with patience and study, with attention. Once you give into it though it can be an incredible experience.
What is Dough then?
Flour + Water.
The ratio of flour to water is called hydration. This is one of the primary factors that determines what kind of dough you're making. It also determines how much the dough is going to stick to you and everything else.
Flour + Water + Yeast + Heat = Bread
Yeast, which at its most basic is a living organism that turns sugar into gas, is the magical ingredient that makes flour and water turn from a flat mess into an airy wonderful castle of bread.
And yes, you can buy yeast at a store, but yeast is everywhere around us. Its in the flour itself, you just have to coax it out with my favorite ingredient: Time. Combine an equal quantity of water and flour, 200g each.
An Aside- Yes, I said grams. If you want to make bread, get a scale. Sure you might not have one when you're making bread in the wasteland - but for now, its necessary. If you care about the fact that in iOS6 the navigation dots were a couple pixels off center, but you don't weigh you're ingredients ... You're doing it wrong.
OK. So you mix half water, half flour. You let it sit for four days. It starts to get funky. You've created a monster. A living farm of yeast bacteria. So now you have to feed it. Every day you throw out 90% of it, and replace it with 50/50 water and flour. You do this every day. This is your starter.
Then, you take your farm, and you mix it with more flour and water.
750g Water 700g White Flour 300g Wheat or Bread flour 200g of Starter
You mix it by hand, you touch it, you feel it. You love it. This is your life, your craft. Fucking get into it.
This is where the failure comes in, where its so easy to fuck up, yet so easy not to as well. All it takes is attention and practice.
You form it, you let it rise. You bake it.
You've done it. You have taken some of the most simple ingredients on earth, captured them, and turned them into something 1000 times more than its parts. That is craft at its most primal.
Making dough has taught me how to fail. Not gracefully at first - there was cursing and throwing things across the kitchen. But these simple ingredients can become an art, and if you learn how to fail, you will eventually learn how to succeed.
So please, learn to make some dough.
If you're really interested in making dough, these are the people and books that taught me: