The secrets to a delicious loaf of bread are in
the details


The process of properly kneading bread dough includes proofing, dimpling (above), shaping, and slashing.

By Paula Johnson

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
—James Beard

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
—Robert Browning

Those lofty sentiments were what I had in mind every time I tried to produce a loaf of bread. The result of my labors was nothing short of spectacular versions of misshapen concrete, quite possible the farthest thing from lofty in this known universe. Bread has vexed me and intrigued me for years. I watched with avid anticipation Michael Pollan’s new series “Cooked,” with the third episode devoted to bread. In the episode, Bruce German, a food scientist at UC Davis, is quoted as saying “If I gave you a bag of flour and water you could live on it for a while but eventually you would die – but if you take that same bag of flour and water and bake it into bread you could live indefinitely.” Bread does nothing short of civilize us as humans beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. Growing, milling, and mixing grain creates community and work. It’s the center of most every meal worldwide, except mine. That is until I met Matt Boosalis, Lord of the Loaf, at one of the bread making workshops he gives at his bakery and cafe in Centerville. (The bakery supplies bread to many of the areas leading restaurants.)

Before we get to Matt and what he does, a word first about the horror of what currently passes for bread, which sadly is what most people are buying and eating. It has become so processed that it’s really something other than bread. Sixty years ago bread was made with three or four ingredients. Now a packaged loaf from the supermarket contains nearly forty ingredients. That’s not real bread – it’s something else entirely. As Julia Child puts it, “How can a nation be great if their bread tastes like Kleenex?” Indeed, Julia, indeed. And Matt Boosalis is on a mission to get us to toss our Kleenex and get back to the simplicity of four ingredients. “We adhere to the way it’s been done for the past seven hundred years,” he says.

You don’t need to know anything to start – It’s really Bread 101. I was astounded at just how simple it is to get the basics, and that the pitfalls most novices fall prey to are easy to avoid. We began in the bakery’s back room at long butcher-block tables. We would be mixing directly on the wooden surface, not in a bowl, my first surprise. (Hands are preferred. Using a mixer creates too much heat according to Matt.) Second revelation was that measuring of ingredients is not done with measuring cups, but with a scale. “I’ve got an extreme bias here,” says Matt. “You need a scale that converts to grams. Consider that if you measure by ounces, there’s 16 ounces in a pound. There are 454 grams in a pound. It’s much more accurate. By far the BIGGEST mistake nearly everybody makes is using too much flour. It starts out really sticky, and the inclination is to add more.”

He then revealed what we all came for – The Recipe (Follow this, and pay attention to Matt’s techniques and tips and it’s pretty fail safe, he assured us):

500 grams of flour
2% salt
2% yeast
67–70% water (percentages are expressed in terms of flour weight – see why that scale is necessary?)

And what about flour, I wanted to know? And yeast? “King Arthur is what I recommend. NEVER buy bleached or bromated flour! It’s not even legal in Europe. As to yeast, instead of buying those little packets, go to Gordon Food Supply and get a big package-it’s much more economical.” Now on to mixing. As I mentioned, we started with a mound of flour with the salt and yeast poured on top, but not touching. Using a bench scraper (a flat rectangular paddle), we mixed everything together, then spread it into a large circle to make a well for the water. “The water temperature is important,” Matt noted. “Ideally, room temperature should be 75 degrees, and so should the flour. The water should be 60 degrees. Hot water kills the yeast.”

Using two fingers and a thumb, we incorporated the wet and dry ingredients, making a slurry. Then using the flat fleshy part of your hand, we began the kneading process, which develops the gluten. The gluten has two important properties that make it desirable in bread: elasticity and plasticity, making it stretch and snap back without breaking. “This takes about 8 to 10 minutes. And the dough knows if you’re timid. Most beginners need to be more aggressive,” he advised. Can you overdo it? “With a machine, easily. By hand, no,” he assured me.

Matt is a gifted teacher, full of descriptive analogies to illustrate the process. I wanted to know about how to get those wonderful airy pockets which result from the gas being released by the yeast eating the sugars in the flour. “The gluten, the yeast – they’re your puppets. When you get experience, you control those chambers, those pockets. You become the puppet master.”

Master Matt went on to guide us through the rest of the steps including proofing, dimpling, shaping, and slashing. He advised on baking at home (Never bake bread in a convection oven – steam is good for bread!) and in general, made the entire class of novices feel inspired, armed with the secrets to feel confident to try bread baking at home. I left with an airy, crusty, golden loaf, a thing of absolute perfection that didn’t set off the seat belt alarm.

Matt Boosalis has been at this for ten years. His right hand, Mindy, who assists throughout the workshop (which by the way includes a meal featuring the cafe’s delicious sandwiches and pastries) has been with him since the start. I wanted to know what the next ten years might hold for this former West coast corporate finance guy who fell hard for bread making. He smiled, “Bread – a bakery – it can really unify, change a community. I’d like to maybe do something in North Dayton. Start something over there, you know?” I do know. I can easily imagine this man’s passion for bread, that most basic and common element of life, as a big factor in helping to transform and enhance any community he chooses.

Whatever he does, he has no plans to leave his Centerville location, where he will continue to offer bread making workshops, and also croissant classes starting in May. Mmmmmm. I can already taste the butter!

For more information on upcoming workshops, visit www.boosalis.com or
call 937-424-0636.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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