An article from the Sydney morning herald I found
Men's spirits rise when they're making bread, writes John Newton.
What is it with blokes and breadmaking? Is it the chemistry - the complex interaction between a single-celled fungus (yeast to you), flour and water to make a risen loaf?
Or is it the hardware? There's a whole range of dough mixers with hooks as impressive as that of Peter Pan's pirate nemesis, not to mention those newfangled machines where you put in the ingredients and out comes a loaf.
Or is it - and I reckon we're getting closer to the truth here - an outlet for the kind of aggression that might otherwise see a bloke in the dock facing a charge of grievous bodily harm?
Bernard Shirley, publicist, journalist and confessed "recovering breadmaker", subscribes to the latter view. He began making bread when working for the Australian Information Service in Port Moresby and in Mexico City, where he found it "a very therapeutic thing".
Shirley believes that while he was living in Port Moresby he may have invented an entirely new way to knead bread - using a clothes drier. "It was so hot and humid, kneading became hard work. So, once I'd mixed a nice silky dough, I'd put it inside a plastic bag, tie it, then inside another plastic bag and put it in the drier - no heat - for 15 minutes or until it was ready."
But it wasn't until he came back to Australia and began working in the corporate world that he fully realised the power of dough. "I'd knead the bread and, as it rose up, imagine it was some of the people who hadn't enchanted me during the day, and then I'd pummel it down to size without being charged with assault."
Having left the corporate world, and discovered some great local bread - he loves the bread at Victoire in Balmain - Shirley no longer bakes as regularly, a decision reinforced by doing the breadmaking course at the Brasserie Bread Company in Rosebery because, as he put it "the sourdough process needs to be so carefully controlled".
It was just this kind of precision chemistry that excited Bruce Schirmer, an ultrasound technician and another exponent of breadmaking as therapy.
"I don't understand why more men don't do it," he says. After doing the Brasserie course, Schirmer was eagerly awaiting his Christmas break, to make his own sourdough starter. "I need the time to get it going." he says. "It's like a pet; it needs constant feeding."
Schirmer doesn't remember how he caught the bread bug: "At first I thought it wasn't such a big deal, but then I had a couple of failures, read a couple of books, kept experimenting, and went from there."
On breadmaking days, Schirmer gets started as soon as he gets home from work. "I throw the dough in the mixer (an old Kenwood), then pour it out and knead it - if you've had a rough day at work it's very soothing - then I go for a run or a swim, come back when it's risen, punch it down and knead it again, leave it again and do some gardening. It takes 10 minutes in three separate operations and 25 minutes to bake. Everyone thinks I'm stupid to make bread because you can just go down the shop and buy it. But I find it very satisfying."
Some blokes so love making bread, it has become their job. Nick Anthony of La Tartine was in France with his wife, Laurence, and considering opening a ski shop. Then he did a few shifts in Laurence's cousin's bakery at Annecy. "I loved it from the beginning," he says. "I'd never done anything like it before in my life. It was like working with something alive."
Anthony has some sound advice to the bloke who wants to make bread. "First, stay away from bread machines. It's like three-minute noodles - there's no art in it. Second, know you're going to stuff up a lot of loaves, so be patient. To fix a problem, change one thing at a time. For example, the temperature of the water, then try proving time, then the percentage of leaven or yeast. And finally, go to a good baker for your flour so you know you're getting pure flour with no improvers, no yeast."
As a one-time, soon-to-return amateur breadmaker, I can, however, tell you that first loaf of perfect bread makes up for all the failures.
Now you try it
The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Norton, $49.95). You'll find 640 pages of precise instructions for making everything from basic white sandwich loaf to croissants.
Baker by Dean Brettschneider and Lauraine Jacobs (Allen & Unwin, $29.95). A practical guide to the principles of commercial baking and how to adapt them for the home.
The Natural Tucker Bread Book by John Downes (Hyland House, $16.95). A down-to-earth book by one of our great contemporary bakers (and Bruce Schirmer's favourite).
To learn breadmaking from Michael Klausen at the Brasserie Bread Company, call Convivial Times on 9380 8327 or go to
for details of 2004 courses.