An other one from Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I'm an other new member from Montreal. Well, actually, I live in suburbia, on Montreal's South-Shore, a 20 mn drive from down-town when the bridges are not strangled by traffic or closed because they menace to collapse in the Saint-Laurent river. So while we're lucky enough to have excellent bakeries around, there are just not enough of them to cater to the population of the greater Montreal with every-day freshly baked bread (as it's the case in most of France's towns for example). If we want good, fresh, artisanal bread on a daily basis here, we would have to drive an awful lot or to be awfully patient in mind-blowing, depressing traffic jams or deal for hours with a totally dysfunctionnal, expensive bus/metro system (such a mess...)
I immigrated from France to Canada 16 years ago and I can't, to this day and for the life of me, get used to industrial sliced bread, or "levain-flavoured" fake "artisan" bread. Since artisanal bread isn't a luxury or a "once a month" treat in my culture , I need it every day on our table and in the lunch boxes of the men I love: A husband and 3 sons for whom I'm fortunate enough to be able to "make home", full time, having the choice to renounce to work outside. Therefore, I bake every day so not to drive the 40 km (25 miles) to the nearest traditional bakery several times a week.
Once a month, I go to a local bakery supplier and buy organic flours and grains, bulk. It's sustainable for us to function like that since we're a family of 5 and we can go through a 20 kg (44 pounds) bag of flour before it even thinks to go stale. When the boys were younger, I had to carefully manage freezer space to keep organic flours fresh. Not any more since they grew up, their appetite grew accordingly, and they added the appetite of their pre-teen or teenager's friends to the family food supply equation.
I always baked with fresh yeast when living in France. While growing up, it wasn't so much the lack of good bakeries that brought me to bake a lot, but the fact that we were a big household, a family with 8 kids and parents with an extensive social life (not rare to have 12 to 30 unexpected, unannounced guest on any given week-end, a perpetual open house). Not one of us sibblings wanted to walk around with 10 to 15 baguettes from the bakery to our home. We had our share of finger pointing and bad jokes about our occasional haul as well as furious stares from the bakery's client in line behind us, watching us empty the shelves. Also, my mother had to find ways to feed us on a reasonable budget and buying retail was expensive. So she taught us to bake and imposed bread baking among our numerous chores. We took turns all year long, school or no school, day-in and day-out, to produce enough bread for our crowded table (french bread, ethnic flat breads, sweat doughs, pie shells, and so on).
Once settled here in Montreal, I had to switch to instant yeast (extremly difficult to find fresh cake-yeast here, unless you want to buy it by the 2 pound package). Now, equiped with a honest library from french and american artisan bread author, I'm trying to make a transition from commercial yeast to levain. I rarely knead and bake the same day, unless I'm making pain de mie or an american classic loaf, both of which are my "I'm in such a hurry" breads, my version of "fast food bread" of sort. I make pain de campagne or baguette or pain de ménage often, and those necessitate to work the dough over a 24 hours++ span. So the "timing" and technical part of the process is ok for me to adapt to. It's the "gut feeling" of working with levain that I still miss and can't seem to acquire as easily as I thought I would. Actually, I'm quite suprised and caught off-guard by the temperamental nature of wild-yeast baking.
So here I am, with a big gap to fill in my baking repertoire, and hoping I develop skills in wild yeast bread making. And since community relationships are as a necessary stapple as bread in my culture, I will be glad to document and try to render in usable recipes my instinctive baking, drawn from the traditional homemaker education I got growing up in a moroccan family installed in France since the early 50's and therefore infused with french homemaking traditions.
Glad to be here.