I can't remember how I got into baking bread, but when I decided I wanted to do it, I knew I didn't want to use a machine- no machines at all, other than the oven. My hands would do all the dirty work.
The first thing I did was search the internet for breadbaking information (ok, so I did use a computer). There I learned about "real" breadbaking- the kind requiring a starter rather than yeast. A challenge! I was totally into that. Kind baking enthusiasts steered me towards books like The Bread Baker's Apprentice (which I love to this day) and I embarked upon my first adventure: making a starter.
I had so many questions! When is a starter ready? Is it supposed to look or smell like that? Should I start over? Once I was sure my starter was healthy and ready to use, I baked my first bread. I have no memory of what kind it was, but my first breads were all very amateurish. Some had little white spots, or problems with the holes or the crust from not kneading properly, not letting it rise correctly, or some error during baking.
But eventually I actually got good at it! I loved to fill the house (and the street outside) with the smells coming from my kitchen. I baked baguettes, Italian loaves, pumpernickel, rolls, pizza crusts, and breads I'd never heard of before. I loved learning new baking tips, like the right temperatures for dough-making and how to introduce moisture during baking at just the right time.
My favorite breads were ciabatta, asiago, and rosemary olive oil. Ciabatta is my favorite because the dough is so much fun to work with, and I enjoy the artistry and skill involved in getting a loaf just right, with the holes large enough and the crust just so.
Asiago and rosemary breads are great because they are wonderful-smelling and make the people I give them to very happy. I used to make a few loaves, package them with a personalized baker's bag (I found them in a restaurant supply store), and then ride my bike to deliver them to a friend, or drive to the next town over to give a fresh loaf to my parents. I gave away more than I ate, in fact, because I love to put smiles on faces.
I had fun buying bread-baking baskets with woven patterns in them because they produce breads with beautiful patterns and textures. Yes, I started to get fancy; I probably could have gone into business, but I didn't have commercial equipment. I tried to get a job at the lone artisanal bread-baking place in town but they weren't hiring. I think I offered to volunteer but by that time I was about to leave town.
I actually haven't baked since moving to start grad school. Between keeping a small apartment, studying and working full time, I don't find time to bake. But I keep meaning to. If I tried, I probably could listen to taped lectures while mixing and kneading. I could study while the dough is rising and read while a loaf is baking.
Hmmm... I think I might just go make a new starter!