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Book Excerpt: Flour Power
by Tara Jensen
This email is going out on a Tuesday, and before the newsletter’s August hiatus is officially over (we’ll be legit open for business again on 9/2, with the return of the Friday Bread Basket), but that’s because today is a BIG DAY: the release date for Tara Jensen’s amazing new book on sourdough baking of all kinds, Flour Power.
Tara and I are pals, so obviously I’d be excited that she had a new book baby out in the world, but I’ve also read it, and I can promise you that my enthusiasm for it goes well beyond my fondness for Tara as a person. As Claire Saffitz says in the book’s forward, Tara is a natural teacher, and Flour Power is the next best thing to getting to bake with her by your side, guiding your hands as you work, encouraging you to carry on despite blunders, cheering you on in your triumphs.
Tara recently spoke to Ashley Rodriguez—who, by the by, has an excellent Substack newsletter of her own called Boss Barista, all about coffee and the coffee industry—for Taste Magazine, and I think their chat makes for a perfect introduction to both the book and to Tara’s approach to teaching:
You should go read the whole thing, but here are a few highlights:
When I first started teaching, I was telling people to use their intuition. At some point, I realized that was rude. They were there because they were hoping to gain some intuition! You can’t get intuition in an afternoon. I can set you up with a solid formula, but then you have to take it home and practice.
Once I became more confident in speaking towards the technical aspects of bread baking, I sort of had a shift in the content that I was teaching. I thought people would feel frustrated that they were there to learn bread but they didn’t pick it up in a minute. I started to stress that—I have so many horrible little metaphors—baking is like hours behind the wheel. You have to physically put yourself through the process of baking again and again and again, and then your body’s gonna know it. There’s no way around it.
I believe our lives are so enriched by having a craft, particularly a craft that you do with your hands at home. Bread baking really just nails that for me. There’s lots of things that could occupy the space of people’s lives. Like any kind of artistic practice, I encourage people to be engaged with the overall process, start what you finish, and learn from each loaf that you bake. That’s the only guarantee that you’ll get better over time.
My goal is to have folks walk away from the experience with a bit more confidence than they had coming in the door. Everybody is at all sorts of different places in their learning with bread. And I enjoy having bakers from different skill sets—they sort of cross-pollinate in the classroom and learn from one another.
I’m there to walk beside you. I know that there’s a lot of mentors that I’ve had and folks that I’ve worked with that are incredibly brilliant, but the patience to watch somebody struggle and help them along in a way that’s not going to feel harsh—that’s important to me.
Like I said, go read the whole thing, then come back here for the two recipes from Flour Power I have to share with you, one for Yard Bread, which is a babka-esque pan loaf with a swoosh of herb butter running through its insides:
…and another for Trail Mix Bread, a peanut-butter flavored freeform loaf with peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chunks folded into it:
These two recipes should give you a good sense of what to expect from Flour Power, including the vibrant, sun-drenched photographs by Johnny Autry and Charlotte Autry.
Another of the book’s joys are to be found in the whimsical illustrations, which were created by Jan Buchczik, including this one, which describes the various flavors you might find in the crust and crumb of a loaf:
Run don’t walk to your favorite bookstore and grab yourself a copy of Flour Power ASAP, I promise that it is going to quickly become one of the essential texts on your bread baking bookshelf.
PS, I’ve got an extra copy of Flour Power to give away to one lucky Wordloaf paid subscriber. If you want in on the drawing, leave a comment below. I’ll pick one commenter at random on Wednesday, September 7. And if you aren’t a paid subber yet, you know what to do:
Illustration reprinted from Flour Power, Copyright © 2022 by Tara Jensen. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Johnny Autry and Charlotte Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.