If there is one food Germany is known for, it is probably bread. There are thousands of varieties in Germany, and making it has been an integral part of our culture.
My bread journey began during childhood. My mother, being a parent of 3, would always use Saturdays to bake a delicious loaf for the family. It was a white fluffy sandwich bread, and she made it within one to two hour using store-bought yeast. Being a bit more experienced, I now realize it’s ideal to wait a little while before cutting into your bread, but back then, we kids couldn’t wait. Mom would cut for us a few slices straight from the oven, and we would immediately proceed to pour butter or jam on each slice. Within minutes, one kilogram of flour would be consumed. Bread became an integral part of my weekly food.
I was lucky that my parents could afford a yearly ski trip to Alto Adige in northern Italy. In the small town called Valdaora, we would try new restaurants every year, yet always end up in our favorite pizza place. The pizzas there were incredible. The dough alone was so tasty that we would order just the bread with a bit of olive oil and salt.
Of course, my question would always be, “Mom, can we make this at home, too, please?” So over the years, we became friends with the owners and would receive more and more clues as how to make the perfect pizza dough. There are no secret ingredients inside. It’s just flour, water, salt, and a bit of yeast. How can such a simple combination of ingredients create such an incredibly delicious pizza dough? My parents, being creatures of habit, would return every year with us, and every year, my interest would grow. At home, Mom and I attempted to replicate the recipe. We tried baking on a stone and on a steel. We tried adding oil to the dough and herbs to the pizza sauce. We fell into an endless cycle of experiments. However, we never managed to get close to the experience we had while on vacation.
Some years passed, and I eventually began my studies in the small German city of Göttingen. For the first time, I was faced with shopping for my own bread. It was never on my mind to actually start baking it for myself. I would just buy a good loaf while shopping at the supermarket. My favorite variety was a Schwarzbrot: Korn an Korn. It’s a very dark and hearty rye bread with added berries and sunflower seeds.
Being a little naïve, I’d never before examined the packaging of what I was buying. One day, that changed. I looked at the label and was shocked. The seemingly healthy bread consisted of so many other things aside from flour and water. The black color was not coming from the flour, but from caramelized sugar. The packaging stated it was a sourdough bread, but then why was there additional yeast? I thought that if it was really sourdough, it shouldn’t require additional yeast. I soon realized that something was wrong with the bread I was buying. I proceeded to check the other supermarket breads, only to discover that they, too, contained ingredients I’d never heard of. That was the day I lost trust in supermarket bread.
At home, I decided to research the proper way to make bread, and much to my surprise, I learned that the recipes for making pizza and bread were actually quite similar, yet there were also differences. For example, some recipes would call for fresh yeast, while others would call for dry. Diving deep into various online forums and all their many discussions, I became even more confused. I tried using different flours and different brands, all in both organic and non-organic varieties. I realized then that I knew nothing about making bread. Recipes would often contradict each other, leaving me further confused. They seemed like little more than a collection of apparently random steps to follow. The baking instructions and temperatures too were all different…
Meanwhile, having completed my studies, I started work as an engineer. We engineers are faced with many challenges. The compiler or runtime is always screaming at you with errors, and it’s your job to figure out how to fix them. It can take hours, sometimes days, just to fix a simple problem. If you want to become a software engineer, you have to develop a certain “never-give-up” attitude.
When writing code, software engineers often need to use a set of pre-made routines. These routines have been written by other engineers and can then be used to ship code faster. This pre-written code is commonly known as a framework. In many cases, these frameworks are not built by a single person but by engineers from all around the world, each of whom can help by improving and changing the source code. Frameworks have made many successful businesses possible. In most cases, frameworks do exactly what they claim they do. However, sometimes you are faced with issues you don’t understand. In 99.95 % of all software bugs, the developer is the issue. Sometimes, however, the framework has a bug. That is when the developer must dig deeper to see the what and the why behind what the framework is doing. You will need to read other engineer’s source code, and you will be forced to understand why things are happening.
Being unhappy with what I was baking, my engineering mindset took over, and I had to do my own deep dive to understand what was going on. Much to my surprise, however, none of the recipes I’d encountered would tell me why I should use amount X of water and amount Y of flour, or why exactly I should use fresh yeast over dry yeast. Why should I slap my dough while kneading it on the counter? Why is a standmixer better than kneading by hand? Why should I let the dough sit for this long? Why is steaming the dough during baking important? Do I really need to get myself an expensive Dutch oven to bake bread? The problem compounded when I started reading about sourdough. It all sounded like black magic. Why were some sourdoughs made from fruits, while others were made from flour? Why should one recipe use wheat while another used rye or spelt? How often should the sourdough be fed? The questions I had then could have filled 20 pages. I was confused, but I became even more determined to learn how decent bread should be made at home.
The feedback I received from friends helped me to improve with each iteration of homemade bread. Compared to coding, where you sometimes have to wait months for this feedback, bread making is much more direct. Plus, you can eat your successes (and failures!) And, much to my surprise, even those failures started tasting better than most store-bought breads. Eating a homemade bread that takes you hours to make allows you to develop a different relationship with your food, and baking bread from scratch with my bare hands was a welcome change after hours of working on the computer.
I continued learning about the process of fermentation and various techniques of bread making. I approached the topic of sourdough in a manner similar to software, and after years of researching and documenting my progress, I decided it was time to share that progress with the world. When working on software projects, it is important to see their history and how the source code changes over time. This way, you can easily jump back to previous versions. This was the perfect tool for documenting my recipes, because they, too, would change with each subsequent iteration. Much to my surprise, my open source work on sourdough was appreciated by other engineers, and the project became popular on the website GitHub, originally built to share open source software.
Now, when baking great bread, you also need to learn certain techniques. I figured it would be easier to share these techniques in video form. Thus, my YouTube channel was born. I chose the name The Bread Code to capture my engineering-oriented approach to bread. It took some time to get it right, but after choosing more engaging thumbnails and titles for the videos I made, the channel started gaining viewers. Finally, three years later, I dedicate two days each week to follow my bread baking passion, while the other three days I continue to work as a software engineer, writing code on a day-to-day basis.
My bread days fill me with both joy and passion. To me, there is nothing better than seeing how many people have made amazing bread thanks to my tips and explanations. The community has continued to grow, spawning many interesting discussions and ideas surrounding the topic of bread making. There is always something new to learn, and I feel that even now I am just barely scratching the surface with what I know and teach. Would you ever have imagined that fruit flies are like bees and are part of the wild yeast’s success story? I made a video where I tried to cultivate wild yeast spores coming from fruit flies in order to bake bread. It worked; the bread turned out amazingly well and even tasted good! These kinds of experiments spark my natural interest. Conducting them and seeing how other people share my interest makes me incredibly happy.
The problem with running a YouTube channel is that all the information you see is filtered and then provided to you through an algorithm. I am concerned with how algorithms are shaping modern information, because they tend to put users into certain categories where they will then only see news related to those same fixed categories. A key metric determining visibility of your channel is how many people have clicked on a video after it’s been shown, and the content you create is not even shown to every subscriber of your channel. If the algorithm determines the video is not engaging enough, your content starts to decay in YouTube’s nirvana. Even if your video goes viral, the algorithm will stop showing it once engagement rates with new users goes down, and older videos fade over time as the decay punishment factor increases. I know, because I have developed similar algorithms myself as a software engineer.
I’ve since decided to take some time off from the algorithm cycle to work on something more long term and meaningful. My mission has always been to share my knowledge with as many people in the world as possible. That’s also why my content has been provided in English rather than German. After discussions with members of the community, I figured that writing a book could help me achieve that goal. Most of the books that exist today are collections of recipes. My idea, however, is to provide you with a deeper foundation of knowledge that you can use to follow other recipes. In software terms, this would be a bread framework.
It is my goal for this book to help everyone facing issues with flour, fermentation, baking, and more. It should provide a detailed understanding as to why certain steps are necessary and how to adapt them when things go wrong while making bread. It is my desire for this knowledge to be accessible to everyone around the world, regardless of budget, and as such, I do not want to charge for the book. That’s why I’ve decided to make it open source and have asked the community to support my work with donations. The community’s feedback has been amazing so far, and I’ve already raised much more money than initially expected. The digital version of this book will always remain free. There is also a hardcover version of the book available for purchase. You can read more details here: https://breadco.de/physical-book
In this book, I will try to be as scientific as possible. I in no way claim, however, that it will itself be a work of science. I have conducted several experiments that I will write about here, but to truly call this science, you would probably need to repeat the same experiment a thousand times in a lab environment, which I have not done. I will do my best, however, to provide scientific references where possible and to clearly distinguish between facts and personal opinion.
I hope you have fun reading this and that you learn more about the fascinating world of bread making, and it is my sincere wish that this work provides you with the solid toolchain that I wish I’d had access to when starting my own journey with bread.