Two years ago, I moved to Sunset Park, Brooklyn's Chinatown. Mostly, it's been great. Pork buns, dumplings, and great fresh ingredients (mustard greens! shiitake mushrooms! long beans!) abound. The one inconvenience has been the lack of access to fresh-baked bread of crusty-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, peasant-style boule that most makes my heart patter: there isn't any. It's not something I want to roam all over town for or order online, since the best part, for me, is eating it fresh and hot. Making my own always seemed like too much work—I've never been much of a baker, and there isn't a lot of space in our tiny New York apartment for all the equipment I figured I would need. But then I discovered the Average Joe Artisan Bread Kit, Cook's Edition. It came as a gift and had everything I needed to make the bread of my dreams.
The kit contents are relatively simple: an inexpensive oven-safe enamel pot for baking the bread in, a plastic scraper for handling the dough, and a little razor for scoring the bread to make the grignaire or crusty lip on top, and enough yeast, bread flour, "bread dust" (for dusting the bottom of the pot), and finishing salts for two loaves of bread. But the best element—and the kit's real genius—is the booklet, which describes the basic principles, ingredients and techniques for making great bread, with extremely easy to follow step-by-step instructions accompanied by helpful photos (so you know what each step should look like). Taken altogether, the kit works like training wheels for baking novices such as myself. My very first attempt came out unexpectedly good-looking, and tasted delicious. By my second loaf, I was breezing through, with slightly less than half an hour of total effort (about twenty minutes making dough the day before, and about ten minutes of work the day of) yielding amazingly good, hot, fresh bread. By loaves three and four, I had run through the ingredients that came with the kit, replacing them with ingredients from the neighborhood grocery store (look ma, no more training wheels!) and was using just the recipe booklet and pot that came with the kit. (You can also buy refills of the ingredients that come with the kit, if you like, but you really don't need to.)
I imagine that I'll get around to exploring the many bread recipes in the booklet, which range from cinnamon raisin to salted rosemary, but so far I haven't felt the need to stray from the aptly named "Golden Standard." It's so good, there's really nothing average about it.