People like to ask me what my favorite thing is to bake. I tend to stammer and stutter "cookies? cakes? depends on the day, really." But lately my answer to this question would definitely be bread.
Making bread is evoking kitchen alchemy at its finest. There is nothing more satisfying on a cold, gray morning than the soft, yeasty scent of a rising loaf, other than the toasty smell of that very same loaf baking. One of my goals for 2011 was to learn how to make bread using a natural starter instead of commercial yeast (and apparently, this is not a common goal for non-food obsessed people–my husband laughed when I told him). Thanks to Doug, bread baker extraordinaire at Murray Hollow, I acquired some established starter that was already making fantastic breads for him and was able to get to it. Although I generally reinvent a recipe every time I make it, I've stuck with and tried to perfect the "My sourdough" recipe from the River Cottage Bread Handbook. My only adjustments have been adding some rye and whole wheat flours to the dough, and adding enough water to make an exceptionally moist loaf. It's amazing how good only flour, water, starter, and salt taste when they are combined and allowed to rise slowly, then are baked quickly in a very hot oven.
I'm going to recommend that if you haven't made bread yet this winter, do so now. You will instantly feel satisfied. And if you need some recipes to try, start here or here with focaccia or rye bread recipes that I developed for Culture Magazine. Although they are meant to accompany cheese, they are equally good slathered with butter or served with soup.