Here's how you do hunger activism and community-building in an accessible, scalable, social, and fun manner, three loaves of bread at a time. Plus, a tasty bread recipe.
Four years ago, as part of a project to spread as much happiness as possible with just $100 (Yahoo!'s Ripple of Kindness), Jerry James Stone and a few friends spent hours baking a bunch of bread to give to the hungry in San Francisco, which ended up being a rewarding, yet exhausting, experience. That type of event, says Jerry, "was just too hard" for him to regularly repeat, so he's come up with an easier, and more participatory, way to feed the hungry, while also building community.
Initially begun through Jerry's food site, Cooking Stoned, the Three Loaves movement is rather simple at its core, and it enables everyone to make a difference in their community through food. Every month, participants receive a "fresh, seasonal" bread recipe via email, and then they make three loaves of bread - one for them, one for a friend, and one for someone in need. Since its inception in July of this year, the Three Loaves movement has been picking up steam, growing to about 400 participants so far, and now has its own dedicated website.
I reached out to Jerry (who is also a former TreeHugger writer) to find out a little bit more about this project:
Q: Why bread?
Stone: Why bread? Bread is cheap. You can make a hearty and tasty loaf for just a few bucks. It is also really easy to give away; no tupperware needed.
I also believe bread resonates with people on a visceral level. It's comforting. And what better way to define community than breaking bread with someone in need?
Q: Why three loaves, instead of just making one extra loaf for someone in need?
Stone: I really wanted this movement to be social. Not just on the internets, but in real life too. So that is why three loaves. What better way to get a friend interested in this project and feeding the needy than with a tasty loaf of bread?
And while Three Loaves is about ending hunger and feeding the needy, it is equally about community on a larger scale. When we strengthen that bond, everything else falls into place. It's like good medicine. A good doctor knows you have to treat the body as a whole, not just the one symptom.
Q: What has the feedback been from participants? Got any heartwarming stories from those who've shared their experience?
Stone: It's been pretty low on stories because we are new. But people are taking photos and posting them to Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. All over social. So it is great to see the enthusiasm. Right now we have a modest 400 participants but we are rapidly growing. And I look forward to the stories to come.
Q: What's next for Three Loaves? Got any bigger plans or collaborations in the works?
Stone: No big plans just yet. Right now we are focused on community and growing our reach and impact. Three Loaves was started to take my initial bread making adventure beyond its limitations. And we have already done that in two months!
In addition to making the loaves and eating them and giving them away, Jerry urges participants to be social with it, by taking photos or videos, and sharing them via social media using the hashtag #ThreeLoaves, which helps him to see some of the impact of the project, as well as to share it on his social accounts for wider reach.
Jerry has also graciously allowed us to repost the recipe for the very first Three Loaves campaign, a Blueberry & Thyme Bread.
Blueberry & Thyme Bread
7 ½ cups flour (1,100g)
3 cups tepid water
3 packages active dry yeast
¾ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
12 oz blueberries
2 tbsp salt
1. Before you begin, I advise you buy a kitchen scale. It is by no means necessary but, really, a scale is a great thing to have for anyone who likes being in the kitchen. And when it comes to bread making, it really lessens your chances for errors. Why? Because flour is a tricky beast to measure. There are countless methods out there but there is one that works every single time, no matter what: a kitchen scale. If you don’t have one, here is my tip for measuring flour: fluff flour with a fork, take a heaping scoop with your measuring cup, and then level it off with a knife. That should do you… but really, invest in a scale if you can.
2. So, we are going to begin by creating a starter. Bread starters are great because they also help reduce errors but also impart a lot of flavor. We are going to build one referred to as a poolish. To create the poolish, combine 30% of the total flour (by weight), equal parts water (by weight), and ¾ teaspoon of the yeast. This works out to be 350 grams of flour (2 1/4 cup) and 1 ½ cup water.
3. When mixed, it should be the consistency of thick paste but yield to a wooden spoon for stirring. If it doesn’t, just add a bit more water. Then cover it and let it sit out at room temperature overnight. If your house is always cold, like mine, simply turn your oven on high and let it run for 30 minutes to warm the kitchen. I do this once or twice for the starter.
4. When the starter is finished starting (?), or whatever you call it, you are going to mix in the following (in this order): the remaining yeast, the remaining water, ¾ cup olive oil, the salt, and the remaining flour. I suggest working in the flour 1 cup at a time.
5. Don’t over mix it. You just want the ingredients to combine. Now we are going to let the dough autolyse for about an hour. This is a French term for “resting” where gluten starts to form. I personally refer to this period as “catching up on Orange is the New Black,” but autolyse is easier to say. By letting the dough rest, and the gluten form, it will lessen any mistakes you might make during the kneading process, which also helps form the gluten. So you are hedging your bet and not even doing any work. It’s a win-win!
6. I want to avoid the K-word because this is the part of bread making that, well, where all hell can break loose. I don’t mean to scare you, but if you are going to screw it up… it will probably happen here. But don’t worry, I am here to help. You can do this!
7. First and foremost, if you knead your dough by hand, it is nearly impossible to screw it up. Even if you have guns like Schwarzenegger, you’ll tire out before you over knead. This is a good thing, over-kneaded dough breaks down those lovely glutens you worked so hard for, resulting in dry, dense, and crumbly bread. So while a stand mixer is easy to use, please do not knead your dough this way unless you have experience doing so.
8. Simply place the dough on a floured surface, using as little as possible. Push the dough forward with the palm of your hand. Then fold the dough on top of itself, turn it a bit and repeat the process.
9. Like I said, you cannot really over-knead your dough by hand (unless you’re bionic), but how do you tell when you’ve kneaded it enough? It will take between 6 and 10 minutes to do this, but you can test the dough by doing the following:
- Take notice of the dough when you prepped it for autolysing. Kneaded dough is the exact opposite in appearance, it is smooth like a baby’s bottom. This is the first sign your dough is on track.
- Lift the dough with your hands and hold it in the air a few seconds. If it starts to sag, you got more kneading ahead of you.
- Cover your finger in flour and give the dough a firm poke. If the dough springs back quickly, you are good to go. If it stays, keep kneading.
- Cut off a golf-ball-sized piece of dough (never tear your dough) and stretch it between your fingers (see below). The dough will stretch easily without breaking, allowing light through. If it doesn’t, keep kneading.
- You’re tired! Seriously, kneading dough could be part of your cross fit routine. It’s hard work.
10. Grease a large bowl with olive oil and transfer the kneaded dough to it. Cover the bowl and set aside for a few hours. That is, go watch more Orange is the New Black. Oh, and if you have a cold kitchen, use the same oven trick listed above. When the dough has about doubled in size, it’s ready for the next step.
11. Carefully lay the dough out on a floured surface, pressing it out flat with your fingers and shaping it in a similar size to your three bread pans. I used 8″ bread pans. So for this step, I shaped the dough to be 8″ x 1.5′. Cut the dough into three equal parts. Top each layer with ⅓ of the blueberries and ⅓ thyme, then roll the dough up like a roulade.
12. Line each bread pan with parchment paper that overhangs, and then transfer each dough “roll” to it’s own pan. If you want, you can reserve some of the blueberries and thyme for the top of the loaf. Let the dough rise in the pans for about 30 minutes. Then bake them at 375 degrees F for 40 minutes, until the loaves rise, forming a light golden-brown crust. Remove the loaves from the oven, then using the parchment paper, lift the loaves out and place them on a rack to cool.
13. Give one to a friend and one to someone in need. The third loaf is for you.
Here's a video of a couple of Three Loaves fans having fun making a difference: