Open Source Bread / by Nate Westheimer

Last month (Juanuary 2008), my mother forwarded me an email from a friend of hers, pointing to an article in the New York Times from October of 2006.

The article was about a revolutionary new way of baking bread; one which required little yeast, no kneading, and produced near flawlessly tasty bread time after time after time. The recipe was produced by Sullivan Street Bakery proprietor Jim Lahey, who proclaimed, "A four year old could do this."

Indeed, the recipe is very easy, if you're patient. After making the mistake of using Whole Wheat Flour on my first go, and not reducing temperature or baking time, I've now successfully baked a beautiful loaf of this amazing bread, impressing even my European friends involved New York's culinary scene.

But, what's more amazing than the bread itself, is how this bread recipe has found its way around the world, passing from person to person, tweaked and improved a little each way, all because Jim Lahey took the open source route with his bread and shared it with the world.

You see, while I found this bread in an email from my mother, but I quickly found that other folks around me had tried it too. Alex Lines, for instance, had baked this bread several times, and even had several more articles ready to pass on to me so I could tweak my approach.

While New York Times writer Mark Bittman was first to publish a video about baking the bread, the most informative video I saw was GardenFork.TV's Eric Roshow demonstrating the process (something about seeing a "real person" in his un-glamourous kitchen says "you can do this too" more than watching a Times reporter in a bakery).

And so, while I think there's a real victory in getting people (especially New Yorkers) back into their kitchens to bake bread, I think the real victory here is seeing the process opened up. Open source bread, it seems, is like open source software. Having a recipe which anyone can alter and pass around gives everyone a better bread and a deeper connection to their food.

Heck, even the Times came back with updates and tweaks to the recipe.

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