Last winter, Matt Goold, 31, a design director for a digital creative agency, started watching The Great British Baking Show, a reality show featuring amateur bakers competing for the honor of being named the top baker in the United Kingdom.
Goold enjoyed the show; he found it both entertaining and appropriate enough for his two young daughters to watch. What Goold didn’t anticipate, though, was how it would inspire him to take up a baking venture of his own.
“You’re kind of wondering, ‘Could I do that?’” Goold told MensHealth.com. “’What does it take?’”
So Goold decided to try his hand at baking bread. He liked to cook and the recipes looked pretty simple, so how hard could it be? He quickly learned that “the process is incredibly thorough.” There was the rolling, the kneading, the letting the dough rise — and all of these techniques varied from loaf to loaf.
It took a bit of trial and error, but by May, Goold had cracked the code and baked a successful loaf of sourdough. He posted the result on his Instagram. His followers were quick to applaud his accomplishment, further fueling his burgeoning obsession.
“You get into it, and it’s the thing you want to talk about, and then you realize everyone else is.. just as genuinely excited about it,” he says.
Don’t break my heart. My achy, flaky heart. 📸:@michaelandrewharrington
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Artisanal bread has long been trendy, appealing to amateur and professional bakers alike. On Instagram, the trend is thriving: the hashtags #breadporn and #realbread yield more than 89,000 and 300,000 posts of what the writer Sam Leith described as”mouthwatering Instagrammed crusts, close-ups of crumb structure, and intricate golden landscapes where the slashed tops of loaves have heaved open and caramelized in the oven’s heat.” It helps that the success of a loaf is primarily visual: you can easily tell if a bake is a winner based on how it looks, even if you haven’t tasted it.
In our visual-based, food pornified social media landscape, the popularity of #breadporn isn’t itself that surprising. What is somewhat surprising, however, is who is posting the photos: “mostly boys,” as Leith puts it. On Instagram, bearded men are posing with their carbs to show off a job well done, grinning broadly and flashing a thumbs-up, the images showing enormous pride and lack of pretense.
There’s even an Instagram account, Boys With Bread, devoted to showcasing men’s photos with their loaves.
“The craft of baking bread is so ancestral, and [the process] has so many components,” Melanie Albert, the creator of Boys With Bread, told MensHealth.com. “People are really proud of mastering that kind of skill.”
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Baking bread is a simple process, but it’s a time-consuming one: there’s the kneading, the pulling, the rolling, the rising of the dough. Part of the appeal of Bread Boy Instagram stems from guys showing off the byproduct of their hard work, kind of like the fitspo photos of guys with their bench weights with the hashtag #nooffdays.
“In terms of how [the posting] pertains to the male ego, I think it comes from a desire to brag on any win, small or large,” Goold says. “I don’t feel like this is too small or too cheesy, because it took real effort.”
Vienna-based amateur baker Severin Stafflinger has posted more than 100 photos of his bread-making hobby, from intricately designed wheat loaves to picturesque French baguettes. He views each of his loaves as “some kind of artwork.”
“I think working with dough is similar to working on a canvas,” he told MensHealth.com. “When I watch my sourdough grow, knead the dough, or watch the gluten networks improve, I guess I feel a bit like an artist.”
The end result is that a small community of amateur male bread bakers has emerged. It’s not uncommon to see guys leaving effusive comments on each other’s loaves. “The bread looks absolutely awesome,” one commenter gushes. Another, from Goold’s account: “You a breaaaaaaad boyyyyy.”
“When I watch my sourdough grow, I guess I feel a little bit like an artist.”
There’s also another driving force behind the trend — something that’s more community-minded, or even a little bit subversive. Albert says that while initially, the purpose of creating Boys With Bread was simply to post images of “hot dudes posing with baguettes,” she quickly realized that, much like the Instagram accounts Hot Guys Reading or Hot Dudes With Kittens, Boys With Bread was about men embracing a hobby that’s often considered inherently feminine.
“For a long time, when you thought of baking, a lot of people thought of it as a woman’s craft,” Albert said. “I think they’re trying to flip it on its head so it doesn’t have to be a ‘woman’s sport,’ so to speak.”
And in a culture where men are trained to be reserved and non-effusive, it’s refreshing to see guys being so public about their passion for baking. “Maybe guys are looking for something to improve themselves…or for some sense of community,” Philip speculates. Maybe Bread Boy Instagram “is a place to see some beauty that’s in contrast to what’s going on [in the rest of the world]. It’s a place to hide, in a way.”
Want to try your hand at becoming a bread boy? Try these recipes from Philip, the author of Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes.
Cardamom Buckwheat Cake (serves 6)
Directions: 1) Preheat the oven to 375 F.
2) Melt the butter.
3) Grease two mini loaf pans (5 1/2″ by 3″) or one loaf pan (8 1/2″ by 4 1/2″).
4) In a medium bowl combine the flours, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Whisk briefly to combine.