Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 2, 2021

2020: Looking Bakewards

I’d resolved that one thing the world did not need was another retrospective examination of annus horribilus, 2020.

Yet, on the afternoon of the final day of the year, I was in the Under Western Skies kitchen, baking bread. There, it occurred to me, was an aspect of the passing year worth recalling.

By the end of March, 2020, as the pandemic gained momentum, grocery shelves here in Los Angeles (and elsewhere around the world) were denuded of paper products, bread, pasta, most frozen vegetables and any product labeled with the term “sanitizer.” In common with the rest of the world, lines outside stores became a part of daily life.

One section of the grocery stores hit hard by either panic buying or hoarding (you choose) was baking products, especially flour, but including yeast packets, baking powder, etc. — conditions that prevailed in countries all over the globe.

Who’s Baking?

I wonder how many of my fellow citizens who carted home 5- and 10 pound sacks of flour actually baked them into bread, cakes, pies, rolls or other staples of life. Or are some tons of flour still sitting in cupboards, pantries and refrigerators “against the day?”

To the Point: Baking

Here in the UWS kitchen, these long, somewhat indistinguishably similar days of semi-isolation have provided opportunity and motivation to hone some home baking skills.

That is my retrospective angle for 2020: looking backwards: bakewards.

My point is that I’m not an accomplished or practiced baker. With one exception (executed not by me, but the more experienced Counselor), these recipes are doable by anyone with only moderate familiarity with a kitchen, and access to the ingredients.

This post will cover primarily simple baked goods amateur cooks like me can bake, and excludes a significant number of tasty goodies produced by The Counselor, year-round.

Not All Flour Gets Baked

Before we fire up the oven, it bears mentioning that flour goes into more than baked goods. A staple in American breakfasts is pancakes or flapjacks, but most cultures have some equivalent, some of them closely aligned with proud tradition.

Here, two whole-wheat pancakes, maple syrup and strawberries standing by, coffee already in my cup.

Staff of Life

While bread, at its most basic, consists of flour and water, yielding “flat bread,” we baked a few varieties of leavened bread, meaning dough that contains yeast and rises. Leavened bread needs some form of sugar to feed the yeast that makes the bread rise. In addition, recipes typically call for butter or oil. In the UWS kitchen, olive oil is the choice.

To start with the basics, a simple bread from unbleached all purpose flour, water, salt, sugar, oil and nothing else.

A slight shift in the recipe, using a combination of all purpose and whole wheat flour, yields “sandwich bread.”

Despite its name, the texture and crust of this bread won’t exactly resemble the sliced “sandwich bread” you buy in the grocery. It has a looser body, slightly more crumbly than commercial bread, but should taste better, and contains no preservatives or dough conditioners the commercial bakers use.

Elaborating only by moving entirely to white whole wheat flour, plus the addition of 1/4 cup of molasses, yields a darker, slightly denser loaf.

Another recipe requiring only all purpose flour (although you can substitute up to half of it with whole wheat), also uses 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder. The result: English Muffin Toasting Bread. One appealing aspect of making this recipe is that it requires only one rising, in the same pan you’ll bake it.

Yes, it’s perfect for toasting, as advertised.

Baking With an Italian Accent

Not in the amateur baking category, but worth mentioning admidst 2020’s baking highlights were bracciatelle, reflecting The Counselor’s Italian heritage.

The word means “bracelets” in Italian. The photo below suggests why they merit that name. Americans call that a donut shape, but bracciatelle are anise-flavored savory bread, neither sweet nor iced, more like a bagel than a donut. In addition to standard ingredients, the recipe calls for an egg. It’s traditionally served during a couple of holiday seasons in Italy, including the feast of St. Anthony, January 17, so it’s a good time to think about baking some.

Let There Be Pizza

With indoor dining nonexistent, and unwilling to rely on takeout or delivery, we relied on making our own pizza.

If you’ve never tried it, pizza crust is simpler to make than you may think.

The dough requires flour, salt, sugar, yeast and the patience to let it rise.

No, you don’t need to be able to twirl the dough over your head, pizzeria-style. Once it’s risen (your recipe will direct you), it will look something like this (here, our recipe yielded two pizza crusts):

You can roll out your dough or shape it with your hands. Like this:

The critical question — whether you get it from a restaurant or make it yourself: What will go on it? It’s up to you. Here were our choices for one we made.

Spread ’em out, bake, eat pizza.

Here’s a gallery of 2020 pizzas we made, including both pre- and post-baking (click on a photo to enlarge):

With ten months elapsed since we went to a restaurant or ate take-out food — cooking all meals here — baking was not only an activity we could share, but gave us some sense that we exercise some control over a situation that has millions of people around the world feeling beleaguered.

A healthy and happier 2021, everyone.

© Brad Nixon 2021. Some photos © M. Vincent 2021, used by kind permission.

I haven’t included recipes. There are tens of thousands of recipes available. One reliable resource for baking recipes and tips is I have no affiliation with the company, but they’re a go-to source here at Under Western Skies. Versions of most bread recipes in this post are available there.


  1. Well done on your baking efforts and here’s to a brighter and better 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, GP. A positive and healthy 2021 to you. Keep writing, friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love your colorful pizzas! Interesting variety of shapes, too. They have a professional, wood-fired appearance, even though made in your traditional kitchen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. The two oblong ones were simply a practicality: shaping crusts to fit on one rectangular pan. Tastes just as good!


  4. About half a century ago it occurred to me that in our culture we use wheat as a flour but not as a grain, while we use rice as a grain but not a flour. With corn we do both. Why the inconsistencies? That’s how cultures are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Worth noting, Steve. Hadn’t thought of it from that perspective, but you’re correct. Go to Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City or elsewhere in Asia, and rice is both a grain and a flour. Here in Los Angeles, with our large Asian American population, one finds rice in both forms.


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