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Bread baking boom means flour and yeast are flying off U.S. shelves

A person kneading bread dough

There's something comforting about kneading your own dough and baking your own bread. Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images

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There’s no shortage of homemade bread recipes online right now. They show fluffy loaves fresh out of the oven, golden brown with beautiful cracks in the crust. Baking is fun, easy and delicious, the directions claim.

“It came out much more gooey … I tried to make it into a baguette,” said Antonius Wiriadjaja in New York, who has attempted one New York Times recipe five times with mixed results. “It came out looking like a rocket ship.”

Like a lot of people right now, Wiriadjaja has a lot more time on his hands and decided to get into baking. He had to order a $50 kit from a local bakery because he couldn’t find flour and yeast at the store.

And that’s because demand for flour and yeast is on the rise. Red Star Yeast, one of the country’s major producers, has said the surge is unprecedented. At Vermont-based King Arthur Flour, sales are three times higher than usual — even for whole wheat flour.

“Typically, at this time of year, we’re operating at 50% capacity,” said co-CEO Karen Colberg. “But in the past couple of weeks we’ve turned on to full tilt, and we’re operating 24/7.” Colberg said the country isn’t running out of wheat. Instead, the shelves are empty at grocery shelves because the supply chain is overwhelmed.

But why has baking bread become an obsession? In some places, a shortage of bread could be a reason. But also: carbs are comforting.

“There’s the kneading the dough with your hands. There’s the distinct way that the yeast smells,” said Amy Bentley, a professor of food studies at New York University. “And then I’m not sure that there’s any better aroma than baking bread.”

Plus, bread is cross-cultural. Sourdough, naan or challah — it all makes us feel more connected to family.

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