The idea behind a sensory deprivation tank is straightforward. Remove a person’s access to external stimuli like noise and light so that they may achieve therapeutic relief. The idea behind submerging one’s eyes, nose, face, as well as parts of one’s neck and scalp into various loaves of bread isn’t quite as straightforward—but for some, produces comparable results.
“I’d prefer a soft bread overall, but when I’m having a shitty day, it’s nice to have something hard [like sourdough] to really take your anger out on,” explains Bread Face, an anonymous video creator who has pioneered this technique. Over the years, she’s amassed nearly two hundred thousand fans who watch as she face-plants into babkas and beignets with the controlled grace of a Bolshoi principal.
While Bread Face has been dough-diving publicly since 2015, her habit actually began years earlier, in the company of a Green Tea Roll Cake. (“It felt exactly as incredible as you can imagine: soft, fluffy, and moist, with a little bit of give.”) When she was finally ready to commit the act to tape, she chose a Martin’s potato roll, which, she reports, “felt amazing because it doesn’t have the bounce-back that a naturally baked bread has. It was soft and just smooshed flat.”
Bread itself has been around since 8,000 B.C., when Egyptians discovered how to crush grains with a quern. In the millennia since, it’s been paramount to societies throughout the world in its many, many forms. (Though apparently not in outer space, where crumbs fly into astronauts’ eyes, which answers a question I’ve long harbored about why Wallace and Gromit brought crackers instead of baguette to the moon.) Over the past year, bread broadly has assumed enhanced significance: Quarantiners kneaded some modicum of their anxieties into naturally leavened dough; those of us who could get our hands on flour baked loaf after loaf of banana bread.
As I considered the best way to analyze these gluten trends for my inaugural culture column, the diehard Bread Face fan in me couldn’t help but feel tempted to move beyond the obvious (flavor, ease of clean-up) and into the experiential (my own personal sensory deprivation tank, made of yeasted flour and water).
So I turned to the professional for some advice.
“As a general rule, the more nutritious ‘better for you’ breads taste better but don’t feel good to breadface,” Bread Face instructs. “And only face something you want to eat.”
Her videos could be classified as adjacent to the world of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) content, in which creators purposefully film sounds and sights that trigger a tingling sensation in some viewers. In the food ASMR realm, the most common triggers tend to be eating sounds, whispers, tapping, and crinkling (such as the unwrapping of a packaged snack)—though Bread Face tells me that she believes her b-facings act as a trigger for some.
“It’s an added bonus for those susceptible,” she says.
For the rest of us, there’s still plenty to enjoy. Her short films often feature carefully curated lighting, music, and chic outfits. “My favorite part of breadfacing is creating an atmosphere I want to live in—I finally get to live out the fantasy of being a music video girl. It’s a joyous occasion to bread face! It should feel like an escape,” she says.
As I prepared for my own escapes, I tried to create a mood in my home, but quickly realized that I don’t own any special lighting equipment or other vibe-enhancers. I do, however, have a Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder lamp, which I’ve always maintained makes me look like Hot Hagrid. So I figured I would give that a try, accompanied by a little music.
As for what Bread Face considers worthy of landing face-first in, “I’m not a purist by any means,” she says. “I think anything that needs to go into an oven qualifies.” (She recently branched out into cheesecake; “Why do i always sweat when i watch these,” wrote one commenter. “Nature is healing,” wrote another.)
Accordingly, I selected eight bread and bread-like specimens that have enjoyed some cultural heyday in America over the past 12 months, and got to jamming my orifices into their orifices. Below, please find a detailed ranking of my findings, in order from worst to best.
8. TikTik Tortilla
Provenance: Food52’s Youth & Vitality Correspondent Valerio Farris reports: “On December 29th, 2020, TikTok user crystalscookingfun took a flour tortilla, cut a slit along its radius, placed a single ingredient into each of the circle’s quadrants, folded accordingly, and griddled the whole affair to crisp perfection in a panini press.” The rest, as they say in the TikTok tortilla community, is history.
Breadfacing Experience: TikTok “food hacks” are a notoriously slippery slope (just look at the people who can’t stop talking about their feta pasta—it’s like, have you checked in on your pets lately???) and this one is no exception. It led me straight to despair’s door. Not because the texture of the griddled tortilla triangle felt particularly unpleasant against my features, but because breadfacing into it immediately occasioned Sriracha in my eye. The brief moment of contact my face had with the crispy casing, as well as the splooshing of melted cheese from its many crevices, was indeed satisfying—but these glimpses of unbridled joy were quickly, crudely tainted.
- Escape from the Outside World Factor: 0/10. Unfortunately, smashing my face into a TikTok tortilla made me more aware than ever of my anxiety, despair, and sense of general doom, as I spent most of the breadfacing wondering whether I’d have to go to a nearby hospital and explain why, in the middle of a global health crisis, I had gratuitously smashed my eyeballs into spicy pepper sauce.
- Would My Face Say Yes to a Second Date: Yes, if we made a no hot sauce rule. Otherwise no.
- Provenance: While not a pandemic bread trend of the people, per se, privately I have spent more time with croutons lately than any other carb for my other Food52 column (kill me please read it here.
Breadfacing Experience: Like attending my cousin’s bris, or listening in to that one Clubhouse room a finance bro I went to college with is always touting, pressing my face into a plate of homemade croutons proved unexpectedly anticlimactic, disarmingly ordinary. The facial encounter could be best compared to scraping against dull coral while snorkeling, but greasier, and without the pitch-perfect balance of fear and delight that accompanies swimming in the ocean. So: boring, and slightly painful, if gently exfoliating.
Escape from the Outside World Factor: 3/10. It’s hard to lose yourself in a brittle, oil-soaked landscape of varying apotheoses.
- Would My Face Say Yes to a Second Date: Not unless this pandemic lasts another several years, at which point I would say yes to any date.
6. Sourdough Boule
- Provenance: Ask your neglected starter. Go on, I’ll wait.
Breadfacing Experience: I finally understand what Robert Frost was trying to say with “The Road Not Taken,” in that my experience cramming a particularly sensitive part of my body into a loaf of sourdough diverged greatly in two directions. Path one—the crust part of the sourdough—involved some amount of pain and gluten-shrapnel, while path two—the interior of the loaf—offered soft, spongy reprieve.
Escape from the Outside World Factor: Crust: 2/10. Interior: 6/10. Average: 4/10.
- Would My Face Say Yes to a Second Date: Maybe, but our safe word would be “keep that crust away from me.”
5. Basically Focaccia
Provenance: Sarah Jampel’s easy-as-
ordering-pie- delivery-and-eating-it-standing-over-your-sink-while-sobbingfocaccia started to make the internet rounds as soon as it was published. Its cultural reach peaked when Reductress ran a much-memed quiz called “Have You Made the Bon Appétit Focaccia Yet Or Do You Live With Someone You Can Fuck?” The answer for most, unfortunately, was that they had made the focaccia.
Breadfacing Experience: “My dermatologist isn’t going to love this,” I said to absolutely no one as I stared down the focaccia’s surface, glistening like a honey-baked ham or a Glossier stan, and pitted with sharp shards of Maldon. Moments later, I was septum-deep in one of the craters I had personally finger-poked into the bread’s surface, contemplating the resilience of this particular baked good as it quivered and compressed but resisted major collapse. I stayed down there for some time, smushing and smashing and wondering: Is this focaccia an emblem of our collective strength, our ability to process little and big shock waves and traumas through wiggling and jiggling and invisible cellular rearrangements, while remaining largely intact? Or was my Ativan just kicking in?
Escape from the Outside World Factor: 6.5/10
Would My Face Say Yes to a Second Date: Hard sure.
4. Focaccia Garden
- Provenance: “In kitchens across the world, focaccia gardens are blooming. On top of the flatbreads, cherry tomatoes open like petals, with long scallion stalks for stems. Yellow-pepper sunflowers stand tall with Kalamata olives at their center… The flat, white dough is an easy canvas, and just as simple to prepare. During a spring when so many of us are confined, decorating them allows many bakers to bring the outdoors inside by tending these edible gardens,” wrote The New York Times’ Amelia Nierenberg in April 2020.
- Breadfacing Experience: Garden of Earthly Delights this was not, in that I was still really, fully alone as I plummeted toward my second square of focaccia, this time indelicately patterned with roses and daisies made of refrigerator scraps. Also, there were zero owls around. Like the undecorated focaccia, this bread-sheath was surprisingly stable as I smushed with all my might, refusing to tear or buckle until I got my hands involved. I came to the conclusion that if sourdough is a standard mattress and croutons are like sleeping on the floor, then focaccia is the breadfacing-equivalent of a Tempur-Pedic. I am so sorry you just read that sentence, there is nothing I can do to give you the time back.
Escape from the Outside World Factor: 7/10
Would My Face Say Yes to a Second Date: Sure, but let’s please remember the owls next time!
3. Banana Bread
Breadfacing Experience: In its ideal form, banana bread appeals because it is reliable. Reliably sweet and creamy, reliably soft and moist, reliably complementary to dark chocolate, black tea, dreary weather. And as a breadfacing target, banana bread is no different; its strength lies in its predictability. It is a brick-shaped carb pillow that smells nice all over and allows you to smash into it whichever way you like, a gentle experience that releases your mind to places like “What’s the word for a solid food foam?” and “Is this like being in the womb?”
Escape from the Outside World Factor: 8.5/10
Would My Face Say Yes to a Second Date: In mere seconds.
2. Pancake Cereal
Provenance: Yet another edible TikTok Chimera with all the murky origins to show for it, pancake cereal became an early-summer fad that involved painstakingly griddling dime-sized pancakes, drenching them in syrup and milk, and eating them from a bowl.
Breadfacing Experience: Life’s contrasts are the catalysts of joy. Like chugging icy water half an hour into a hot bath. Receiving an acceptance letter the day after what you’d thought was the final blow, the sign that you should just shut up and enjoy your mediocre existence. Extending your hands out to hold a sticky, newt-like infant moments after a 12-hour labor. Alternating bites of ice cream and freshly fried chicken. These life-affirming contrasts came to mind as I submerged my face into freshly made pancake cereal, with its plush, warm disks of hydrated Bisquick, its chilly milk, and the sticky gel of room temperature maple syrup slipping into the corners of my mouth.
Escape from the Outside World Factor: 9/10
Would My Face Say Yes to a Second Date: Yes. And a third, and a fourth, and whatever happens after a fourth. (Can you tell I’ve been ghosted?)
1. Wildair Doughnut
- Provenance: “Wildair, one of those hip natural wine bars that make patrons feel as if they’re extras in a Sofia Coppola flick, has uploaded to Instagram what is surely the world’s most mesmerizing doughnut video. It is just 12 seconds long. A chef uses a spoon to tap the dorsal side of a doughnut 10 times, hitting it like a timpani drum… But so it goes that this is not a normal pillowy doughnut,” began Eater’s Ryan Sutton in a recent story about how chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra have pivoted their fare to endure the pandemic. Said doughnut has had quite a few close-ups since.
- Breadfacing Experience: Pressing my face into a Wildair Snickers-flavored donut felt equal parts revelatory and abstractly lewd, as its mousse-y filling spurted straight onto my tabletop and also into my nose. I then spent several minutes rubbing my face into the detonated bits, reveling in the texture of the caramel topping, stopping every one in a while to nibble at the fried carapace. Yes, I realized, nose-deep in a donut’s belly, breadfacing really could produce a sense of relaxation and enjoyment, a brief escapist’s jaunt. Or maybe it was just all the time in front of my S.A.D. lamp talking.
In summary, I have since showered four times, and still sometimes find a little caramel hardening into my hairline. But it’s a small price to pay. As for the official form of breadfacing, “I don’t really have a set plan,” says Bread Face, other than “getting cancelled in the near future, just like everyone else.”
Indoor Dining in NYC, Part II
Indoor dining opened in New York City last month, and it’s all anyone (I) can talk about (to no one, I am alone pretty much all of the time). In particular, restaurateurs and their employees are torn about the health implications of asking staffers to work hours-long shifts indoors when much of the public has yet to receive a vaccination. (The vaccine was made available to those working in restaurants after the initial announcement, though anecdotal reports about availability and ease of tracking it down vary.) This Eater story by Tanay Warerkar and Erika Adams is a great primer.
And indoor dining has been open, or is currently opening, in various phases across the country. Where do you live? Do you plan to eat indoors in the near-term? Do you work in a restaurant? How do you feel about these developments? Is there a local or national restaurant worker relief fund you’ve been donating to? (I’ve been donating to ROAR.) Let me know what you think in the comments.
On the Docket: What to Read, Watch, and Listen To
- A must-read: Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Patricia Escárcega, on racial hierarchies in the American food system.
- Have you listened to Reply All’s coverage of the culture at Bon Appétit? Did you see this Twitter thread about the culture at Reply All?
- “The meat was opulent, like that of a confit, infused all with flavor and cooked in such a way that it fell apart from the bone, had some pieces as gelatinous as the tomato pieces of the thick and abundant sauce that was topped by the colored spicy fat scarlet,” writes Tejal Rao in this stunning piece about the rise of birria.
- Valentine’s Day might be behind us, but Helen Rosner’s field guide to heart-shaped foods should be canonized as a year-round delight.
- For a laugh, mosey over to Simon Henriques’ short imagined monologue, “I am the Designer of this Restaurant’s Outdoor Seating Space, and this is my Artist’s Statement.”
- I plan to spend the upcoming weekend watching the Netflix glass-blowing show, which has nothing to do with food, but promises to offer lots of slow, colorful visuals.
The Happenings: Breakfast Sandwiches Gone Sour
When the kind, beanie-clad 20-something at Kitty’s Market in Hudson, NY opened the to-go window at 8:05 am last Monday to ask whether I wanted “everything” on my egg and cheese sandwich, I said yes like I say yes to grated Parm on pasta, or to the offer to skip virtually any given pre-planned workout. Automatically, happily, and with exactly zero premonition that my life was about to change in a big way.
I’ll skip the details of the intervening 11 minutes—during which time my breakfast sandwich was handed through the to-go window, happily expelling steam into the cold air—but suffice to say it ended with a passerby asking if I was “doing okay,” due to the sounds I was making as I finished the last bites. I was doing better than okay! Because getting “everything” on a Kitty’s bacon-egg-and-cheese, it turned out, meant getting sauerkraut too.
The tangy shreds were tucked gently between each layer, offering a hint of Gilgeori Toast texture and a pungent tang that perfectly offset the creaminess of egg, cheese, and aioli, and sliced through the smoky-fat of thick-cut bacon like the fushia onion shreds atop a pile of Cochinita Pibil.
More and more since, I’ve been noticing breakfast sandwiches in the wild that feature, in addition to the usual suspects, some type of pickled or fermented fare. (Another especially memorable specimen is the Egg Crêpe & Pickled Pineapple & Confit Bacon sandwich at Wildair in NYC.)
I firmly plan to investigate this trend further afield, once travel becomes safe. I have my eye on this bagel, egg, pastrami, tomato, and pickled cuke number from Steingold’s of Chicago, and the Longganisa Sandwich with pork sausage, atchara, and an egg from Los Angeles’ Ma’am Sir.
Have you tried a breakfast sandwich with some sour element, at home or otherwise? Let me know in the comments, I feel a psychic necessity to know more. (For example, should I be putting bread and butter pickle chips on my egg and cheese on English muffin? Yes, right?)
A Food Meme for the Ages
That’s it for now! Send me an email (Subject: “Tenth Helpings”) or a DM with any tips, questions, or feedback.