It is only Bread



Bread, that staple of many lives. I have lately become fascinated by it. I remember as a child living white sliced bread – the sweetness and how it could be crushed within a fist to leave the impression of fingers. The crust, eaten raw, could stave off the perpetual hunger of the growing adolescent.

I am now older. That ubiquitous sliced white of my youth has become a thing of horror to me. I have learned that it is made by an industrial process, filled with additives and flavour enhancers. The yeast has hardly any time, if any, to develop. I have left sliced white behind and had moved on to the wholegrain breads that I am told is better for my digestion. However I then learn that despite this having better ingredients most of this is still made using that selfsame industrial process, and many of the same additives are still present. I try bread from a variety of artisan makers. Far less immediate sweetness but a rich depth of flavour.

So I move on. I start with an easy bread – Irish Soda Bread. Made with buttermilk and using baking powder rather than proving with yeast this provided a way in to the world of bread making. Just over half an hour and there is a loaf. However this loaf did not satisfy – it had the consistency and taste of cake rather than bread.

So more study. New words. A new language of kneading, proving, knocking back and second proving. So my first steps into the world of real breads. Failures – loaves that failed to rise (the wrong yeast), loaves that collapsed (not enough kneading), doughy loaves (not hot enough oven). But some breads that had a richness of flavour that I was looking for. Learning that wholegrain flours are a lot less forgiving that refined white flour. And most importantly, learning that time is vital to the process: 2 – 3 hours for a loaf.

Then a new revelation – sour dough breads. I had heard of these but they seemed unattainable – starters described as coming from the town of Riga and cultured for 50 years. Then I met a former biochemist who had become a baker. He took the time to explain sourdoughs and why he bakes them having travelled a similar journey to me. So why the sourdough bread? It is part of the slow food movement. From a starter mixture you make a leaven. This takes 12 – 18 hours. Then you wet your flour and leave it to relax for an hour before introducing your leaven. Then the normal process of kneading but this time with a delicacy of touch, and proving for an hour. Then knocking back but this time with gentle folding. And then a second prove, but this time moulding in a seive to create that perfect shape. And then baking, but this time for rather longer than before. Out of the oven but patience is needed – this is not a bread for immediate consumption. It has to cool overnight before consumption. And I have found the rich complex flavours that can satisfy. The essential difference is time but also a faith in a gift from God – the wild yeasts present in flours. Traditional breads rely on selected yeast that are cultured to provide a fast active rise to the loaf. The wild yeasts and their associated bacteria work differently on the flours so create complexity.

There should be an allegory here but I leave it for you to draw out your own faith journeys. After all – it is only bread!

Lord – let our memory
provide no shelter
for grievance
against another.
Lord – let our heart
provide no harbour
for hatred of another.
Lord – let our tongue
be no accomplice
in the judgement of a brother. Amen


3 thoughts on “It is only Bread

  1. I love bread-making; and thank you for this encouraging tale of progress to something that speaks of Lent: the slow and reflective process of ‘proving’, and of being found ready…

  2. I have given up bread for Lent…what a hardship it was reading your wonderful account, making me realise that it was the right thing for me to give up. Meditative bread making sounds so good!

  3. Beautiful! We too have essentially abandoned store bought bread and have been solely making bread in our bread machine. While it misses the hands on, prayerful aspect of doing it by hand, with 2 small children, this is working well for us! It took a while to get good at slicing the bread the right thickness….neither too think nor too thin…. for sandwiches, toast, etc! Thanks for sharing!

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