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
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