I’ve been spending consistent time baking sourdough bread since the world went sideways with covid-19. As I’ve gotten into the rhythm of it, many thoughts have floated through me. Baking has been my meditation, a good thing since it’s not yet gardening season – my other therapy. I thought I’d share some of my musings here, for posterity’s sake.
Life is Like a Loaf of Bread…
Slow to react, but almost always there if you don’t give up on it.
Unpredictable, but rewarding in so many ways.
Requiring many steps and various skills that aren’t necessarily related to each other.
Complex – not all of its parts are loved by everyone.
Not as easy as it looks – and it doesn’t look easy!
Able to reflect the character and mood of its maker.
Worth the time and effort it takes to produce something for which we can be proud.
Takes time and patience and extreme conditions to succeed to the utmost.
Beautiful in all its forms.
Meant to be shared.
Wishing you all happy moments in this new crazy world, whether they be alone in your kitchen or virtually with your loved ones. Stay safe, stay home and be kind.
I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.
In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.
One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.
I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.
Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!
I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)
So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.
I love a Sunday when I can do homey things. There is something especially satisfying about sitting down Sunday night knowing I worked in the garden or did the laundry or baked something.
Needless to say, with snowflakes drifting down most of today I didn’t get to work in the garden, but the other things got checked off the list.I don’t imagine you want to hear about the laundry, so I’ll tell you about the baking.
I love baking. Baking has more instant gratification than cooking. Often cooking means organizing an entire meal, and that encompasses a number of skills. You usually have everyone ready to eat at once, and you might have to deal with different preferences. Baked goods might be part or even the end to a meal with everyone at the table enjoying them, but most often they are enjoyed more spur of the moment, and over time. I started baking as a youngster, and it is still dear to my heart.
Today I decided that bread would be just the thing to warm the house with cozy aromas. I used to be afraid of making bread – the wild nature of yeast was overwhelming, and the time it took was stressful (I never knew until it was too late if I did a good job). A few years ago I decided to conquer my fear, through the best method I know – jumping in with both feet. I went from baking biscuits to baking whole wheat loaves, sourdough, rye and even a Rosemary Pecan Bread. I will admit I had some less than stellar results at the beginning, but now I seem to have found my rhythm. (Streaming oldies while I knead the dough helps a lot.)
This Sunday I made a sweet bread I had tagged in an issue of Saveur magazine from last winter. I love Scandinavian sweet breads with their aromatic spices, and I liked the design of the loaf with cuts made to create a design. I love the transformation and surprise of a loaf that shows its wonders as it bakes. It seems to exemplify the expression, “breaking bread”.
I wanted to tweak the spices a bit as my hubbie isn’t a huge fan of cardamom, so I added some complexity to the filling. I also decided to use decorating sugar; the original recipe called for pearl sugar, but I find it’s more like gravel than anything tasty.
Mine didn’t look quite like the one in the magazine, but I was happy with it. The slice I took as it cooled was just the right amount of sweet, spongy and heartwarming. My Sweet Spice Bread was the perfect way to end a Sunday afternoon.
I am continuing my efforts in baking bread today. Sunday is a great day to tackle a piece-by-piece recipe like bread; it allowed me to have the house smelling wonderful and still manage to get laundry done and vacuum and dust.
This time I tackled a rye bread recipe. I do have Scandinavian roots, and rye is a grain that flourishes in Northern climates. It also has health benefits over wheat breads, and so is supposed to be a good carb choice. (Just in case you were feeling any guilt about enjoying a slice. ) A rye sourdough is on my list as well, since that will offer even more benefits and a more unique taste.
It’s interesting that with all the data now on the Internet, you can search for the “best” whatchamacallit you’re looking for. If a lot of people have tried out something and recommended it, that gives a bit more background than just a simple reference to material. I’m hoping this recipe for Best German Rye Bread lives up to its title. I won’t list it as best because this is my first shot at trying rye, so I’ll reserve judgement. I’ve listed it as “Rye Bread” and I adapted the recipe with a bit more rye flour and making it only one loaf.
This bread was easy to work. It is also very tasty, light in texture but full of flavour. My only complaint is more about my equipment than the recipe. You see, we have a large standing mixer. It works great for my hubby, who is a private chef, but for me it’s almost always bigger than I need. In other needs, I’m not making enough for it to work well. But those are first world problems, aren’t they? When I started cooking and logging recipes, I had no electric equipment at all; even my beater was a hand-held model that ran on “arm-strong” power.
That said, bread is the kind of thing that seems to respond well to machines, but it is a soulful food. Working it by hand is cooking at its essence, some say. I do find a peace in making it.