“How poor are they that have not patience!” – William Shakespeare
A LESSON IN PATIENCE
The aroma that fills the house is amazing. My tummy rumbles in anticipation. The smell of freshly baked bread is powerful. It draws tiny people away from their building games and TV shows. We congregate in the kitchen and marvel. This loaf is something special. It has been two months in the making. It is not perfect. Yet it is. Three simple ingredients, flour, water and salt have combined to make this masterpiece with a heavenly scent.
I grab the bread knife and cut thick slices for us to butter. The butter melts into the bread, still warm from the oven, and we eat. It is a simple, tasty pleasure.
I embarked on my sourdough journey mid-April. I cut ordinary bread from my diet about a year ago for health reasons and had occasionally been purchasing sourdough from a local deli and the supermarket. I don’t know all the scientific reasons behind it, but sourdough it seems is much more easily digested than regular bread and seeing as all my family enjoys it I figured it was time to flour my hands and get kneading.
Sourdough is made using a ‘starter’ and this little mother needs daily tlc so that she can keep on giving to produce beautiful bread. I’ve heard that there are bakeries in Italy with sourdough starters that are centuries old. Now that is dedication to the bread-making cause!
Anyhow, I began with a jar, a cup of flour and some water. I fed my starter daily until it began to bubble – a sign that it’s active and getting geared up to make bread. I managed to get a few decent loaves from my first starter, but then it all went wrong. A layer of what looked like oil developed on top and the smell turned slightly acrid. Something was wrong. Some research told me this was called the ‘hooch’ and that it can be poured off and the starter fed again with flour to revive it. I decided to start again and I did this three times before I got into the swing of things.
I have a suspicion that every starter will be different and will have its own needs depending on kitchen temperature, the amount of yeasts it’s taking in and how often it is fed. I am finding that mine likes a little more flour than water to keep it really bubbly and active and smelling healthy. Too much water and it begins to develop a hooch again. I know now though not to tip it out but just stir in a little flour to keep it happy.
Last thing at night before turning all the lights off and going to bed I prepare my ‘sponge’. I take 3 cups of flour, mix it with 1.5/2 cups of water, 1 cup of my starter and 2 teaspoons of salt. I cover this with cling-film and leave it to work its magic overnight. In the morning it looks bubbly and crinkly and I know it’s ready to be turned into a loaf.
At this stage I begin to stir in more flour until the dough can’t take any more. It will still be fairly sticky so I use a bench scraper to get it all out of the bowl onto a lightly floured bench for kneading. This is the best part….
I roll up my sleeves and in the still and peaceful silence of my kitchen I set my hands to work kneading the dough. There is something so satisfying about this process. It slows my mind. It sweeps away anxiety. My hands keep working, enjoying the texture of the dough as it develops between my fingers. My thoughts wander. I enjoy the quiet simplicity of an age-old activity.
Once the dough has been kneaded for long enough (I usually give it about 10-15 minutes), it is time to let it proof. I shape my ball of dough and put it on a lightly oiled tray and cover it with a large plastic container and leave it for at least a couple of hours. You can punch it down after this time and give it a second proof. After this it is ready to bake.
Sourdough likes a nice steamy oven so I splash some water onto the base of my oven then bake my loaf for around 18-20 minutes until it is lightly golden. Every oven is different so this will vary. Just keep a good eye on it. When it is done switch the oven off but leave the sourdough in the oven with the oven door slightly open until it is cool. When you lift your bread it should sound hollow when you tap the bottom of it.
It has taken me 2 months and many, many bags of flour to get to the point where I am able to make bread on a daily basis. Once you have an active starter the actual process of preparing the bread is fairly simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Yes, there is a lot of waiting about but for me that’s part of the joy. I have learned that sometimes you’ve just got to wait on things that are worthwhile.
There is no comparison between the bread that I make at home and the bread that I can purchase in a supermarket. When I eat my own bread that I have made with my own hands I feel joyful and that’s a good thing! Yesterday I chopped up a few olives and chucked them into the mix. Today, I threw in a few sundried tomatoes. The options are endless and I am so excited to experiment further!
The process of making sourdough fits in so well with the concept of minimalism. For me and my family minimalism is not just about clear surfaces and white walls. For us minimalism is a lifestyle of simple abundance. Minimalism for me incorporates the idea of being content with a simpler mode of existence. Of appreciating life in its simplest format. Of connecting with nature and food in its true raw state. Of being mindful of my environment. Of wasting less. Of enjoying more.
By making my own bread, a simple, everyday food which is enjoyed the world over in various states, I have added a new dimension of wealth to my life. In taking those 20 minutes to knead, feed and shape a loaf for my family and me to enjoy I have also carved out 20 minutes of peace and quiet in my daily routine and it has turned out to be so much fun. I have learned to look after my starter, in fact it even gets fed in the morning before my children! I have learned to wait patiently for something delicious and I am certain that in this ‘instant-coffee’ world we live in where we expect everything NOW that this is a good lesson. Slowing down, stepping back, savouring the time and the bread that follows is definitely worthwhile.