Making bread. Our daily bread. That’s what I’m doing right now. And this is what I want to explore in this post.
Why did people stop making their own bread? Time. It takes time to make bread. And most people simply don’t have the time it takes to make bread, so the supermarket loaf is an easy an appealing alternative.
The process is simple, but not something which you can speed up in any way. There are three distinct periods when when you have to wait. The first prove; the second prove and the final baking.
So lets go through the stages which include the gifts of time:
500g of strong wholemeal flour
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of sea salt
25g of fresh yeast (amazingly cheap from the local supermarket they won’t advertise it, but will sell it to you if you ask them)
340ml lukewarm water
Mix the dry ingredients together.
Now, my tip is to put the butter into the water so it melts,m thus making it easier to mix by hand. Ideally, put 200ml of very hot water in the jug, then the butter and add the remainder of the cold water when the butter has melted.
The fun bit comes next. Add the water and mix the dough with your hands. It’s wonderfully grounding to mix and knead and transform the initial soggy mess into a firm ball of dough after 10 minutes or so of kneading.
Then comes the first prove. the yeast needs time to eat the sugar and fill the dough with air, so its covered with a damp tea towel and left for an hour in a warm place until it has risen.
2: The first rise:
And this is when I get the first gift from my bread. I have a spare hour. The bread can’t be rushed, so I have a while hour to turn to another task. Some days I will cook a soup; other days I will go for a walk, or pop to chat with a neighbour. This time, I am going to spend a little time finishing a lino cut for a Christmas card. Just a few extra slithers of lino removed, until I’m satisfied. Then Bert the pug is finished:
After that, I will wash the dishes and have a cup of tea.
And this is the incredible benefit of making bread. We think that it is easier to buy a loaf from the shop, because it takes too long to make a loaf. Yes, it does take time, but making bread has it’s own swathes of free time, bookended by the stages of the process. This is the gift!
Here you go! Here’s an hour? What would you like to do? Read a book? Pop to the shops, or the gym? Have a nap? Watch a tv programme? The last loaf I made saw me sitting in the living room, kneading the dough in a bowl as I watched a film with my children. (Gremlins, if you are interested!). Making the bread didn’t interfere with a normal evening. It was just a part of it.
3: The second rise:
After the first rise comes ‘knocking back’. Basically you knead the dough for about 3 minutes longer, gently. After this, you put it into an oiled loaf tin (I use a 2lb one). Then, here comes the second gift fro the bread! More time. This period is roughly 45 minutes as the bread rises for the second time.
On this occasion, I am going to play my guitar and intersperse this with another cup of tea. What would you do if you had a spare 45 minutes? Go for a run? Walk the dog? You have enough time to write a blog post maybe? I would be interested to know how you would spend this time.
4: Baking the bread:
This is the wonderful stage when the house fills with the soul warming scent of baking bread. There is a sense of anticipation as the dough transforms into a golden brown loaf. The oven is set to about 200 degrees C, for about 40 minutes (until the turned out loaf sounds hollow on the base when knocked with a knuckle).
And again, here comes the third gift. More time! Another block of time in which I can do something. I’m going to tackle a bit of ironing. With the radio on. I find ironing a meditiative process. Soothing, calming and centreing. I appreicate the measured blocks of time that come with baking bread. Simple tasks of this nature have the effect of freeing the mind as the hands work. I find myself solving problems and coming up with new ideas as i knead the dough. It could be a poem, a song, or a way to refine a part of my life.
And there it is. Hot, golden, smelling amazing. The finished loaf, tastes so much better than a loaf bought fom a shop. Partly because I have invested so much time in it; partly because I appreciate how much time it has given me to do other things.
Does a loaf take too long to make? I’d argue that the opposite is true. Making bread creates time.
What do you think?