Zen Bread – Bread Zen

This is not a recipe but thoughts about baking bread from scratch.


As I mentioned before, I started baking sourdough bread when the stores ran out of yeast during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have baked at least one loaf of bread every weekend since.

I often take pictures of what I call my baking adventures. Here is a selection of loaves from 2021.

Scroll down if you are interested in my thoughts about baking.

Baking bread provides something very elemental and grounding for me. The thought of making something just with simple ingredients – flour, water and salt – is very satisfying for me. At the same time, the fermentation process forces me to wait and hope for a result. It prevents me from rushing through the process to admire the final product.

The sensory input is incredible, you start out by mixing the ingredients but during the process, you feel the dough with your hands at every step. You feel it transform and blend. You can almost feel the yeast cultures work and the gluten form.

Two factors transform the simple task of baking bread into an adventure every time.

  1. The weather – During the season when the furnace is on and the temperature is steady in our little house, the rising of the dough is fairly consistent. I usually keep my starter and the dough in the warmest room in the house that is always around 22 degrees Centrigrade. In the summer though, the cultures work much faster and you have to watch out that the dough doesn’t over-proof. The extreme temperatures of summer 2021 forced me to pause baking for a few weeks because I could not bear to turn on the oven when it felt like you could bake bread on the patio :-).
  2. Life happens – If you follow any sourdough recipes, even the simple ones I use, you see that baking bread without commercial yeast is a two day, drawn out process. From tending the starter at least a few days before to baking the bread in two stages, the development of a loaf of bread takes time. During that time a lot can happen. You are called away, you are not at home when a stage of the baking process should happen. Most of the time the “project” can handle a delay or even skipping certain steps. But until you cut into the baked loaf you spent so much time and love on, you never know if it turned out the way you hoped.

Gratitude

Baking with sourdough every week has provided some surprising side effects that I didn’t expect. Some are quite obvious; I now enjoy eating bread a lot more every day. I didn’t realize it, but for many years bread was just a carrier for nourishing carbs and fibre and a base to put cheese, lunch meat and sprouts on. Now every bite is so much richer.

Two other factors surprised me more than that. Handling the dough and going through the ritual of baking, provides a way to get into “the flow.” It is almost a zen-like feeling I experience every Saturday when I create one, two or three loaves of artisan bread.
I used to dislike baking – compared to cooking it seemed to pose too many rules and precise measurements. Baking bread on a regular basis made me open to trying to bake other things too.

Thank you, Bread, for providing moments of Zen and nourishment for my loved ones and me.

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