Today… I make bread.
Forgive me if it sounds somewhat momentous. As written before I’ve made bread twice a week for over three years but this time is different. Today I revisit the sourdough. What makes it such a big deal is that it was the last thing I ate before getting sick five weeks ago. The memory of both the bread and the illness is not pleasant. I did attempt two commercial yeast breads during this time but they just didn’t please the palate. And, while I have hopes this revisiting will be a success there is also something else lurking in my barely concealed subconscious: maybe I don’t want to like it anymore.
Day One: Scoop out 2/3 cup of the refrigerated starter and knead in 2 ⅓ cups flour and 1 cup water. Set aside under a plastic/towel wrap for about 8 hours. Knead the remainder of the starter, cover tightly and put back in the fridge.
I have a long, somewhat complicated relationship with food. I have been on and off diets from my mid teens, done cleanses, been gluten, dairy and sugar free and vegan, tried eating everything I wanted and, alternatively, severely limited my desires, counted calories and how many steps I need to walk before burning off the last cookie, and created rules that said when and where I could eat. I’ve done therapy on this issue and read a lot of books, even attended an OA meeting a few times. All this and the most I have been is twenty pounds over my natural weight and a few pounds under. As you can see it wasn’t a physical health problem.
After almost forty years of this, including fifteen of in-depth reflection, I feel most of the dark corners of my food issues have had the mold scoured from them. I know they have little to do with the actual victuals, but rather a childhood of poor boundaries and wavering self esteem. I’ve worked hard at bringing these inner conflicts to light and also in creating a healthy vision of who I am today. Still, I know there are a few more shadows in the pantry to be revealed. Hence, my question above: to like or not to like the bread.
Exploring one’s shadows is a bit like unveiling the hidden processes that occur in bread making. In my last blog, I talked about how amylase breaks down the starch in flour to produce the sugars needed to feed the yeast spores. This enzyme begins to work whenever flour and water come together and is also the reason why French bread tastes so good. If you look at the ingredients of a typical French loaf, for example, you will note just three: white flour, water and salt. What gives this bread its lovely taste is not so much what goes in but the extra long leavening time. Starch tastes bland; sugar tastes good. The more starch breaks down the more sugar is available and the better the bread will taste. However, there are limits to this formula. Break it down too much and there will be nothing left to hold up your bread. Flat bread is great but not when you are looking for a puffy loaf.
Day One Continued: There are several ways to create the extra leavening time with bread and hence a better taste. Today, just after I prepare the starter, I blend the following into a small roughly shaped ball:
About 2 cups flour
Up to 1 cup corn meal
Up to 1 cup millet
½ tbsp sea salt (slows down the fermentation process)
Just enough water
Place in a bowl, lightly wrap and set aside for 8 - 12 hours on your shelf or 48 within the fridge.
Adventuring into one’s shadows also takes time and, like bread, the more time you take the healthier (sweeter?) you become. However, once again, like bread, if you spend too long in the shadows without breaks or gratitude for all that is bright in your life, you start to lose your foundation and the fortitude to keep going. The cliché is true: balance is good.
Day Two: The starter has nicely risen to twice its volume while the flour ball sits there, as expected, with bland expression. Just you wait, I say, your time is coming. I play like an amateur chopsticker with two knives and separate my flour ball into small pieces.
Blend in: 1 tbsp olive oil; 1 tbsp molasses; 1 tbsp flax seed; ½ tbsp sea salt; ½ -1 cup toasted sesame and pumpkin seeds
Add: Starter mix
Knead: Add in water and flour as needed until I have a lovely silken larva.
Rise: Cover loosely in a greased bowl with a plastic/towel wrap and set aside 2-3 hours until about almost double in size.
Sometimes I create the extra leavening time by letting the first rise be by an open window on a cool night or even in the fridge. Similarly, that is the method I recently used for my food issues. Up until about two or three years ago, I was active in my quest into why food and body image have such an interesting hold on me. Then I stopped. I put the issue in the fridge, so to speak, to ferment behind doors and take its own sweet time in coming to light. And once again the parallels are apt. Too long in the fridge, over 30 hours, and the bread won’t rise as well; too long without a good session of self reflection and heck, you stagnate too. It took this virus/hormonal shift I wrote about last week, a loss of ten pounds due to lingering nausea, and a disinterest in baking to propel the issue back out of the fridge. Enough leavening time for me, I guess.
Second rise: Remove from bowl, cut in half, and shape into loaves by flattening and then rolling into a loaf. Slightly dampen the flattened dough before rolling so it sticks together better. Sit in a warmish, draft free place for 2-3 hours.
Preheat oven to 425° with a pan of water to make it all steamy.
Bake: Reduce heat and bake at 350° (depends on your oven) for 15 minutes. Take out the pan of water and continue for another 10. Take loafs out of pans and bake for another 5 or so until they sound hollow when tapped on their bottoms.
Eat: Wait an hour or so before slicing.
And now you are all hopefully curious as to which wish was fulfilled? Did I like or not like the bread? Were my shadows exposed or was there more mold to clean out? Was I refrigerated long enough or did I need more leavening time? Will Nancy ever find who stole her client list and gave it to the Hardy Boys?
To be continued…