Bread Baking and Caretaking

I’m baking bread again. 

I’ve baked bread before. I’ve had a dough starter going before. This is not new for me, but it hasn’t been consistent over my adult life. It comes and goes. 

This is the first time that I have seen the pattern.

When I was a young adult, I was in a bad relationship. When I say bad, I mean very bad. I had a toddler. I called my mother and asked her for the recipe for a Friendship Bread starter. And I made bread. For a couple of months, until I was tired of eating it or giving it away.

When I was a little older, my mother died. After I got past the first few weeks of sorrow, I found myself making bread again. I think I got the starter from my step-mom, but I’m not sure. By then I was newly remarried and had two children in elementary school. I baked many loaves of simple Friendship Bread. I foisted starter on anyone that would take it. My family eventually got worn out on the bread and I let the starter die and moved on.

A few weeks ago, I suddenly wanted to bake bread. I didn’t need to; we had bread. But I felt the need to make bread and pizza dough. I tried to get dry yeast and couldn’t find it at the store, so I started building a sourdough starter and now I’m making something almost every day. Crackers, pancakes, savory flatbreads, cake, cinnamon rolls, and now, sourdough loaves. 

As I was mixing up some dough today, I started thinking about what is this all about for me – and seeing the connections. Some of it, no doubt, is related to having time available again, as I’m not working 9-5. But, clearly there is some component of being in stressful times that causes me to bake bread.

I think, for me, fresh baked bread indicates a kind of caretaking that is different and more than just cooking dinner or making a batch of cookies. Maybe that is because you not only are caring for the people you are baking for, but you are literally caring for the starter and the dough. You have to pay attention to them and think about them and study them. You have to invest real time. Our youngest child teased me the other day that instead of fostering kittens or a pregnant cat (a long-term desire), I decided to foster a sourdough starter. I think she’s onto something. 

My ability to get the starter going, keep it alive, and make bread from it feels like I’m achieving something in uncertain times. I’m doing something that isn’t easy and getting it done. And I’m simultaneously sustaining people that I love. 

As I watch people on my social media feeds start baking and cooking and sewing and planting, I wonder if it’s the same for them. This tragedy is so big, and there is so little we can do. If baking bread makes us feel like we are doing something, then bread we shall bake. 

If your way of coping and achieving in this time is to plant, sew, bake, cook, repair, clean, sort, or build, know that I am rooting for you. I’ll never mock what you are doing as a fad or a silliness. And if it’s bread you are into, I wish you yeast that rises, even when your spirits may not.

The Recipe

Here is the recipe, though honestly you should probably go visit theperfectloaf.com or another site to really learn about this!

  • 1000 grams of flour (I did 750 white and 250 wheat)
  • 775 grams of water (you can decrease to 750 and it will be easier to manage)
  • 150 grams of active starter
  • 20 grams of salt

Combine water and flour until just incorporated. Let sit (autolyse) for 45 minutes. Add the other ingredients and combine until everything is mixed but don’t knead. Cover with Saran wrap or a towel and let sit for 2 hours. 

During that 2 hours, every 30 minutes, you will take the dough from the side close to you, pull out and fold over the top, then spin ¼ turn and do the same until you go around. 

After the 4th pull/fold, empty the dough onto a floured counter and divide into 2. Shape (you might find it easier if you watch a youtube about shaping a sourdough boule) and allow to rest for 30 minutes on the counter.

Shape again, roll top in sesame seeds, and place in a bowl or basket (lined with a well-floured tea towel).

Place bowl/basket into a plastic bag or cover with cling wrap allowing for room to rise. Allow to proof in the refrigerator overnight. 

In the morning or when ready, preheat oven to about 500*
If you have a dutch oven, that’s a great thing to cook it in because it will steam inside. If not, when you place the loaves in the oven on baking stones or steels, put a pan of ice on the lowest rack at the same time. Regardless of what you are using to cook it on, it’s nice to preheat that while the oven preheats.

Place bread in dutch oven or on stone and make a slash from side to side or top to bottom (about ¼ inch deep). Place in oven.

After 20 minutes, remove the lid if cooking in a dutch oven. Lower the temp to 450 and continue to cook for another 20-30 minutes until it looks nice and dark on the top.

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2 Responses to Bread Baking and Caretaking

  1. Rosolyn says:

    There’s something about making bread that is healing….it’s sensual and the kneading is so satisfying. I haven’t ever done sourdough, but you may have enticed me…..thanks!!

    • theveganasana says:

      Keeping a starter going sort of feels like nurturing a plant or animal, so it definitely has benefits besides just the yummy carbs!

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