As I see bread dough rising, I can feel my spirits lifting. The time and effort I expend in making bread might not be “worth” it economically, but the payoff is in the feel of the dough as I knead it, the aroma of the loaves in the oven, and the taste of a fresh slice in my mouth.
I’ve been baking bread for 40 years, which may seem like a long time, but consider that human beings have been doing it for 30,000 years, in a wide variety of cultures. For years I made yeast bread, but a year ago I made the transition to sourdough.
I chose to bake bread today because I knew the warm temperatures would help the dough to rise. Late yesterday afternoon, I mixed two cups of white flour and one and a half cups of warm water with one and a half cups of sourdough “starter,” the magical substance that makes the dough rise. I got my initial starter from a bakery, and keep it in the refrigerator, taking it out to “feed” it flour and water every four to eight days.
I left the mixture out overnight, and this morning I heated up 2 and a quarter cups of milk, 3 Tablespoons of honey, 3 teaspoons of salt, and 3 Tablespoons of butter. I cooled the mixture to lukewarm ( putting in ice cubes to hasten the process) and combined it with the sourdough mixture. Then I added about 10 cups of flour (some white, some whole wheat) and kneaded the dough for about 15 minutes. Kneading is heart-pumping exercise but is the heart of the process.
The next step is to let it rise until doubled in bulk (today that was only 90 minutes) and punch it down, then do the same thing again. I then separated the dough into three parts, gave each a final brief knead, and put them in three pre-oiled loaf pans. The final rise takes 45 to 60 minutes, and the loaves cook at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Is my bread as good as I can get from professional bakers? No. But if I went to a bakery, I wouldn’t have the fun of baking it myself and eating my distinctive loaves. As with so many things in simple living, baking your own bread is “worth” it only if it’s enjoyable.