There is something very comforting about baking bread. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years. It is not surprising that in these strange and unsettling times, we should turn to an activity that connects us with our ancestors.
There is comfort in continuity, and I think we could all do with a bit of reassurance in the resilience of our species.
When much of our lives is outside of our control, punching, pummelling, stretching, folding and shaping dough to our will is very satisfying. The aroma of freshly baked bread is a joy and the transformation of simple ingredients into a delicious golden loaf is an accomplishment of which one can be proud.
But it doesn’t always go to plan.
I joined the lockdown baking craze last year and started making soda bread. It is the taste of my childhood.
I was in awe of my Auntie Mary who would rustle up a fresh loaf, or as it is properly called cake, of soda bread every morning for breakfast in Ireland. Soda bread is the instant gratification of the bread world.
You can decide that you’d like fresh bread for breakfast and an hour later it is on the table.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is sourdough. From making your starter to producing a loaf takes at least a week and, in my case, possibly eternity. It seems like every other picture on Instagram is a perfectly risen, exquisitely shaped loaf of sourdough bread. I don’t have any photographs like that.
I’m new to the mysteries of sourdough and I have to admit that it is a challenge. My first attempt did at least reach the table. The resultant loaf was edible but uninspiring and not in the least photogenic. It has been all downhill since then.
My next venture didn’t even make it to the oven. The glutinous mass spread in all directions coating everything it touched with a sticky gunge, reminiscent of the creature from outer space in that cult classic film The Blob. In addition to almost every surface in the kitchen, there were deposits on the floor, inside my bed and on the dog’s ear. Number three promised more which made scraping the gloop off the table into the bin all the more disappointing.
Making your own sourdough is supposed to be much cheaper than buying a loaf made by someone who knows what they are doing, but in my case the cost equation doesn’t work.
What about the numerous kilograms of flour that leave my kitchen in the bin? You may ask why I continue to try. If you don’t, my husband certainly does.
As he peeled more dried sludge from the fridge door handle, I told him that I was learning a lot from trying to crack the mystery of sourdough. “How to waste time?” was his response.
He said it like it was a bad thing but, as we struggle through the partial lockdown, filling time is important.
I am determined to continue my quest and, if you are struggling with forced incarceration, I recommend a dose of bread therapy. You may even end up with something you can eat.