Over Thanksgiving, I bought a book called the Homemade Pantry, which details how you can make your own butter, cream cheese, bread, granola, you name it. 101 foods you can stop buying and start making.
If you want to put in the effort.
We already had decided that we were going to start making bread so we didn’t have to buy it. With four kids, French toast for breakfast at least four times a week, five days of lunches to pack, well you do the math as to how much bread we consume.
Once home, I pulled out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, a long dog-eared, stained-page go-to cookbook that I love and turned to the page on sourdough bread. We had to make a starter, a fermented mixture of flour, yeast and water, that sits until it smells sour and is airy and puffy and has risen quite a bit. Only when the starter is done can you begin the bread-making process.
It seems like a lot of work when you don’t have any starter. It delays your bread-making by at least two days – and then of course, the making of the bread itself takes at least 24 hours from start to finish.
It is an investment of time and energy and patience and craftsmanship that, frankly, most people today don’t have or want to summon.
And if you know me at all, you know I am not the most patient of people. But I’m at a point in life where I just want to slow down, simplify, savor the moments.
So we got home from our travels, unpacked the kids and did laundry, and started to make a starter. Dan and I mixed the first ingredients and set them into a bowl to ferment, and left it on the counter.
A few days passed. Twice a day we’d mix it and take a sniff – not sour enough. Until, at the end of the second day, we deemed it sour enough to start the bread.
There is a parenthetical notation in the recipe for the bread that explains how you take half the starter for your loaf and rejuvenate the remaining starter so that it continues to grow and ferment. There is another comment within it that says, if you replenish it the way described, you can have starter forever, in your refrigerator.
And you see, that’s the thing about patience and investment of energy: once you do it, it pays dividends. You have to do the work to see the results. There is no real shortcut to anything. Shortcuts always end up falling short.
Yesterday, I noticed that we only had a few pieces left from the first loaf, so I started the process of making a new loaf. Half the starter mixed in with flour, yeast, water and salt, in a food processor until there is a ball of dough.
Let it rise in a bowl for a few hours. Then knead it into a ball and place it seam side down into a kitchen towel, sprinkle with flour and cover it to rise for 2-6 hours.
Only then is it ready for baking.
This second loaf was bigger, lighter, airier and more delicious smelling than the first. (Isn’t that always the way it is?) We are establishing a process here. We are getting better with every exercise. (Isn’t that always the way it is?)
The resulting loaf was so enticing that my little guy came down this morning and said, “Oh, you made another loaf!” And simply plucked a piece from the bag and took a bite. No butter, no jelly, nothing spread onto the bread. Just the bread itself.
Delicious in each bite. Satisfying. Fashioned from our own hands. Nourishing our souls.