Over the last few weeks, Amy and I have become particularly interested in making sourdough bread. We love the idea of making bread the same way that humans have for many thousands of years. Besides the delicious nature of the bread, there are some great reasons for doing it this way, too.
Making sourdough bread in the traditional method is not without difficulties– for how simple it is, it is an incredibly slow, meticulous process. It’s not something that can be done in an hour or two, not even in an afternoon–it takes about a week if you start from complete scratch.
It consists of creating a sourdough starter, made from flour and water mixed in equal parts, and leaving it exposed to the air. For the next several days, equal parts of water and flour are added until the wild yeast begins to ferment.
It takes about five or six days of this for the starter to become strong enough to begin the bread-making process. Once you’re there, then there’s the leavening, multiple rounds of kneading, 12-24 hours of proofing, then baking. Yeah, after 6 days you’re still at least 24 hours away from eating a warm slice of fresh bread.
Once all of that is done you have a loaf of bread that, depending on the size of your family, might disappear in a sitting or two. Despite having no experience doing it, our first not-so-great attempt at making sourdough bread was some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted.
After all that work, we had nothing but some of the starter we began with. All evidence of our kneading, proofing, waiting, and careful baking was completely (and deliciously) gone.
Are there faster, more immediately gratifying ways to make bread? Of course. We could have used some store-bought yeast and made bread from start to finish in a couple of hours at most. That quick-rising yeast is what most breads and baked goods are made with these days. The quick-rising yeast makes it much faster and way more convenient, though not without nutritional detriment.
So what did I take away from my first experience making sourdough bread? Well…
It’s easy to get lost in the result instead of enjoying the process. As we go through life, it can be easy to hyper-focus on the final product—what we’ll get when we finish, at the end of the line. Sometimes that can look like a promotion at work, college graduation, or perhaps a really great loaf of bread. That product, though, is such a small portion of our lives–and just like the bread, it is often temporary in nature. Learning to love the process makes the final product that much more rewarding. Once the product is made, we move back to the process yet again.
The faster something is the worse it is for you. When I think of fast and convenient, I think of the bottom of the barrel. The McDonald’s drive-thru with the cheapest mystery meat possible, available within just a few minutes. You don’t even have to get out of your car. With the rise of “sharing economy” delivery services, we don’t even need to leave our homes now. There is a complete disconnect between the effort it took to create that meal and eating it. The faster these sorts of things are, the less connection we have to what’s in it and what it took to make it. Slowing down and reconnecting with the process in our lives is a privilege we should take as soon as we’re able. Generally, things are fast because corners are being cut.
Simple does not mean easy. Despite taking nearly a week to make, sourdough bread is one of the simplest recipes in the world. Flour, water, and a pinch of salt. That’s it. The simplicity of the ingredients is actually what makes the process of baking it that much more complex. In order to eat a simpler, healthier loaf of bread, we had to spend a lot of time making it ourselves. We appreciated it more and knew exactly what went into making it. To the point above, it would be much easier to buy quick-rise yeast and bake a loaf of bread that tastes good, but has practically no nutritional value.
Daily habits prepare you for the big league. Have you ever had an opportunity that you simply weren’t ready for or weren’t able to execute on? If you want to make sourdough bread, you have to start maintaining a starter at least a week in advance. Adding a little bit of flour and water each day to keep it fed and the culture strong. It is those daily preparations that help you be ready for opportunities as they come. Just like life, if you don’t do the work, you won’t be ready when it comes time to bake the bread (metaphorically speaking). Put in a little bit of work every day to reap the rewards down the line.
Sometimes life gets sticky, so just keep kneading. When you first start kneading the prepared dough, it is a huge mess. The dough sticks to your hands and to the table and seemingly everything it touches. It will goop up any spoon or tool you try to use to scrape it off your hands. If you just keep kneading, just keep working the dough, it eventually comes off of your hands and the small bits work back in. If you’re in a tough spot, or feel like you’re struggling with something you need to do, just keep working it. You’ll get there even though it may take some time. Trust the process and keep on going.
I honestly never expected to learn so much (or draw so many great metaphors) from something as simple as mixing flour and water together. Learning to fall in love with the process, realizing that simple definitely doesn’t mean easy, and keeping daily actions on point really help keep me on track. Have you ever made sourdough bread? If not, I think you should give it a try.