By Sara Lannebo
Flour and water are the only ingredients you need to create wonders and fill your kitchen with that warm smell of freshly baked bread. Learning how to combine these two components into a loaf with a hard crust and springy inside, is not only rewarding in deliciousness, but also on a much deeper level. Making bread may sound like a simple matter with a clear end goal, but the process will in fact lead you onto a path of exploration beyond your taste buds. It is both on an individual level, by appreciating the craft of baking and finding new ways of expression, but it is also a way of connecting with other people, places, and cultures.
Personally, I think of bread-making as a kind of mindfulness practice. A dough is not just a dough; it is something that requires attention and care. It involves you in the process and encourages you to notice all the small details: the characteristics of the gluten, the way it stretches between your fingers, the density, the elasticity, the smoothness. Successful bread-making might take a few tries and is frustrating at times, but once you figure out how to transform a sticky mess of flour and water into a delicious loaf of bread, it will be worth all the hard work. As soon as you taste the warmth and moisture of the bread, you will be eager to do it all over again.
But bread-making is not only fun and rewarding; it can also make you appreciate the value of home-cooked food and help you develop a healthy relationship with food in general. When making your own food, you know exactly what is in it. You will be forced to learn about the ingredients, to understand where they come from and how the quality of them matters in cooking. And simply knowing that you made something with your own hands is a reward in itself. As food writer M.F.K. Fisher put it: “bread [is] to be honored, not turned into dull necessity and puffed packaged furnishing of any corner grocery.”
The most valuable aspect of bread-making, and cooking in general, is that it will encourage you to broaden your horizons. Food is the one thing we all have in common. Despite our differences and disagreements, everyone depends on food. But the importance of it stretches beyond that of survival: it is also a source of social and cultural interactions, a mixture of needs and wants, a way of expression. Although what we eat differs across borders and cultures, bread is universal. It is used all over the world, and comes in countless different shapes and flavours. The simplicity of it – starting with flour and water – can be just as appreciated as the complexity of the different ways of cooking and flavoring it. Once you get a grip on how the baking process functions, you will be encouraged to go beyond your knowledge and find inspiration elsewhere. You will broaden the scope of not just your eating habits, but also your way of experiencing other cultures and ideas.
When it comes to starting off on this path, the number one advice I can give is to start simple. Make your own tortillas, or pizza dough, or a basic breakfast loaf. If you’re more devoted, go to your local bakery and ask for a piece of their sourdough starter – or make your own! It doesn’t matter where or how you get started (or how well it goes) but taking this small step will open up a world of opportunities.
By Sara Lannebo
Illustration: Mireia Lundquist