I’m not a baker, but sometimes I play one on home video.
I’m not exactly a foodie either, but I eat. And over the years, particularly recently, I’ve made a conscious effort to better acquaint myself with food. Sometimes this means cooking more (despite messy kitchens and seemingly squandered hours) and sometimes this means eating more (despite the threat of bigger waistlines.) The end goal has always been to better understand food and the act of eating & to perhaps eat better food in the process.
Sadly, the only topics more contentious as a subject of writing about than food, however, are probably religion and politics.
Many of us believe crazy things about the food we consume.
We all eat. We all have ideas, rightly or wrongly, about our food: about taste and substance, nutrients and styles, sources and rituals. Many of us eat out too much. Many of us believe crazy things about the food we consume. We believe nutty things about fat or carbs or gluten or toxins or industrialized food processing. Some of it may even be true, but then many of us can’t even explain why we believe those things. So many of us try to eat less — less in quantity, less of one particular ingredient, less of ethically sketchy products. Then too, many of us try to persuade upon others our ideas and thoughts and philosophies and notions about what we eat… and sometimes those others listen and sometimes they scoff at us.
Food is such a contentious subject that whenever I hear or read or watch some new bit of information or insight about a given food product, ingredient or style, I’ve often taken to digging through the internet in hopes of weighing that information against the mass group consensus (or not) of the crowds.
Or, better, I find myself inspired to uncork my scientific training (yes, from a real university) from where I keep it tucked away at the back of my brain, and experiment.
Perhaps it was just the documentary on bread that we watched on Netflix last week, or perhaps it has been a lurking thought in my mind for a lot longer — either way, I decided to learn more about bread.
Trail and error. Reading. Experimenting. Cooking. Eating. All of it together (hopefully) contributing to this notion I have of the deeply human and romantic notion that goes with turning flour and water into food.
I don’t know much of anything about bread, it turns out. I’ve made bread in the past, I’ve mixed ingredients and dutifully stirred in grocery packets of yeast and spices, cooked according to rigidly defined recipes. But I’ve never played in dough, crafted leavened foods from the heart or soul, never baked with a purpose other than a quick result.
“We’re actually eating cake.”
Watching that documentary, I think the point that stuck out most was this: in our effort to industrialize the bread-making process we’ve compressed a timeline that has withstood millennia of practice: the documentary suggested that we’ve sped up our yeasts, and we’ve cut back on fermentation processes by using chemical additives. And this is great if we want to make lots of bread, cheaply and quickly. We have lots of people to feed after all. But then life moves at a pace that can only be accelerated so much. Bread, before we cook it, is a living thing: living dough. Living yeast turning flour and water into a concoction that becomes airy and nutritious after time passes. Patience nets better results. The documentary suggested, maybe just maybe, that when many of us eat bread that we’re not really eating bread: we’re eating something closer to a cooked doughy batter. Not bread. Not strictly, anyhow. We’re eating cake. Unsweetened, and in the shape of a real loaf of bread with a nice brown crust and seeds clinging to the outside, yes, but cake all the same. And we’ve gotten so used to eating our bread-flavoured cake that we’re beginning to think it’s normal.
Think about that for a minute.
Now, I don’t know if any of this netflixian bread-making mumbo-jumbo holds water any better than a sourdough chili bowl, but then that’s where my analytical brain kicks in, right? And what if, just what if, it was possible to spend a few minutes each day –and an hour or so each week– playing: playing with dough, playing with heat, nurturing yeasts, better understanding this thing I think that I eat almost every day: bread.
So, I’m going to experiment. I’m going to bake bread. And I’m growing a starter. (I think I’ll name him Homer… y’know… because he makes D’OH!)