Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sour dough or yeast? And can I still be baker ... random thoughts

When I was 18 and working in Germany I bought a wonderful baking book "Das ist Backen"and have spent much of the rest of my life reading it, translating recipes from it for friends and just enjoying going back to to look at the pictures. My mum still remembers me coming home from Germany with it and the ensuing kitchen chaos as I made "Schwarzweissgebäck" and special new year's "Glückschweinchen". It was my main source for bread baking recipes when I was a student (before I got a copy of Elizabeth David's wonderful English Bread and Yeast Cookery) but there were problems in store for me because I didn't understand anything about the German concept and reality of "Sauerteig". I had never really used rye flour or any kind of slow rising yeasts and it took me quite a while and lots of talking with friends who were bakers to begin to understand and create my own sour dough.
I was thinking back to those times as a student when I would bake twice a week and how my bread changed over time as I discovered how to use sour dough and really enjoy the flavour it gives to bread. This morning in our staff Bible studies at work we were reading parables of the reign of God in Matthew's gospel including one of my favourites of the kingdom being like the leaven that a woman kneads into the dough. Leaven is yeast but it's different from yeast. It's a slower, more natural way of raising the dough and it adds a different flavour to the bread. Here in France baguettes made with levain naturel really taste better. Industrial yeast produces a different flavour and a different crumb to the bread.
Sour dough, leaven, can even raise heavy, dense flours. The stiff-knecked, tough and dense dough of humanity can be risen with leaven - slowly, tastily, thoroughly. But either leaven or yeast require kneading, the work of the kingdom requires some elbow grease but is also a mystery. In the end it's not a question of whether I still bake bread (I live 30 metres from a great boulangerie so no not often any more) but rather about whether I allow bakerwoman God to knead the stiff-knecked stuff of my life. Will I give God's leaven the time it needs to mysteriously work in my life and in the lives of those around me?

1 Comment:

zweifler said...

wow, what a thought for the day as i travel to work on the bus.