I've fallen in love with sourdough baking. I resisted regularly baking bread because I thought it would be a time-consuming hassle. But instead of complicating my life, sourdough baking has nourished and improved it.
Sourdough baking is similar to simple living in many ways.
Here's six lessons from sourdough that can be applied to simple living.
1. Convenience comes at a cost.
Supermarket bread is a shallow imitation of traditional sourdough bread. It's made quickly using baker's yeast - a single species of yeast selected for speed and stability. In contrast, sourdough is made slowly using a diverse mix of wild yeasts and bacteria. This diversity and time creates bread that is easier to digest, more nutritious, and has a flavour and texture that is more complex.
When we're motivated by convenience, we miss out on depth, nourishment and diversity.
2. More isn't necessarily better.
Sourdough is traditionally made using only flour, water and a pinch of salt. Whereas supermarket bread often contains a long list of ingredients. Emulsifiers are added so that dough can be processed on a large scale and not stick to machinery. Vitamins thiamin and folate are added to compensate for using refined flours. These processing aids and additives and are used to compensate for the inadequacy of factory-baked bread.
Something that's good and wholesome doesn't need additives. A person living a wholesome and meaningful life is unlikely to think that they need a whole heap of stuff be happy.
3. Be kind to yourself.
When I first started making sourdough, I used a kitchen appliance to knead. I was overwhelmed by having to learn how to maintain a starter, mix a sponge, shape, proof and bake. I didn't start kneading by hand until I felt comfortable with all the other steps.
When trying to simplify your life - be kind to yourself. Don't expect drastic change overnight. Take it slowly, one change at a time.
4. Find meaning in the doing.
Kneading dough is now one of my favourite ways to relax. Kneading provides an opportunity to meditate and strengthen my core. I focus on my posture and the dough - nothing else. I often find myself kneading at the end of a busy day when I might otherwise have been tempted to collapse in front of the TV.
Rather than search for meaning and happiness in stuff - look for meaning in doing and creating.
5. Be inspired by others - but discover what works best for you.
There's a seemingly endless number of ways to prepare sourdough bread. Everyone does it differently. I started out trying a few different recipes (I especially like the everyday sourdough recipes at Cityhippyfarmgirl and The Witches Kitchen). I then combined techniques and refined until I settled on a recipe that suits my routine and my family's current tastes.
Not everyone's simple life will look the same. Be inspired by others - but make sure your simple life reflects your priorities.
I've experimented with many aspects of sourdough baking. I've tried different combinations of flour, proof duration and baking temperatures, to name a few. I even tossed a couple of potatoes in with my loaf one day and discovered that they helped to create a beautifully baked loaf. Presumably the potatoes release steam as they cook. I now add potatoes to the oven every time I bake bread.
Experimentation is how you discover what works best for you. Don't be afraid to deviate from rules and recipes.
Next week I'll share my recipe for simple sourdough from scratch.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 6th october 2014.