Krustwerk – Bread Baking For The Masses
Few of us have actually ever tasted bread much less engaged in bread baking, that ancient though convenient vehicle for some other flavor like butter (or peanut butter which is my favorite of all). We know it as the tool that holds all the stuff inside the sandwich and keeps our hands clean while we eat that stuff, or maybe as the little rounds and squares that keep us from starving while we wait on dinner at a restaurant. But to stop and taste what we’re eating by itself might have us having to admit to its very blandness, and by itself there’s just not much to speak of. Right?
I myself have been “trying” for a very long time to bake bread. It was edible. I even convinced myself it was good, but I was never really willing to spend the time to understand it and make it actually good. And when I did manage to go beyond my limited enthusiasm I didn’t much challenge my level of experience (none really), instead choosing to try the same thing over and over. Its not surprising that the results were the same – flat in flavor but edible. That’s not necessarily a convincing endorsement.
A few years ago my sister sent me a book. It was a really nice looking book that looked really nice on the shelf, and the notion that eventually I’d try to learn what it contained was enough to keep me hinged on the idea that “I’ll do it tomorrow”. I didn’t. But then while making a record with a good friend, musician and songwriter, I was gifted a mason jar, a dough stirrer, and a pesky sourdough culture that I really couldn’t ignore. I had to keep it alive right? So I did, and in the process I started learning how to bake bread.
You can bake better bread than you can buy, but there isn’t always time to dedicate to this seemingly mundane food which can arguably become an obsession. I’m well acquainted with both sides of this dilemma, just ask my wife. “I had planned to go to bed…”, but then I realized that it was going to be after midnight before the loaf cooled enough to put away, or I was going to have to set an alarm for 3 a.m. to put the proofing bagels into the fridge for later baking. The problem was learning how to bake on a schedule which is (for better or worse) conducive to the life we live day to day. As with many things, a difficulty like this becomes a solution and for me, the solution was to learn to bake bread within the day to day.
There is little more convincing in a kitchen as a parent than kids miraculously eating really anything at all, so when the pizza comes out of the oven covered in things that are good for them, its a victory. And when the adult version in the form of a focaccia comes out a little later juxtaposed with stinky cheeses and salty olives and such, you realize that you just moved a little further from merely existing, and a little closer to living. When you take part in the transformation of a sourdough culture that you care for, you start to understand that it takes care of you as well, and this goes much deeper than the scope of this introduction. It’s not surprising at all, though. Bread may well be the most prevalent religious symbol in the history of humanity. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but my smartypants first born daughter scribbled this on a piece of paper and left it on the fridge one day:
“brenin y bwyd yw bara” … “Bread is the King of Food”
I think she might be right.