It took a while before I considered making my own bread. Growing up, it was normal for my mum to make bread each week and I pretty much took it for granted. It wasn’t until I left home that I started to realise quite how poor shop bread was in comparison – so around the age of 22, I decided to learn how to make it myself, and have been doing so ever since.
Aside from the obvious benefits of having great, fresh, tasty homemade bread, there were a few other things that emerged. I find the whole process of bread making very grounding – positively therapeutic in fact. So much of my time is spent sitting down in front of screens, working in a virtual world, but making bread brings me very much back into the present, into my body. It’s a process that needs attention – creating the right conditions for the yeast / starter to grow, feeling the dough change through the process of kneading: going from a sticky mess as the water is added, through to becoming an alive, elastic substance as the water is absorbed and the gluten starts to develop.
Overall, there’s relatively little work involved. Mostly it’s a case of waiting for the yeast to do it’s thing and then choosing the right time to put the dough in the oven. But even after baking for 35 years, I never cease to be excited by what comes out of the oven at the end of the process, and the aroma of freshly baked bread that accompanies it. It feels like a miracle – an everyday miracle.
This year, the 18th-26th February marks Real Bread Week – a celebration of bread made with just yeast (or sourdough starter), flour, water and salt. For millennia, this is just what bread was, but these days, if you look at the label on almost any loaf of bread you’ll find a lot more in there: flour “improvers”; raising agents (in addition to yeast); anti-caking agents; not to mention the additives that do not have to be declared by law. All of this is there to help large scale bread manufacturers churn out loaves more quickly and cheaply.
In the Tibetan Tearoom at Kagyu Samye Dzong London, every week is Real Bread Week. On Sundays, the bread which accompanies the soup was made by me, here on the premises and contains nothing more than yeast (or sourdough starter when I have the time to make sourdough), flour, water and salt. 70% of the flour used is wholemeal that was freshly ground here at the Centre on the day of baking, while the remaining 30% is organic strong white flour to give the loaf a bit of lift. And that’s the way I like it.
A number of people have asked if I’ll teach them how to make bread and there is a possibility that I’ll run a workshop here later this year. If you’re interested, please drop the office an email.