Existential Dialogues with my Oven (Part I)

Let me begin with a short follow-up to my side-effects of COVID vaccine III: as expected, I had fever on and off for 36 hours, numbing of the upper arm and muscle pain, followed by flu-like body aches and a general inability to remain awake. Four days later, I find myself back in form with only mild insomnia. The grogginess annoyed me, and although I didn’t purposely attempt to resist it, I found myself pottering around the kitchen and having existential dialogues with the oven.

To bake or not to bake, that is the question.

The first result of this dialogue was a return to soul cooking, beginning with solid artisan bread. Never one to stick to the status quo, I decided to tweak my basic recipe yet again, to see where it would lead me. I tend to bake bread when I feel an imbalance in my soul and emotional equilibrium. In the past I used to take my anger and frustration out on the dough, effectively resulting in angry bread, as my daughter called it. Nowadays I use it as a means to restore balance in my disturbed universe. Yes, my vibes were definitely wonky.

Artisan Bread (I) ©FrogDiva Photography

Although the process has become almost automatic for me, I still find myself deeply immersed in thought, focusing on each movement and addition of the individual ingredients. The simplicity of the bread with its nourishing powers is grounding, and in my case, an affirmation of the cultural transition I have undergone over the years. Rice and bread hold equal esteem in my life now, unlike in the past when it was predominantly rice. Potatoes and pasta will never reach the same status, and neither will couscous or quinoa… it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, but they offer to cultural anchor like bread and rice do.

Having grown up with commercial sliced bread for the longest time, the introduction to the sheer variety of German breads was not only an eye-opener but the ultimate personal challenge. At first wanted to eat my way through the country and savour all the regional delicacies, in a futile attempt to find the elusive perfect bread. This, I quickly learned, is an impossibility in Germany because each village will have its own speciality, which may or may not be superseded by a regional standard bearer. You would need five lifetimes to explore all the bread in my new homeland, and that might not even be enough, especially if you want to trace the origins of some items, which will send you beyond the borders and into France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, etc.

In my 40s I realised that I no longer wanted to explore the plethora of bakeries but rather, wanted to develop a signature loaf, and so began my journey into the world of artisan bread making. You will notice from the recipe below that I am a very lazy bread maker, and basically just throw all the ingredients into the mixer, no frills or thrills – something that will cause a conniption to all those who have the patience to make a sourdough bread and starter.

Artisan Bread (II) ©FrogDiva Photography

I’m definitely sticking to my motto of recover, restore, and own vulnerability, and this will manifest itself in my writing, photography and cooking. Has balance been restored? Not just yet, but let’s just say I have calmed down and reclaimed something that I had neglected for a few months. I got carried away by the holiday offerings of the bakeries around town and succumbed to the fresh bread rolls and croissants. We recently discovered a new bakery nearby who meets our demanding standards and is not part of a large soulless commercial chain. These places are difficult to come by in Berlin, so when we actually find one that satisfies the intangible cravings, then by all means discard the homesteading!

The recipe:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups spelt
2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp rock salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 cup oat bran
1 tsp rock salt
1 tsp fresh rosemary – chopped

Preheat the oven at 240C.
Mix all the dry ingredients, adding the yeast and water last. Mix until the dough is smooth and detaches itself from the mixing bowl. cover and allow to rise for 2 hours, Punch down after one hour and allow for a second rising. Transfer to your preferred mould. I used a cast iron pan (20cm diameter) for a bread this size.
Remove the risen dough and shape into a loaf. Sprinkle with rock salt and rosemary mix
Bake for 70min at 200C

Related entries:

The Jab III (Booster)

Going with Plan B

Peacemaking with an old foe: The Baguette

The Satisfaction of Dirty but Creative Hands

Comfort Smells

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