Monday, 9 April 2012

What I learned baking bread and making soup.

In the last six months or so my wife and I have started to bake our own bread and make soup.

Making soup used to intimidate me. I'd not set aside enough time and rush it, and so I would add too much flavouring and too many spices at the end because I couldn't taste the ingredients.  I always wondered why it tasted better the next day.

My relationship with bread making was similarly troubled. It always came out like a brick.

You can't rush soup or bread - there are no shortcuts to get the taste of a good soup or homemade bread.

Here's my tips for making soup: lots of time, a decent amount of heat and a bunch of left overs and a good joint bone.

  • Use a big crock pot/slow-cooker. 
  • Take a decent bone or joint with plenty of meat on it and cover it in water. 
  • Add a peeled  whole onion and 3 or 4 bay leaves. 
  • Let it simmer for ages. 
  • When the meat looks like it's going to fall off the bone put in a couple of cups of dried peas or beans or barley, or a mix of all three. Leave it alone for a few hours. 
  • When the beans and peas etc., look plump add some potato chunks, carrots, leeks, green onions or what have you. They can be pre-cooked or raw. It doesn't matter.  
  • Later when it looks like the veggies are part of the soup check for flavour. Add salt, pepper and other spices to taste. I sometimes use Worcestershire sauce.

The main ingredient of course is patience: after a few hours the taste just seems to appear out of nowhere, and slowly becomes more intense - it's because the collagen and tissues have broken down with the constant heat - but it seems more magical than that.

Making bread also requires patience.

Some tricks I've learned.

  • Firstly, it's easier to make four loaves than one. For some reason it takes the same amount of work and you get better results.
  • Proof the yeast first. Proofing means adding the yeast to the required amount of water and sugar heated to 110F. Wait a few minutes until you get a foam and the kitchen smells like a brewery! this really helps you get light bread that rises naturally.
  • Pounding and kneading the dough takes longer than you think. The job isn't done until all of a sudden it seems to transform from a sticky gooey mess to something substantial, silky smooth, with a kind of integrity in its shape and mass. You can feel the dough get a bit warmer, and then it no longer sticks to your fingers, and it makes a nice round dough ball very naturally.
How does what I've learned about making soup and bread translate into God's action in our lives: First: Transformation takes time, but the results are worth it. Secondly: God's patience is infinite and loving and waits for us to become what we are created to be.

Time, and the heat, and pounding and kneading of God's love breaks down the resistance in our own lives and patience allows us to experience the moment when transformation takes place. And the transformation in the foody analogies does seem to take place in an instance. One second you have a gooey mess, that sticks and clings annoyingly and then almost miraculously it's real bread dough, in a real bread dough shape that  could be in an advert on TV it looks so wholesome.

I sometimes just wish that pounding didn't take so long to have results.

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