The wisdom of bread

Nick Moase
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I love bread. There is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread coming out of a kitchen on a cold winter's day. There is something comforting about a fresh loaf of bread being in the kitchen. 

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It's something I think I inherited from my French grandfather. From the stories I have heard, he could sit down and eat a loaf himself. I don't eat that much, mostly because I'm not working in the woods of British Columbia, but a good loaf of bread doesn't last long in my home.

For a long time though, I was terrible at making it. Even in culinary school I never really picked up the knack for making bread. For a long time, I fed the compost bin many loaves of dense, squat bricks or gummy messes.

It's only in the past year though that I got serious about making bread. In some ways, my hand was forced. I don't like store bread for one. I find it has a chemical aftertaste, and makes terrible toast. Any bread that can't hold heat long enough to melt butter isn't good bread to me.

I also used to be a regular at the local bakery until it closed earlier this year. That kept me in good supply, and was conveniently between my home and my offices. Of the stores that have closed in Liverpool these past few years, that's the one I personally miss the most. Being a bread lover with no source of bread is a sad thing.

On the surface, bread shouldn't be that difficult. At it's most basic, it's just flour, water, yeast and salt. It's all about how you put it together that matters.

Bread is a time-consuming endeavour, though there have been attempts to shorten it. Bread machines promise perfect loaves by just dumping all the ingredients in a bucket, there are a variety of no-knead bread recipes, and even a book on "five minutes a day" bread. I've tried all three, but none match up to a good loaf of the tried and true bread making methods. It turns out our ancestors knew best on this one. You have to get your hands in it

Bread is a fickle thing. Kneading takes upwards of 10 minutes, but too much and you get a tough loaf. The only way to tell if it's ready is by feel, which you only learn by doing it many times. The proofing process, letting it rise, needs time, but too much and the loaf deflates. Even the weather can play a factor. Temperature, humidity, and air pressure all affect the dough's development.

Where the time consuming part comes in is not the mixing though, but the proofing. Some recipes call for two or three, each around an hour or so. I've tried stepping out for "a few moments" when bread was rising, only to find those few moments always take longer than I'd like.

Perhaps the most maddening part about bread is to make it perfect, you can't slice into it right after it comes out of the oven. It smells so good, and is so beautifully steamy that it is tempting to dive in with a knife and butter. However that leads to moisture loss and dry bread. It must cool for an hour or two first.

It seems that bread demands patience from its makers. You must be willing to put in the work to knead the bread. You must be patient as it proofs. You must be patient as it cooks. And you must be patient as it cools.

I think what I had to learn to make better bread was not any one technique, but rather the patience to let the steps happen naturally. There is a wisdom in what it teaches you.


Geographic location: British Columbia, Liverpool

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Recent comments

  • eva pitcher
    February 27, 2013 - 20:12

    I do not know how anyone can advocate bread as being good and encouraging anyone to eat it...I truly recommend Dr William Davies book entitled "Wheatbelly". Giving up bread was the best thing I ever did! Check it out if you will ...just keep an open mind and please look into this. Nice article though and yes the smell of bread baking is pleasant ... but is it worth eating? .CBS News) Modern wheat is a "perfect, chronic poison," according to Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who has published a book all about the world's most popular grain. Davis said that the wheat we eat these days isn't the wheat your grandma had: "It's an 18-inch tall plant created by genetic research in the '60s and '70s," he said on "CBS This Morning." "This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there's a new protein in this thing called gliadin. It's not gluten. I'm not addressing people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. I'm talking about everybody else because everybody else is susceptible to the gliadin protein that is an opiate. This thing binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year." Asked if the farming industry could change back to the grain it formerly produced, Davis said it could, but it would not be economically feasible because it yields less per acre. However, Davis said a movement has begun with people turning away from wheat - and dropping substantial weight. “If three people lost eight pounds, big deal," he said. "But we're seeing hundreds of thousands of people losing 30, 80, 150 pounds. Diabetics become no longer diabetic; people with arthritis having dramatic relief. People losing leg swelling, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and on and on every day." To avoid these wheat-oriented products, Davis suggests eating "real food," such as avocados, olives, olive oil, meats, and vegetables. "(It's) the stuff that is least likely to have been changed by agribusiness," he said. "Certainly not grains. When I say grains, of course, over 90 percent of all grains we eat will be wheat, it's not barley... or flax. It's going to be wheat. "It's really a wheat issue." Some health resources, such as the Mayo Clinic, advocate a more balanced diet that does include wheat. But Davis said on "CTM" they're just offering a poor alternative. "All that literature says is to replace something bad, white enriched products with something less bad, whole grains, and there's an apparent health benefit - 'Let's eat a whole bunch of less bad things.' So I take...unfiltered cigarettes and replace with Salem filtered cigarettes, you should smoke the Salems. That's the logic of nutrition, it's a deeply flawed logic. What if I take it to the next level, and we say, 'Let's eliminate all grains,' what happens then? "That's when you see, not improvements in health, that's when you see transformations in health."