In Poland we greet the visitors with bread and salt. This old, old tradition dates back to the days when bread and salt were not that common and may have even been considered luxury goods. Bread meant prosperity and hospitality while salt was recognized for its magical power to preserve and keep from harm. The gift of bread was a sign of good will, and I do believe there is a certain magic in sharing bread even these days.
Never waste bread
We grew up being taught respect for bread. Never, ever would you throw a piece of bread away. What is more, even if you have a freshly bought loaf of bread from the bakery but there was still a quarter of the old one left, guess which one you were only allowed to have. In fairness, I was never able to understand the logic behind this but that was what our parents and grandparents believed was right and they genuinely and wholeheartedly cherish these values. After all, they survived the war, often craving bread for days, so even when the bread became common again they still considered it special. My grandmother-in-law would always have a slice of bread in her bag so that she should never feel so hungry again. Simply, they appreciated their daily bread and they taught us to do so as well.
We also try to never waste bread. Surely, it is much easier if you have a good quality bread that doesn’t go stale for a week and tastes lovely toasted. But when there is too much bread, we feed the birds in the winter or make panzanella in the summer or simply keep it for breadcrumbs.
I must admit there are days when I don’t eat bread, but then again I never stay off bread for long, either. I could not even imagine going on a long-term diet (and I tried a good few of them) that does not allow bread or bread rolls. I truly think there is nothing more tempting than the smell of freshly baked bread. Even the mere promise of the smell could get me out of bed early in the morning and I would be going out to the bakery to get some fresh rolls or a loaf for breakfast. In fact, this is one of my favourite rituals when I visit my hometown – going to the nearby bakery and picking either a few slices of bread (yes, they do sell sliced bread there) or a wholemeal bread roll sprinkled with seeds or a rogal.
Baking bread has always seemed to me a very sophisticated and long-lasting process, which is probably the reason why I haven’t baked any bread for the thirty -dot-dot-dot- years of my life. Unless we count banana bread that but for the name is more of a cake to me.
A few weeks back my friend, Iwona, brought us a loaf of homemade bread and a jarred sourdough starter. The bread tasted amazing and she swore it was so easy to make that even the most inexperienced cook – nothing implied – could do it. And so one of the first things I did this year was baking a bread.
What I love about bread baking, apart from the obvious smell and taste is the fact it is a perfect opportunity to share. You share the sourdough starter in the beginning (let me know if you want some and we will find the way) and then sharing a spare loaf with friends or neighbours. It becomes a complete circle.
a small jar of sourdough starter (if you can’t get one see here how you can make one)
1 cup of rye flour
1 + 3 cups of warm previously boiled water
1 kg of flour (I mix 800g of wheat flour with 200g of spelt flour)
1 cup of wheat / oat bran and / or wheat oat germ
3 tbs salt
1 packet of instant yeast (or 1/4 packet of fresh yeast)
1 tsp sugar – to activate the yeast
sunflower and pumpkin seeds
In a big bowl or pot mix 1 cup of the rye flour with 1 cup of warm, previously boiled, water and the sourdough starter. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 12 hours.
It’s a good sign if you can see little baubles on the surface of the dough the next day. First – activate your yeast. Mix the yeast with half a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of sugar and leave to rest for up to 5 minutes. Now, back to the dough. With a wooden spoon mix in the flour, salt, germ or bran, yeast mixture and the remaining water. Stir steadily until smooth and combined. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
after 2 hours
Your dough should have tripled in size and proudly stick out of the bowl or pot. Spoon some dough into a small jar to make sure you keep some for the next time. Grease 2 bigger or 3 smaller rectangular tins (I use linseed oil) and fill them 3/4 with the dough. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 200 °C.
after 30 minutes
Place in the oven for an hour. Halfway though turn the tins to make sure the bread browns evenly.
after an hour
Take out of the oven and place on a cooling wire while enjoying the overwhelming smell of freshly baked bread filling up the kitchen. As soon as it cools down a bit, take out of the tin and tuck in.
Enjoy and share.