Written by Rev. Jenny Phillips
Minister for Environmental Stewardship and Advocacy
for the PNW Conference of the United Methodist Church
“Give us this day our daily bread…” this is the line in the Lord’s Prayer that I most take for granted. In my household, when there is a bread shortage, it is because someone forgot to pick it up at the grocery store. But despite my access to bread, I’m going to attempt to bake my own for the season of Lent.
It is easy to forget that the gift of daily bread is dependent on sustainable agriculture, abundant water, and healthy people. It takes an ecosystem to make bread. I trust that the sun will shine and the rain (and irrigation waters) will fall on the wheat fields that provide grain. I have unabiding faith in the industrial bakeries that produce thousands of loaves each day, and in the interstate highway and local road systems that ensure fresh bread as well as ingredients like flour, yeast, salt and oil will be delivered regularly to the grocery stores near my house. I expect to have the money I need to buy this staple. And I don’t have any of the allergies or medical conditions that can make wheat bread dangerous.
With all of this in mind, I’m taking up the practice of breadmaking for the next forty days. My intention is for the process of sourcing ingredients, kneading them together, trusting in the miracle of fermentation, and sharing the results to bring me closer to the Creator who breathes life into the earth that nourishes and sustains us.
Most days I expect I’ll make a basic recipe for whole wheat buns that requires a few minutes of kneading in the evening, a long rise overnight, and 20 minutes in the oven in the morning. Voila–breakfast! But I also plan to experiment with gluten-free breads, in the hopes of developing options for gluten-free communion bread that tastes good even to wheat-eaters.
I’m looking forward to this commitment. For me, kneading creates space for quiet reflection. It is a way to pray with my hands. But I’m also nervous. The idea of making this sort of Lenten commitment feels like a luxury I can hardly afford. My life (probably like yours) is generally busy and complicated. I worry that there will be times when I can’t pull this breadmaking off, but I still want to try. So I’m going to attempt to translate my worry into a deeper appreciation for the challenges of those for whom daily bread is not a given. I’m hoping that if I promise myself some grace at the front end of this season, that will make it easier for me to give grace to others in whatever situations I might face over the next six+ weeks.
I’m planning to post updates on my process along with some theological reflection every so often. If you’d like to bake along with me, let’s be in touch to encourage one another and to share recipes and insights. My starting recipe is below. I like this one because it is flexible–even if you don’t get it exactly right, it still usually turns out okay. Not a bad metaphor for life.
Basic Bread for Lent
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼-½ teaspoon active dry yeast (I use less if I can let the bread rise for 4 hours or more, and more if I only have an hour or two)
- 2 cups flour (I use a mix of King Arthur white bread flour and locally-grown wheat flour. All-purpose flour works too. This particular recipe works best with at least 50% white or white whole wheat flour)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
In a mixing bowl, stir one cup warm water with one tablespoon honey. (If you have an instant-read thermometer, go for around 110-degrees. If you don’t have one, just go for warm.)
Sprinkle the yeast over the honey water.
While yeast becomes active, measure the flour.
Stir the olive oil, salt, and half the flour into the honey-yeast water.
Work in the remaining flour with a spoon, and later, with your hands.
Add more flour as needed. The dough should feel soft, springy, and not too sticky.
Knead for several minutes.
Allow the dough to rise in a bowl covered with a towel, at least one hour or up to 12 hours. The longer the rise, the better the flavor.
Punch down the dough. Form rolls or a loaf. Let it rise again while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake rolls for about 20 minutes, a loaf for about 45 minutes. The top will be brown and the internal temperature will be around 200 degrees (but you don’t have to check it unless you’re fussy like that.)
Eat warm with lots of butter. Share with someone who is hungry for food and/or love.