The Staff of Life


If you love making bread; love the smell of bread baking in the oven and filling every nook and cranny in your house and lungs; and then love eating freshly baked bread, do yourself a favor a read this article by Sam Lief…a few excerpts:

  • Treat yourself. Put your nose in and smell the sour, yeasty draught. Inspect the slow bubbles with approval.
  • It’s the consistency of thick batter, this leaven. Flour, salt, water will follow. With one hand, you start to mix — palm passing through the cool flour, fingertips deep in sticky leaven, which squidges back through the gaps between your fingers as you close your hand around it.  Soon a wet glob of dough adheres to your hand. With your clean hand you smear a dollop of sunflower oil on the kitchen surface and, deftly as you can, you knead the dough on this, keeping it moving so it doesn’t stick. Somehow, you bring it to a rough ball — scraping it off your hands as you go – then you oil the mixing bowl, place the dough there and cover it with clingfilm.
  • If you’re like me, you’ll then watch it through the oven window — anxious, like the parent of that young baby watching, through glass, as it undergoes an operation. Oven-spring is what you’re looking for: the yeast doing its thing, lifting and slightly scalloping the edges of the loaf at the bottom, puffing the top, easing open that slash you made — the yeast offering up a last great burst of energy in the rising warmth, never more alive than just before the heat kills it.
  • No other form of cookery, to me, is as profoundly satisfying as the baking of sourdough bread. I know that I’m not alone. There are a lot of bread-heads about, and disproportionately, these bread-heads seem to be men. It’s men who get really excited about bread, its nuts and bolts, its existential appeal.
  • …a prime attraction is that I really, really like to eat bread. As a last meal, I would probably be happy with bread and butter — assuming the bread was an absolutely shit-hot sourdough, just sliced; or something beery and malted and tangy with rye, slathered with proper French butter with salt crystals in it (unsalted butter is an ingredient for cooking, not a foodstuff for eating). Lots of women — thanks to the body-fascism of the ambient patriarchal discourse, obviously — regard bread with suspicion. ‘Empty carbs,’ says my wife (when she’s not scoffing it). ‘Staff of life,’ say I.
  • Once it’s giving off that superb boozy smell and bubbling away evilly, it can live forever

Source: Aeon Magazine


  1. Alex Jones says:

    I must start making my own bread again! The smell is beautiful, and I can drive my neighbours nuts with the delicious aroma.


  2. Brings back so many images..the boys and I in the kitchen, up to their elbows in dough, kneading it, punching it, making faces as they tried to taste it (not nearly like cookie dough) and yes, watching through the oven window to see it grow and brown, filling the house with an aroma that defines home.


  3. My mouth is watering….


  4. Yum!


  5. Nothing like home-baked bread.


  6. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in our kitchen while my mom made bread. There’s nothing quite like the smell of bread baking and the taste of that first slice out of the oven smothered with butter. I enjoy making bread myself and have always done it the old fashioned way . . . knead, knead, knead.


  7. Do you bake your own bread, David?


  8. feels like a hug…maybe I’ll make a loaf soon!


  9. There is something so elemental about bread. I love the rough texture of a delicious sourdough’s crust, a surface (there’s that word again!) that resists the teeth ever so slightly before giving way to allow you access to the tangy, chewy center. The smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air is, as others have said, the essence of home. 🙂


    • Yes, and the author talks about the elemental nature of it (simple and few ingredients) yet a process quite complex to make it all work out as planned. And LOVE how you describe the chewing process. You have a way with words young Lady.


  10. I love bread.


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