You are what you eat, so improving your life starts from the inside. Feed your body with what it needs, and you’ll be in a good place to start fighting anxiety and depression. Make your own bread, and you can create good food from a stress busting work-out. Bread dough is the perfect punch bag. It can absorb as much aggression as you’re willing to give it!
Carbohydrates are the latest bad guys on the dietary block, but that’s partly because while we have many different lifestyle choices these days, hardly any include the vigorous, almost continuous activity of hard manual work done by previous generations.
The belly timber of starchy foods filled people up when other foods were hard to find. Before refrigeration, unless you lived in the country, meat and fish was expensive. Fruit and vegetables were seasonal, and highly perishable, so you filled up on whatever you could get.
Now we can eat what we like, when we like. It’s the “fast” in fast food that appeals, and its cheapness as much as the food itself. Count the ingredients listed on the packaging of a white sliced loaf. There’ll be at least a dozen. Nearly all of them are there for the convenience of the manufacturer, not the people like you and me who eat it.
Big businesses want to make bread as cheaply as possible, to rake in the biggest profit. That means using additives to make sure inferior ingredients look good, and will last a long time. The trouble is, because what they create is the cheapest way to make air visible and water stand upright, the stuff they sell as bread doesn’t fill you up.
My dad worked on the land all his life. He’d have a slice, or maybe two at most, of homemade bread with his full English breakfast. If for some reason there was only shop-bought bread to be had, he’d happily polish off half a loaf!
Good homemade bread has only a handful of ingredients, it’s easy to make, and pummelling it into life is the best stress-busting activity I know. Yes, it takes time and practice, but there’s a rhythm to the process that’s a natural remedy for anxiety. not only that, but like many of the best things I feature in this blog, it’s free!
Why not step out of the workplace waterfall for an hour or two, and treat yourself to a therapy session with edible results?
To make one loaf of bread, you’ll need:
Around 500g of strong white bread flour + extra for dusting your work surface.
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of fast-action dried yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons of honey (you can use sugar, but honey is better for you)
First, take off any rings you wear, and your watch—this is going to be messy.
Pile the flour on a large, clean work surface. Sprinkle over the salt, and mix it in with your hands. Then sprinkle over the yeast, and mix that in too (if salt comes in direct contact with yeast, it kills it).
Put the olive oil and honey (or sugar) in a measuring jug and make this liquid up to 300ml with warm water.
Create a volcano from your flour by making a well in the middle. Pouring a little of the sweet, oily mixture into the crater at a time, gradually work in the surrounding flour until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.
Bread making isn’t about exact quantities—you go by feel, rather than measurement. Different flours absorb water at different rates, so you may need all the liquid and more, or you might need to add a extra flour. Your first steps on the bread-making road are all about experimentation.
Then the fun begins. Knead the dough by pushing it away from you, then gathering it up and bringing it back. Push and pull it about for at least ten minutes. During this process, you’re stretching the flour’s gluten so it can expand when the yeast gets to work.
After a nice long kneading, your dough should be smooth and springy. Put it into a large bowl, and cover it with cling film or a damp cloth. Bread dough will rise whatever the temperature of your kitchen, although the warmer the room, the faster the rise. Aim to leave your dough alone for at least an hour and a half.
When your dough has doubled in size, tip it out onto a floured surface and give it another kneading, but this time for no more than a minute. This is called “knocking back”, but you don’t want to whack out all the bounce the yeast has produced!
Grease a loaf tin, or a large baking tray. Make your loaf into a sausage shape, tuck the ends under and drop it gently into the greased and floured tin if you’re using one. If not, place it on the baking tray.
Make a few deep slashes across the top of your loaf with a sharp knife. Cover it again for a second rising, but this time you only need to leave it for half an hour.
Switch your oven on, setting the temperature as high as it will go. It needs to be at least 200 Centigrade when the dough first goes in, to give your bread what’s called a “baker’s boost”.
Wearing oven gloves, gently transfer your bread to the oven. Let it cook at maximum temperature for no more than ten minutes, then turn the heat down to 180 Centigrade for another ten minutes.
At this point, put on the oven gloves again. If your loaf is in a tin, tip it out and replace it on the oven shelf, to crisp up the bottom. If you’re using a flat tray, simply flip your bread over to achieve the same effect.
Cook it for another 5-10 minutes, until the base of your loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. When the bread is done, take it out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
That’s all there is to it! Delicious home-made bread which will perfume your house, look great, taste better and improve your well-being with every mouthful.
Each loaf you make will be better than the last, so start practicing now!