Baking with Compassion: A Peaceful Transition Into the Age of Trump
Editor's Note: In our winter issue we looked to Sarah Owen's cookbook when we felt a sense of despair after the election. In light of the inauguration, we asked her how to bake through any situation that arises over the next four years.
As we exhaled the final breaths of 2016, we inhaled the reality of a new year. Unfortunately for many of us, the inauguration of our new president brings four more years of uncomfortable holidays squirming next to the in-laws at the dinner table. The following is some advice from my kitchen to yours on how to cope without losing your appetite or censoring your lifestyle in lieu of civility. This month’s transition in particular will bring with it conflicted feelings and emboldened personas. My motto for dealing? Bake a better world.
It is easy to feel paralyzed by the uncertainty of our future or to opt out of political rhetoric in favor of politeness. Conversation on any number of current events, from climate change to women’s rights to the refugee crisis, can quickly turn heated and raise voices – a situation that only escalates intolerance. We may, however, encourage compassion on a very simple level: baking a loaf for a neighbor, hosting a pizza night with friends, or sharing a pile of cookies is an immediate expression of love and caring. Baking is a gesture of goodwill born from your hands and motivated by the heart. It is a miracle of alchemy initiated with kindness that begs to be shared. There is no better time to do it than in the dark days of winter as our nation feels more divided than ever. A toothsome assemblage of flour, sugar, and butter can gently dissolve tensions even in the prickliest situations. Afraid you can’t bake? You’ve got four years of practice to knead through fear, slap-and-fold frustration, degas refined white dough, leaven whole grains, and feed your mothers and sisters. Take what we have on the horizon and you’ll be a pro by 2020.
As you organize yourself to bake the following recipes, I urge you to remember that eating is an agricultural act and one that allows us to peacefully protest. By choosing ingredients that are grown with intention, we are opting out of a system of large-scale agriculture that lacks social and environmental responsibility. We can avoid a diet laced with unwanted ingredients with an opportunity to proudly proclaim, “I choose.”
Purchasing flour from a genetically diverse seed bank, grown by a small farmer, processed by a regional miller, and sold to you through Greenmarket Grains is creating an alternative network. This network reinforces accountability and establishes opportunity for a free and fair market. By authorizing a free market we support healthy food rather than edible commodities and maintain reverence for natural resources. We can choose to support agricultural diversity, regardless of what walls are being built or what signs of climate change are being ignored.
The following are three recipes adapted from my first book Sourdough to encourage compassion in the following year. I have compiled a soundtrack to help you motivate while you mix and knead your way through feelings of frustration and celebrate clarity and perspective through baking. This playlist keeps me in the groove while I bake from my bungalow test kitchen in Rockaway where I spend time writing and also contemplating the sinister side of humanity. We cannot turn toward the light if we do not face the darkness. I’ve included songs that recognize unfortunate political patterns in our recent history but ones that also celebrate the triumphant nature of hope and love for our brethren. Many are a fine reminder that we have faced and surmounted racial inequities, intolerance, and war with funky grooves blasting through the speakers. So crank the volume – we have a lot of work to do.
Sourdough Pizza Crust
Makes one 10-12” pizza
When I’m feeling isolated by an onslaught of negativity in the news, this is the easiest way to assemble a comforting and delicious evening of friends. There are many ways to make pizza dough with natural leavening but I love the ease of taking five minutes in the morning to prepare this one. Adapt the recipe to however many people you expect to attend and invite a bunch of friends over in the evening for a pizza party. Each person can bring a topping but just make sure not to overload the crust to avoid a soggy bottom. You can purchase regionally grown and milled “00” flour by Wild Hive from Greenmarket Grains.
30 grams 100% hydration sourdough starter, refreshed (fed)
130 grams water
5 grams extra-virgin olive oil
180 grams “00” flour
a very generous pinch of fine sea salt
Eight to twelve hours before baking your pizza, stir together the starter, water, and oil in a small bowl for one crust, or a large bowl for 4+ crusts. Add the flour and salt and mix until the flour is completely hydrated and a soft, sticky dough forms. Remove the dough, clean the bowl, and lightly oil it. Replace the dough, rolling to coat. Cover with plastic and leave at room temperature until the dough at least doubles in size.
Preheat your baking stone to 550 degrees (or as hot as you can get it!) for at least 30 minutes and prepare the pizza crust. Remove the dough from the bowl; divide using a bench scraper if making multiple pizzas, and pat out onto a well-floured surface. Press from the center outward using floured fingertips, careful to leave an untouched and puffy lip. When it is about half the size you desire, transfer to a parchment-lined and cornmeal or semolina dusted sheet pan or a pizza peel generously dusted with cornmeal. Work until you are satisfied with the thickness of the crust.
Layer the crust with your sauce of choice, toppings, and cheese. If using a peel only, shake to make sure it doesn’t stick before attempting to load into the oven. Otherwise, transfer the pie onto the preheated hearthstone. Bake for 12-14 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the cheese is bubbly and pooled and the crust is golden. If you desire a more charred flavor, remove the parchment paper and finish under the broiler for the last 2-3 minutes.
Smoky Chili Bread
Makes 2 loaves
Bread has an incredible significance that exists well beyond daily sustenance. It represents our ability to engage in a community of people who all cooperate in support of its production from the seed saver to the farmer to the miller, the baker to the consumer. I am a firm believer that if we honor and live our passion, we have the ability to heal our community. Bread baking distributes nourishment to our friends and has the power to build bridges to our enemies by sharing what we love.
Bread baking can also be a very meditative activity, especially in times of distress. It takes us out of our thinking brain and into the sensations of our body. It focuses our attention on the here and now and encourages unnecessary distractions to recede. When making this recipe, inhale the perfume of your starter, engage your hands in the mixing of the flour and water, and watch attentively with your eyes as you notice the dough rise in response to your gestures.
This recipe is my table loaf, whether I make it with or without the chilies. When a neighbor is sick, a family member seems blue, or I feel a little guilty for making a snarky combover joke, this bread is my olive branch. Elevate these loaves by purchasing bread flour, whole wheat, and rye flours from Greenmarket Grains.
175 grams 100% hydration sourdough starter, refreshed (fed)
520 grams water, room temperature
45 grams mild honey
525 grams bread flour
140 grams whole wheat flour
30 grams whole rye flour
1 tablespoon ground smoked chilies (such as chipotle)
17 grams fine sea salt
Combine the ripe leaven, water, and honey in a large bowl, stirring to combine. Add the flours and ground chilies (if using) and mix with your hands until hydrated and no lumps remain. Cover with plastic and allow to autolyze (rest) for 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix until completely incorporated. Cover with plastic and allow to bulk proof for 3-4 hours, gently turning and folding the dough onto itself every 30-45 minutes. Do not punch down the dough.
When the dough is puffy and almost doubled in size, gingerly remove the dough from the bowl without degassing. Divide in half on a well-floured surface and preshape into loose round forms. Place seam side down and cover with plastic, allowing the gluten to relax for 10-30 minutes. Final shape into tighter boules with increased surface tension and place seam-side up into floured bannetons or a couche. Cover with a towel and then plastic and refrigerate for at least 8 or up to 36 hours.
Bake in a Dutch oven preheated to 480 degrees for 20 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and lower the oven temperature to 470 degrees. Continue to bake for an additional 12-18 minutes or until the top is a deep dark brown and the bottom sounds hollow when thumped with your fingers.
Dark Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies
Makes about 12-15 cookies
These rich whole grain cookies provide solace with the time-honored salve of chocolate. Whip up a bunch to bring to work or share with a thermos of tea if you are marching on January 21st. Buckwheat flour purchased from Greenmarket Grains is an excellent choice to make these special treats.
140 g unsalted butter
170 g granulated sugar
145 g bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
100 g 100% hydration sourdough starter
145 g buckwheat flour
15 g unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
145 g toasted walnuts, pecans, or almonds
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar with a handheld mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and mix until blended. Mix in the starter with a fork just until it begins to separate. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of the flour mixture at a time to the chocolate mixture until all the ingredients are combined. Fold in the nuts. Place large spoonfuls of the dough onto a lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-8 minutes until the edges feel firm (or 2-3 minutes longer if you want a crisper cookie). Cool on a wire rack.
Recipes adapted from Sourdough by Sarah Owens, © 2015 by Sarah Owens.
Photographs © 2015 by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
Recipes reprinted with permission by Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.