Let us bake bread together

by Kema Ananda

It is impossible to teach Dharma to a hungry man, so beginning with food makes sense. Let us begin by baking bread. Then we can truly break bread together. As I mentioned in the Introduction, some times I would ask you to do something before I explained all the reasons why. I want you to share an experience with me so we have something in common. Then I can refer to this shared experience when I am asking you to practice the Dharma, then you will know why I am asking you to bake bread. I know that many of you will pass over this chapter. That's to bad as it is not only a direct approach, it is also incredible bread.

Some of you will return to it later, you just need more incentive to get involved. Granted, it is not the approach that books on the Dharma usually take. To many, reading a book on the Dharma is a pleasurable way to reflect the Triple Jewel. That's valid, however I had a more active role in mind for you. Integration and assimilation of the Dharma into the life as we go, is more like what I have in mind. I want you to understand right from the start that it is not all in meditation practice, or in the intellectual understanding of Dharma that liberation is gained. Liberation is gained from a total immersion into the Dharma and the complete intergration of the path into the life, nothing less will do if you really want the goal this life time.

For those of you that cannot or will not bake bread, I just want to assure you that we will allow you alternative wholesome involvement. We can't all go the easy way, and there is no eternal damnation.

The bread recipe that is presented here for your physical nourishment, was developed during a three year retreat, after twenty or so other known recipes were explored. I still occasionally make other kinds of bread, but Yogin's bread is, and always will be my favorite, having been developed from the thorough exploration of what was known, it embodies the sum total of all that went before it. This is not to say it is new, it is not. Bread, like the Dharma, has been nourishing people for thousands of years. Let us say this particular version is unique. If you question this or other statements made in this book, I can only say, put it to the test.

I will begin by just setting down the recipe in a straightforward manner, for those among you who are experienced, and just need the core information. Then, for those of you that need a little more help, I will go through the process step by step in fair detail.

The following instructions will be sufficient for anyone that has ever baked bread before. For those of you that have no experience in the art of bread making, I would suggest one of two things: the best approach would be to make your first batch with a friend who has made bread before. If you have no such friend, then purchase a copy of Edward Espe Brown's "The Tassajara Bread Book". Anyone can learn to bake bread from Edward, and there is no need for me to duplicate his superb effort. So with no further ado here is the recipe:

Recipe for Four Small Loaves of Yogin's Bread

4-1/2 cups of warm water.
3 Tablespoons of yeast.
3/4 cup of molasses and honey.
1 1/2 cups of skim milk powder.
4 egg whites, well beaten.
3 cups of rolled oats.
1 cup of whole wheat flour.
1/2 cup of bran.
5 cups unbleached White flour.

Mix thoroughly. Beat the sponge well, one hundred times. Let rise one hour or at least until the following is all ready to go.

3/4 cup of roasted finely chopped sesame seeds.
3/4 cup of roasted finely chopped sunflower seeds.
1/4 cup of almonds, chopped medium fine.
1-1/4 cups of soft nuts [no peanuts], chopped coarsely.
1/2 to 3/4 cup of cold press oil.
2-1/2 cups of raisins [pre-soaked in hot water].
3 teaspoons and a bit of salt.
3/4 cup of barley flour.
3/4 cup of lightly roasted barley flour.
4-1/2 cups of whole wheat flour.
1 to 3 cups of whole wheat flour for kneading.

Once the above is ready to add to the sponge, fold into the sponge until it is difficult to add them to the sponge without tearing the dough. At that point turn out the dough on to a flowered board or table and continue to fold in the ingredients until it is all in there.

Knead well 200 to 300 times [you will work up a good sweat]
Let rise 50 minutes, punch down.
Let rise 45 minutes, make loaves.
Slice top crosswise three 1/2 inch deep cuts, let rise 30 minutes.
Bake in oiled pans at 350-375 F. for 1 hour, or until done.

As you can see this is a fairly involved, but an interesting recipe, I hope you try it. All the ingredients are available in any good supermarket and or a health food store. If you have to go and do a little shopping, don't worry, just put the book down and go do it. I will wait for you. On the other hand, if impatience or lack of interest to get involved results in you not going shopping, and not baking some yogin's bread, I may not wait for you. "That will have to depend on the weather" NOTE 1

Here are the detailed instructions

You will need a large bowl, or as a last resort a plastic pail will do, but a lot of the enjoyment and skill, comes from having the right tools for the job. I have a bread bowl which I highly prize, they are getting hard to find. Besides the large bowl for mixing and rising the dough, you will need an assortment of other bowls, two measuring cups, small and large, measuring spoons, egg beater, some means of chopping nuts and seeds and a wooden paddle is best for mixing, beating and folding.

Bread-making is a very satisfying thing to do. It is rich in symbolism as well as good taste. Take for instance the first ingredient, water. All life, if we are to believe the scientists, begins in water. Bread is not a dead thing - it is very much alive until it is baked in the oven.

So we begin with water. Put the kettle on to boil, as you will need to cover the 2-1/2 cups of raisin with boiling water as your first action, and then put them aside for the time being. I like to use raisins in yogin's bread simply because they tend to help keep the bread moist; besides, I like raisins. They can be left out if you wish.

Next we need to add 3 Tablespoons of yeast to 4-1/2 cups of water that is blood temperature. Stick your elbow into it, you should not be able to detect it, if the temperature is right. This is the method, as I am sure many of you know, that a mother uses to check a baby's bath water before she places the infant into it. This is an important symbol, the careful, caring, selfless love of the mother towards her child. As you reflect this, you are forming the correct attitude for making bread, for living life to the fullest, and a must if you are interested in pursuing the spiritual path.

Add a little cold or hot till it is impossible feel the water when the elbow is submerged and motionless. Pour out the excess water from your measuring pitcher until you have 4-1/2 cups left, then pour it into your bread mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the surface as you stir. When it has dissolved, add the 3/4 cup of honey and molasses. The ratio of molasses and honey is a personal decision. The suggested 50-50 is based on a light molasses, if you are going to use black strap molasses, you might well want to use a little less molasses. Or you might want to cut down on both of them a touch, as you see fit. It depends on how you like your bread. You can use as little as 1/2 a cup and the yeast will still work.

Just as soon as you add the yeast, honey and molasses together with water, you are dealing with life at a very basic level. Mix them well, so it is all dissolved while you contemplate this. Stir the mixture with a gentle, aware stroke. Take your time, making sure to enjoy the experience; be aware, don't splash!

Next add the 1-1/2 cups of instant skim milk powder. Do it like a sculptor mixes up his or her plaster, by sprinkling it on the surface of the liquid and allowing it to become wet on its own before stirring it. This will help you get most of it dissolved. Don't be concerned if you can't get it all to dissolve, it will be very thoroughly mixed before we are done anyway. Cover, and let the yeast eat while you get the eggs ready.

Molasses is rich in vitamins and minerals, but milk and honey, now that is a magical mixture that has been endowed with many qualities throughout history. Honey has been attributed with having aphrodisiac powers. Honey has been included in the religious ceremonies of more than one culture. It was also valued as an aid for living to a very old age. Pythagoras, who developed the Pythagorean school of thought, prized milk and honey as one of their most valued foods in their diet aimed at long life; it later became known as "ambrosia". Pythagoras supplemented his diet of milk and honey with bread, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. He lived to be ninety. One of his students, Appollonius, lived to be one hundred and thirteen years of age. Hippocrates, hailed as the father of medicine, claimed honey contributed to long life. Democitus, the physicist who discovered the atom, claimed that honey was the basis of all matter. He lived until he was one hundred and nine. Many bee-keepers live to a very ripe old age, well past the century mark. The Bible more than recommends it: Solomon the wise orders the use of it in the diet of the faithful. NOTE 2

Next you add 4 egg whites. First beat the egg whites stiff in a steel bowl. I like to do this in one go, by hand, so as to get some exercise. I don't particularly like machines running while I am baking, it disturbs the "wha" [a Japanese term for harmony]. To cut down on the cholesterol, I dispose of the yolks. Fold the egg whites into the mixture of water, honey and molasses

The rest of the sponge mixture is straight forward. Add 3 cups of rolled oats, [the big slow cooking kind]. 1/2 cup of bran, 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 5 cups of white unbleached flour. You must add all this about a cup at a time, by sprinkling it over the surface, stirring it well till it is all in there, and then beat it well! This is where you get the gluten of the flour to get it together with the yeast. It is also good to beat it in such a way that you work a lot of air into it.

I know some of you are whole wheat purists, please bear with me. There is so much good stuff in this bread that you need the unbleached white flour to get the rise, or else you will have a very heavy loaf. You can cut the unbleached white flour and add a little more of the bran and another grain if you want but bear in mind that it will change the taste and texture. This recipe has been researched and honed over many loaves so make changes slowly. I would love to hear about all the improvements you come up with.

Beat the sponge well to get the gluten going. The consistency of the sponge should be like a thick batter. Cover with a damp tea towel that does not touch the sponge, place the bowl out of draughts, keep it warm, but not hot. If it gets over hundred and twenty five degrees, it will kill the yeast. Remember you are dealing with a living dough. Let it rise while you get the rest of the ingredients ready. You can leave it up to an hour, if you need a break.

The roasting of the 3/4 cup of sesame seeds, the 3/4 cup of sunflower seeds and the 3/4 cup of barley flour are the reason for the incredible flavor of this bread. Now I said roast, not burn. Use a non-stick fry pan, and do each ingredient separately, turning them frequently, then constantly in the pan, until they are visibly roasted. Then chop the seeds and nuts as I have indicated. Don't over blend or chop the sesame seeds or they will turn into sesame butter; stop just short of that. The same applies to the sunflower seeds, but they are a little less likely to turn into butter. The texture of the nuts is decided by the softness, consequently, the 1/4 cup of almonds are to be chopped medium fine, and the 1-1/4 cups of softer nuts of your choice, but no peanuts, can be chopped coarsely, to add a nice crunch and texture to the bread.

I don't use a machine to do all this, I have a chopper that works inside a jar. This is my preference, as I have to start a generator to run a blender. However, you will of course use what you have. The important thing is to enjoy the experience - treat it with awareness, love, and kindness. Bread is very forgiving, if you remember that the correct attitude is awareness, in a state of love and kindness.

Once all the seeds are roasted, and the nuts are chopped and mixed in a bowl, you can add 3 teaspoons and a bit of salt to the mixture, then set it aside for now. Next roast the 3/4 cup of barley flour. Barley plays an important role in a Tibetan Yogin's diet, and in this bread the roasted barley flour is the secret ingredient. So you now know the secret. There are no secrets. Roast the barley flour carefully, as it will brown quite easily. You want it lightly browned, as the flavour of too dark a roast may overpower the other delicious, but more delicate flavours. Balance is the lesson here, and it will serve you well to learn this lesson of balance in the beginning. Be as sensitive to its development as you can. It is crucial to the entire exploration of the great adventure that lies ahead.

Now drain the 2-1/2 cups of raisins well, and all is in readiness for the next stage. One last check: you should now have beside the raisins, a bowl of seeds, nuts, and salt, another one of the flour mixture, that has 3/4 cup of barley flour, 3/4 cup of roasted barley flour and 4-1/2 cups of whole wheat flour. Plus you should have the 1/2 to 3/4 cup of oil and another 1 to 3 cups of whole wheat flour for kneading. If you are very efficient with your time, you still have time for a cup of tea before you start the really hard work.

If you have never seen bread made before, and you are trying to do this alone, this is where you will want to at least have a look at the Bread Book. It is difficult to explain how to proceed without pictures or illustrations. However we will proceed, and maybe with the help of a friend, which is the best way to learn how to handle the dough, you can work it out.

You start by pouring the Oil all around the edge of the bowl, so the wooden paddle and the sides of the bowl are oiled, as you fold in the ingredients. Start with the nuts, seeds and salt mixture, sprinkling small amounts over the surface and fold the mixture towards the center very gently. The reason we are being so gentle is that we do not want to tear the dough at all, if we can help it. Now don't get worried, just proceed, being as aware and as gentle as possible, so as to keep the tearing to a minimum. Keep sprinkling and turning the bowl, and folding the mixture towards the center, until it is all in there. Continue with the raisins, and then start into the flour mixture.

Now the quicker you get the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured board, or table top, the better. However it must have enough of the flour mixture folded in so it is controllable on a flat surface. That will be something that experience will have to show you. I do most of the adding of flour on the table, with only a minimal amount of folding in of the flour in the bowl, just enough to get some flour between the sides of the bowl and the dough. The important thing is to tear the dough as little as possible.

Now as soon as you can get flour between the dough and the sides of the bowl, and you think it is thick enough to handle, you turn it out on to a flat, secure, floured surface for kneading. Now you get to hold and love the dough as it comes alive in your hands. You kind of cradle the dough as you keep on sprinkling the flour mixture on top and the sides of the dough, on your hands, and on the board, as you fold the dough over and over, round and round, towards the center. You add in more flour as needed, to keep the dough from sticking to the board and your hands, going around and around the thick puddle, until it is possible to turn the dough a quarter turn at a time. At this point you are almost lifting the dough each time you have folded and push it, in order to turn the dough the quarter turn, to do it again and again. This is called kneading. It is done gently but firmly, giving the dough time to stretch and comply. No force is used, gently but firmly knead, turn, knead, and sprinkle more flour as needed, and keep going.

Love the dough. Be aware of its needs. It is alive in your hands. Encourage it to accept more flour - do not force it.

A steady rhythm is established and maintained, it not only develops calm and harmony, it will produce better bread. This is what bread-making is all about. The kneading and the shaping of the dough with love, and a gentle firmness, but with awareness of its nature and needs. The more the rhythm you establish in the kneading process reflects all of this, the better the bread. The Buddha said we are all like dough, to be shaped gently with awareness and love and kindness.

Continue the adding of flour, and the kneading till all the flour mixture is gone. Then work with just the whole wheat flour till the bread seems to refuse more flour. However it should not stick to the board, or at least not very much. You should be able to work in about as much flour as I have indicated in the recipe.

If you have too little flour, it will be a little too sticky, and you will have to flower the board when you make the loaves. If you work in too much, you will have trouble sealing the loaves, after you have shaped them. However, this will all have to be learned by experience.

For those that have had past experience, this recipe should feel a little more sticky then a normal dough. You should stop adding flour a little sooner than you usually would. That is why I said it should only stick slightly to the board when you are done kneading. This allows for the moisture that will be taken up by the oats, although, some of that is compensated for by pre-soaking the raisins, so don't overdo it. By the time the kneading process is done you should be wiped out. It is my experience that if I am not thoroughly sweating by the time I have finished kneading the bread, I have not done it enough. The kneading of bread is what develops the texture and the uniform rise.

Once the kneading process is done, roll the dough into a ball, folding it all around into the center. Pinch the seams to seal the ball. Lightly oil the rising bowl and then roll the dough around in the oiled rising bowl so all of it is slightly covered with oil, this will prevent a crust forming. Cover with a damp tea towel, and let it rise for 50 Minutes while you take a well deserved break.

There is a recipe book out that uses a speed bread method, with no kneading. I have tried it, and although it did produce a reasonable loaf, it just cannot compare, and it is about as satisfying to make as a batch of baking powder biscuits. Nothing compares with a real old-fashioned bread-making afternoon, for satisfaction, aroma and end product. However, fast bread is better than store-bought bread, and it definitely has it's place in a busy world. NOTE 3

Well, I guess we should get back to work. A good time to start the clean up. When it is time to punch down the bread, I would suggest that "press down the bread" is a better choice of words. The term "punch down" is used only because you make a fist to do the job. It is pressed down until it is uniformly leveled without using undo force - 20 or so pushes. Cover, and let rise again for another 45 minutes.

When the time is up, roll it out on to the table again, and cut into four equal loaves. Gently fold into the middle, until they have been formed into four balls. Let the dough rest while you oil the pans, letting one drain into the other so you don't use too much oil. Form the balls into four loaves, by kneading them about five or six times, and then roll them up to make a rounded rectangle, approximately the length of your bread pans. Then seal the seams by pinching the dough closed along the line created by rolling the dough. Do this, firmly but gently till the seam stays closed. Place the loaf upside down in the pan, this oils the top. Turn the loaf out and put it back in to the pan, right side up. The seam is now at the bottom. You can use the back of the hand, to gently press the loaf evenly into the pan, so you do not get oil on the front of your hands. Continue till all four loaves have been made.

Cover with the damp tea towel. Turn on the oven, pre-heat to 350 degrees. Let the loaves rise for twenty minutes. Then cut three slits on top of each loaf, crosswise at an angle, to let the moisture out. Brush with egg white that has been beaten with a little cool water, sprinkle with sesame seeds. This will bring the rising time to 30 minutes.

Place in the pre-heated oven set at 350 degrees, and bake for 50 to 70 minutes, until done. A deep golden brown is a good sign, and the bottom will sound hollow when thumped lightly with a finger. Turn out immediately onto a rack to cool. Don't cut a loaf until it has cooled for one hour, no matter how good it smells. A good test of your willpower.

Now cut the worst looking loaf, and enjoy. When tasting a new batch of bread, the first taste should have nothing on it, only the bread. Then with the next piece, some butter will be nice. Finally, please let me suggest, on the third piece a little butter and honey will be astounding!

I should warn you that it is very possible that greed will arise at this point. For that reason, I want you to give the rest away, if possible, while they are still warm. That's right, I want you to give away all the bread you have made, keeping only the one loaf you have started, to sustain life in order to serve, and make more bread.

Once you have done that, you will have consciously participated in the first practice that the Buddha taught to the lay people of the villages that he wandered through. To give joyously with love and kindness that which we love. How can we do any less?


NOTE 1 "The Hunting of the Snark" by Lewis Carol. go back

NOTE 2 For more information on honey and its value to humanity read, "Honey for Health by Cecile Tonsley" [the above was a tiny sample of her research ]. go back

NOTE 3 The book is called "Breadspeed " by Elma Schemenauer, Farland Press go back

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