In the Grain: Meditative baking

Turn the chore of baking into a pleasant and relaxing experience.

February 13, 2014 16:25
3 minute read.
Ciabatta [pronounced cha-batta] means “slipper” in Italian, the shape of the bread

The anatomy of baking. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Baking need not be a chore. As with most things in life, it all depends on how you look at it. Baking could instead be something completely different, a relaxing, meditative, even uplifting experience, a balm for the senses.

Aromas, like music, have the ability to penetrate the soul and create indelible markings on our psyche. They have the ability to conjure up long-forgotten, nostalgic memories – Grandma baking apple pie, Mother preparing chocolate chip cookies on Sunday mornings, Friday challot baking in the oven for Shabbat.

There are few pleasures in this world that come close to the delight of a home filled with the aroma of fresh baking.

Those who forgo this pleasure unwittingly deny their children unforgettable memories.

The benefits of home baking are not only olfactory and the sole heritage of the younger inhabitants of the home; they are also abundant for the person doing the baking. Many shy away from bread baking, for example, because they regard the task of kneading dough as too strenuous.

It is a fact that bread dough must be hand kneaded for at least 10 minutes to achieve a well-developed gluten network and smooth, elastic dough. Many opt not to hand knead, relinquishing this task to the electric mixer. But they don’t know what they’re missing.

Hand kneading need not be strenuous at all. Since it is predominantly a repetitive physical activity involving the hands, it leaves the mind free to wander and can thus be a highly meditative experience. It is a time to reflect, to dream. How many people in our modern, hectic lifestyle get 10 minutes when the world just stops? True, it is a physical activity requiring energy, but it need not be the subject of breaking any world records. Those that rush the stage of hand kneading are doing themselves a double injustice, as they are exhausting themselves unnecessarily and are robbing themselves of a well deserved time-out.

For me, the ultimate reward of healthy home baking is not the self-indulgent meditation, the production of nostalgic memories for my children or even the feeling of fulfilment that comes from the knowledge that I am contributing to my family’s physical and mental health.

It comes from a sense of reconnection.

Working with the primeval elements of flour, water salt and yeast (preferably natural sourdough yeast) is working with something that is alive, that possesses an intrinsic life force of its own. When you get down to basics, using whole-grain flour, perhaps even grinding it yourself, creating healthy food for your family, you are reconnecting with something good. Call it nature, balance, feng shui, whatever.

With the simple act of healthy home baking, you are reestablishing a bond with the equilibrium of the universe, something that modern, industrialized society has been stripping away for centuries, robbing us of our connection with the true essence of our being.

Who would want to miss out on that!


Seed mix
✔ ¼ cup flax seeds
✔ ¼ cup sesame seeds
✔ ¼ cup sunflower seeds
✔ ¼ cup rolled oats
✔ ¼ cup water

Mix seeds with water and leave to rest for 1 hour.

✔ 3 cups finely ground spelt flour
✔ 1¼ cups water
✔ 2 tsp. salt
✔ 1 tsp. instant baker’s yeast
✔ ½ cup active sourdough culture (see sourdough-for dummies-317813)

Mix and hand knead dough for 9 minutes. Add seed mix and knead until evenly incorporated. Leave to rise for 1 hour. Shape into a round, ball-shaped loaf and place on a baking tray. Leave to rise for another 20 minutes. Baste with egg wash (equal amounts of egg/water).

Bake at 250°C for 35 minutes.

Master baker Les Saidel, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.

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