Yeast

16 01 2010

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
– Matthew 13:33

I’m in the process of making ciabatta bread (it’s actually a two-day process; I just made the poolish, or starter, which will be transformed into a few loaves of home-baked goodness tomorrow). One of my Christmas presents was a book called The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The author, Peter Reinhart, spends the first 90 pages telling a story about his experience entering and winning a national bread contest, and then expounding on various theories and techniques in the creation of artisan bread (this is before you ever even get to the recipes).

I dutifully sat down and read the opening section tonight before I started baking my bread, and soon I discovered a world far more complex and fascinating than simple step-by-step formulas (which was, I believe, Peter Reinhart’s intention). My head is spinning with new vocabulary and scientific processes and mathematical calculations, and I am intrigued enough to wonder how many varieties of ciabatta I could make, simply by tweaking the ratios here and there.

One point from Reinhart’s introduction especially stood out to me: “Remember that our mission is to evoke from the wheat the fullness of its flavor. The flavor of bread comes from the grain, not from the yeast. Leaven should not draw attention to itself but to the grain. Therefore, a baker’s maxim is to use only as much yeast as is necessary to get the job done. This minimizes the flavor of the yeast and maximizes the flavor of the grain” (53).

I couldn’t help but read that paragraph in kingdom-terms (and I apologize if I’m stretching the metaphor too far by trying to explain myself). For we only experience the tiniest glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, yet that is enough to work its way through all of the “dough.” And as the yeast works, it makes the dough rise and become far bigger than it ever could on its own.

And what about “maximizing the flavor of the grain?” Now, here’s an interesting thing. Ordinary flour contains two partial proteins, gliadin and glutenin. One of the main goals of the mixing process, I learned, is to allow those two proteins to link up and form glutin, the protein in wheat that gives bread its flavor. By themselves, the partial proteins are nothing. But the whole — glutin — is essential to the entire process.

And so it is with the kingdom of heaven. When we let it work within our lives, we find that our broken pieces are made whole, and we are united as the body of Christ, empowered to share our unique “flavor” with the rest of the world. And the all-important yeast helps us to rise up for a purpose higher than we ever could imagine on our own.

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