Monday, March 7, 2011

Baking Break - Breaking Bread

Lately I've been into making bread.  Not the quick breads like banana or Irish soda or cranberry, but the yeasty, take two hours to rise sorta bread.  I'm finding something deeply satisfying about it.

I like the creative part of it.  I'll find a recipe on the net and tweak it.  Sometimes it takes several iterations before it's just right.  I think my braided egg bread took three or four times to get it perfect.  But the Foccacia was right on the first time.

I like the anticipation.  You smell the yeast.  I'll peak under the cloth covering the bowl to see if it's rising well enough.  And while it's baking the whole house will smell scrumcious.

But there's more.  I think bread making goes back to something fundamental.  It's basic and simple.  People have been making bread, in one form or another, for centuries, actually millennia.

If you knead it by hand it's kind of like gardening.  You get your hands dirty.  You work the dough and feel it squish between your fingers.  And when you bake it, it's transformed from something moist and sticky to soft, crusty goodness.  The best part comes next - you break it and you share it. 

In a way it's like recreating the Last Supper.  Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me."   The bread I make is not my body, but it is the work of my body.  And I give it to you.

It is a matter often discussed why bakers are such excellent citizens
and good men. For while it is admitted in every country I was ever in
that cobblers are argumentative and atheists . . . while it
is public that barbers are garrulous and servile, that millers are
cheats . . . yet--with every trade in the world
having some bad quality attached to it--bakers alone are exempt, and
every one takes it for granted that they are sterling: indeed, there
are some societies in which, no matter how gloomy and churlish the
conversation may have become, you have but to mention bakers for
voices to brighten suddenly and for a good influence to pervade every
one. I say this is known for a fact, but not usually explained; the
explanation is, that bakers are always up early in the morning and can
watch the dawn, and that in this occupation they live in lonely
contemplation enjoying the early hours.
"The Path to Rome"
Hilaire Belloc

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