Baking Bread, Breaking Bread

09 Sep

I have cinnamon bread rising in the kitchen now.  I love making bread.  For one thing, nobody ever asks me for the recipe.  I like that especially because bread recipes are long, tedious, and it requires some experience to translate the directions.  I don’t have a bread machine and I don’t want one.  I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  Besides, bread baking is as close to church as I get, and I cherish that reminder of my relationship to the universe.

I bake cinnamon bread a lot.  Other breads not as much, but I want to start making our sandwich bread.  I hate all that ultra processing in store breads, and bakeries are not typically any better.  Cinnamon bread is my daughter’s favorite thing.  She loves it as toast and when I make French toast with it she thinks it’s the best thing in the world.  At the store, for all those crazy and hard to pronounce additives and preservatives, they charge about five bucks for a very small loaf.  I loosely figured what it cost me to make it, and I figure even when I use expensive ingredients it’s about a dollar a loaf.

Sure, it’s very labor intensive, but it is a labor of love.  I smile about my daughter’s stories from the day.  I think about the marvels of the world.  Yeast is a powerful ingredient and brings, in me, a strong emotional response.  This thing is alive.  Alive.  It grows and eats sugar and creates this incredible relationship with the gluten in the flour.  You can pull a little chunk off and stretch it between your fingers until you can see through it.  It smells of the best of the world’s pleasures.  It’s musty and earthy and imbued with centuries of human history.  This is what I love to feed my children.

When I started pastry school, I will admit I was not excited about the bread making portion.  I wanted to learn about chocolate and sugar.  Bread?  Somebody else could make it.  And it turned my whole world upside down the second it started.  All the qualities we cherish and strive to achieve – patience, artistry, willingness to let a thing be its simple self, care, tenderness, timeliness – they all come out when you bake bread.  They have to, or you don’t get very good bread.  Try making a croissant without patience, or hand knead a brioche without tenderness, or try to fuss too much over cinnamon bread.  You will see what I mean.

And bread is one of those things that maintains cultural significance despite reason.  Why do we still value the ceremony of breaking bread with each other?  Why does bread, hot and fresh from the oven, remind everyone of their favorite memories, even those who have never had hot fresh bread before?  Why do we revere the talent of a baker, even if we never purchase his handicraft?

I once read this great story about a woman who grew wheat in her front yard, and before the neighborhood black party she would have all the kids come over to harvest and mill the wheat and make the bread for the party with it.  I want to do that one day.  I want my children to experience that thing that reaches further back in our shared lineage that almost nothing else we can recreate today.

No culture lives without bread.  As far as I know, no religion is without at least one bread parable.  There is a reason for this.  Bread is a part of us.  It has been since we decided to settle in one place.  It reminds us that we don’t have to be nomads and that we can be where we are and create something perfect out of the simplest and most complicated things.  We could use more of that notion these days.

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Posted by on September 9, 2012 in cooking


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