160October 14, 2018
Baking BreadThe kitchen was smaller and darker than I remembered; but it was mine. Nothing yet adorned the window sills, the cupboards barely stocked with the basics, the countertops were empty. It felt almost sterile – it had none of the warmth the kitchen of my dreams possessed. But again I thought; it was mine. I neatly tied my apron around my back and clipped my hair out of my eyes. I’d never known a better way to learn a kitchen than to bake a fresh loaf of bread. This recipe was simple. Not easy, mind, but simple. Though I’d memorized the process many years ago, I pulled the old recipe card out of the box. Wear from years of use, watermarks and smudged pen seemed to smile wearily at me, an old friend chidingly advising on the process. I smiled back. Recipe: 2 cups warm water 1/2 cup white sugar 1 1/2 tbsp yeast I pushed up my glasses to better read the card. Measuring out all of my ingredients, I started with my little bowls first. Fine kosher salt leveled off went into my blue ceramic pinch bowl. Next, my flours. First whole wheat, then strong bread flour. 1/2 cup of raw, organic sugar to avoid the bleaching agents used in granulated. This bread can handle a rustic sugar. Then the oil, and last, the perfect temperature of water in a old Pyrex measuring cup. The magic was almost palpable.
I poured the yeast into the water, then the sugar, stirring it gently with a small whisk perfectly made for the job. The little bubbles told me I was ready for the next step. Some people use a dough hook, and that’s all well and good, but while I’m able I’d like to feel the doughy grains. After roughly combining the wet and the dry, I turned the dough out to knead it. Smelling the warm yeasty air and re-flouring as needed, I was in a state of pure bliss. Into a clean, shiny, well oiled bowl for an hour to grow, baby, grow. I tidied, did the dishes, and greased 2 loaf pans. I now had the luxury of time and feigned productivity even though the yeast deserves all the credit. I considered my space yet again. In my mind’s eye there were fresh herbs by the sill, small vines aching for the light. The shelves organized with clear and amber glass, different colors depending on the sensitivity of the contents inside. A light aroma of vanilla, maybe tinged with rosemary, and a calm, natural light filtered through the branches of a windy day’s tree. But the sun was resolute that day – no wind to rustle the branches of my nearby oak. A reverie broken by a timer’s buzz, and I floated back to the real, the living dough in front of me. A satisfying punch. The dough so hearty, resisting; the fragrant air dizzied my senses. Dividing the dough into two, I gently pressed the first loaf into a rough rectangle. Rolled into a short log with a brief pinch on each end to seal it and a loving pat on its upturned head, I placed the dough into my greased tin and wrapped it with a fresh towel to double again. Quickly repeating the process for my second loaf, things were shaping up nicely. With my idle time this go around, I made my way to the back garden. There was something lovely about the small space, yearning for attention, a pair of eager hands to foster the soil to life. A few potted plants I’d brought with me nearly ready for planting. I felt a deep sentimentality for these transplants, just about ready for real roots. Kindred spirits, me and the chamomile. I said a small prayer and basked in the even sun of my new garden. “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:7 The dough had risen. My oven, preheated to 350, was primed for my loaves. 30 minutes later, I spread a pat of butter over each and took a much deserved rest. One loaf would feed me for the week, and the other would go to my neighbor as an offering of friendship, helping nurture my young roots in this town. A house without the smell of freshly baked bread is just a house. I inhaled. Finally, I was home.