When I was a child, I associated my father with the making of certain specific foods. He would produce occasional batches of what we called “New Orleans square doughnuts” throughout the year and do the cranking on homemade ice cream in summer. Above all, though, bread-making was a favourite. Both parents made bread, and we usually got a chance to have a whack at it with pudgy fists when the dough had risen. But there was one particular step that thrilled me. Dad would lift the dough above his head over the counter and let it ‘smack!’ down onto the formica. The first time I ever made bread on my own, I did my best to follow the steps I remembered from childhood—including the countertop splat. One of the last times I ever saw my father, I asked him about the role of that step in the overall process. What did it do? How did it help? He Looked at me (with the same inquisitive Look I am sure I have laid on students…) and then smiled. “You and your brother liked the sound, Kimberly. That’s it. That’s why I did it.”
I thought of Dad this morning as I opened up a cookbook and found the page on brioche. I haven’t made yeast bread for decades. I figured I could make the dough and in between its risings, get things done. In part, my foray into this new endeavour is for the sake of others. Next week we are having a discussion that is steeped in the metaphor of bread and the idea had been broached—Why not make bread while we talk?!” Immediately, I had visions of the hockey pucks I produced when first making biscuits and thought about the numbers of batches I went through (all edible, fortunately) before being able to turn them out batch after batch with consistency of height and texture. I wanted to make bread before we were going to try making it as a group so I could make its acquaintance again…I wanted to see with eyes of now what would happen as chemistry came out to play…I wanted to take butter rich notes with my fingers and hold the memory of blooming yeast within the olfactory portraiture admired by my sense of smell.
There was also another reason for breaking out the big mixer (which I have access to thanks to living where there was once thrice daily meal service for 18 or so) and finding the dough hook. The movement from reading the recipe and process, to understanding the recipe and process, and then embarking upon the fulfilment of the recipe and process, is pleasing to my soul. Everything about it. The time alone in a kitchen. The deliberate measuring required in baking, the contemplation of “enough-ness” throughout, being able to watch transformation happen with the addition of each ingredient and moving through the gradient of wonder, doubt, possibility, belief. This just might work…. It is time of prayer, a time of creation, a time of delight and focused intention. One ingredient measured, one step undertaken, move into what is next, rest… And the chemistry of it! Augh…a spectacle of wonder. And all organic! The role of yeast, eggs, fat, temperature…and how it all must work together without too much interference on my part. I am a servant of the ingredients, in some ways…creating the conditions that allow them to flourish and in turn nourish others. Nourishment that is inherent to creation, built in, waiting for its turn to serve and play.
Amazing. Amen… SPLAT.