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A yearning to bake bread.

March 1, 2010
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homemade breadThe readings and class discussions lately have been inspiring me to think about food in many new and different ways. I have always loved baking, and more recently have started cooking more, but my mentality has changed. I have typically been a “box-cake person”. I try to save time and money and effort by dumping box cake powder in the bowl, adding eggs and water, and popping it in the oven. Easy.
Box cakes aren’t bad. They’re good! And with how I (and most of us) have grown up, they taste like childhood birthdays and smell like sweet trouble-free times. But when we look at food preparation as a craft – not an art, as Ruhlman vehemently states in Soul of a Chef – the box cake suddenly appears less worthwhile. Once we recognize the act of preparing a dish as an enjoyable way to spend time, it almost feels like we’re cheating ourselves when we take shortcuts. Why take shortcuts on leisure time?

M.F.K. Fisher, in The Art of Eating, reflects:

[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony.  It leaves you filled with peace in a house filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells. But it takes a lot of time. Once you find that, the rest is easy. If you cannot rightly find it, make it. There is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.

Baking bread is something that has always seemed too challenging to be worthwhile, and has never been necessary; the grocery store isn’t so far that it would ever be advantageous to “whip up” a batch of bread rather than making the drive. But the smell, the texture of fresh homemade bread cannot be compared to anything else. There’s also the community aspect: bread is made to be shared, to be torn or sliced and passed among family and friends. It has religious significance, in that everyone is sharing and has part of the whole.

Maybe it’s just midterm week, and kneading bread seems like the perfect repetitive motion to keep my brain and spirit in check. Maybe I’m just caught up in the spirit of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and even Bill Buford, thinking that any dish is worth the effort. Maybe, and I think quite possibly, baking bread is every bit as rewarding to the senses and the soul as Fisher has described.

I’ll be back when I find (read: make) the time to bake my first loaf of bread.

(photo credit:

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