Baking bread from scratch is an act of diligence, faith, and extreme patience. I have found nothing as centering as the task of baking bread. It is an investment of time and energy and focus – deep thought and deep emotion – into the production of a tangible, edible (hopefully delicious) product that can be seen and touched and tasted. In our instant gratification world, it is a reminder that some things are well worth waiting for. That alone, is miraculous.
With bread, as with all baked goods, following the prescribed ratio is essential to the final outcome. This is an unchanging truth – altering any variable (from the amount of any single ingredient to the temperature at which it bakes, to the altitude at which your kitchen resides) will result in a predictable difference in the finished loaf. So when you begin, you can be relatively certain of what you will have at the end. In between there is thought, there is love, there is effort. And a whole lot of waiting.
You go through the steps – Measuring, combining, mixing, proofing, kneading, shaping, rising again… If you come to it with a reverent mindset, this is a spiritual practice. It is meditative, it is mindful, it is immensely satisfying.
And then finally, the dough goes into the oven, and as it bakes it begins to fill the kitchen – and eventually the entire house – with the unmistakable aroma of comfort, of goodness, of Home. A sacred fragrance. What began as a collection of somewhat mundane ingredients is transformed into a life-sustaining masterwork of art and science. It feeds my family and it feeds my soul. The magic of the universe, in the microcosm of a ‘simple’ loaf of bread.
I remember a project for my high school Spanish class involving bread. We were as a class going to observe Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). My teacher loved to infuse culture into our lessons, and to this day remember the experiences well. For my project, I chose to create a loaf of Dead Bread. We had two recipes to choose from, one calling for cinnamon flavoring, the other with anise seed and orange peel. The latter sounding more intriguing to me, and I also knew almost everyone else would choose the cinnamon recipe. I did a test run with it, since I had never made bread before. It turned out fabulous! Oh yes, the duplex Dad and I were living in smelled wonderful, of course. I liked the infusion of the orange with the anise, which has a licorice tone to it. I made a second loaf to turn in as my project. I got a 100%. As I was reading about the spiritual aspects of bread-making in today’s reading, I remember feeling calm, comforted and confident in my ability to cook as I made my Dead Bread. Honestly, I haven’t made bread since! I enjoy other baking, but would like to try bread again, too. The good thing about the Internet is that I can search for a myriad of recipes. Perhaps I will find my orange and anise seed bread too!