Meditative Bread Baking

Making bread to reduce my stress. Like so many of you out there, I’m feeling the daily pressures of the Corona Virus and the uncertainty of it. Since 2018, I’ve taught cooking lessons (but not bread baking) at a grain store in Silver Lake, California.

My classes consisted of; pasta, biscuits, pies, and donuts. These all use the delicious whole grains that are sold in the store. Roe, the store owner whose passion for grains is as big as his smile, has been the one who has taught the bread classes. Roe focuses on sourdough starters and grains from heirloom to the ancient variety, and though I was in his space I never really dove into the process of making bread.

Sure, over the years I’ve written and published bread recipes, I’ve taught bread classes, I’ve made bread for restaurants, and I definitely had a full course in bread making in culinary school. However, all of this being said, I didn’t get bit by the bread baking bug, the one that makes you think about bread in your sleep or turning to make bread to unwind from a bad day, until now.

So, what is it that drove me to baking bread, you ask? Two or so weeks into the pandemic my family and I began stocking up on food and our two month lock down began. My children’s schools hadn’t put Zoom classes in place, and so, there we were in Los Angeles, a huge city, stuck in a townhome with no back yard and nothing to do.

One of my dearest friends loves baking bread, and so I turned to him for his recipe. He was doing something really right with his loaves, and I wanted to know what it was! The recipe was texted to me.

What I love about bread and pasta and other very simple ingredient recipes is that the process is sooooo long in comparison to the ingredients. There are four ingredients in most bread recipes and two pages worth of directions.

As I do with all recipes before I dive in, is I dissect them. I look at the recipe and mark what steps go together and label them mixing, kneading, resting, etc. It helps break down recipes that are extremely long into more digestible stages.

I will include my final recipe soon, but until then I’ll peak your interest with details about the bread.

At first, I was using packets of instant yeast, and I was worried about the amounts as I had transferred everything from weight to cup measure. Typically, bread making should be done with a scale, but I didn’t have one at home, and no way to get out of the house to get one.

Warm water, pour yeast, let sit, add half the flour, add the salt, add the remaining flour and knead. So simple and yet so hard. There is room for so much error. In the beginning bread making wasn’t this monumental meditative experience rather an opportunity for more stress.

After the final bread rest, the oven was cranked to 500, and I closed the lid on my bread baker put the bread in the oven and waited.

The 20-minute timer went off and it was time to remove the lid. The bread was pale, but exactly where it should be. I closed the door again and waited another 20 minutes give or take.

The bread finally came out of the oven. The crust was chewy, the crumb inside was light and fluffy. The kids were thrilled to have something new to eat. It wasn’t a perfect loaf, but the situation and the experience were good enough to push me to do another loaf.

(c) HMFG 2020

It was something that required me to show up at a certain time of the day, to mix the yeast with water, to knead the dough and let it rest. In a time where days, nights and weekends blended together, the dough and bread gave me routine.

Over the months the recipe has changed and evolved. As instant yeast disappeared from store shelves, sourdough starter moved into my refrigerator. Thanks Roe! Proofing baskets are now in my storage and scoring tools ready and willing.

This moment of baking where I know all of the ingredients and the method by heart is the moment where my meditation can begin. I can refocus my negative energy to positive ones, quiet my mind from life’s uncertainties, and be thankful for all that I have. I can take a deep breath in and trust the process bread making. From start to finish everything will be ok and there’s no worry. Thus, began my love affair with making bread.