Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wonder Bread

It is the simplest of processes.

Stir yeast and water together, add some flour. Stir some more to wake the gluten. Add some salt, add some more flour. Knead vigorously.

Let it rise.

I am at the "let it rise" stage right now. We are - well, we will be when Elizabeth gets back here and kicks it into gear - eating a Pakistani inspired meal tonight. (For the new year, Elizabeth and Warren have started cooking ethnic meals on the Saturdays she is here. Tonight is Pakistani.)

I offered to make naan , a Middle East/subcontinent flatbread. I have never made naan before, but the recipe (courtesy of Dorie Greenspan and Julia Child) is so basic that I am trusting it to turn out.

By any measure, I have had a good day. Other than meeting a friend for coffee this morning, I have been home all day, tending to small things. I have sent or answered a few emails; I've read some of John Cheever's short stories. I've tied up some loose ends too small to be projects but too big to ignore.

And now I am waiting out the rising, experiencing yet again the wonder of bread. It never fails to catch me by surprise.

While I stirred the yeast/water/flour slurry today,  I found myself thinking of how many centuries we - women, humans - have been making bread. How many generations of us have kneaded it, watched it rise, baked it (over a fire, in an oven, in the big city, in the desert) and then broken it?

When I lose myself in baking, the cares of my world drop away. Baking is a tonic for me, and baking bread is the strongest tonic of them all. Bread has its own rhythm, its own schedule, its own ways - you come to bread and enter its universe when you bake.

Out of flour, salt, water, and yeast, this miracle.

Wonder bread.

Postscript: Because of the unpredictability of the American teenager, the day grew later and the dough rose higher without Elizabeth reappearing. Finally, Warren and I looked at each other, scrapped the Pakistani meal, and headed to the grocery for the staples we needed. Once back home, I announced I was making the naan all the same, and I proceeded to shape and bake while Warren prepared a pasta dish. Elizabeth burst through the door as the first of it was going into the oven. Some twenty minutes later, we sat down to a meal of pasta, grilled vegetables, and the naan. The naan was an unqualified success. Not quite what any of us had in mind when the day started, but wonderful all the same.


Anonymous said...

When my children were small, I made bread for the entire family, enough to last a week. My one recipe was very reliable. Now as an adult, I tend to make it when I am emotional about something...and the simple act of kneading is wonderful.

Sharon said...

I have not yet mastered the temperature of the water to activate the yeast. My bread never rises. I'm always discouraged when I bake it. Perhaps I need to give it another shot...

Thanks for the inspiration, April! :)!

see you there! said...

We buy naan at a local market and really enjoy it. While I frequently bake bread, I haven't tried baking naan. Maybe it is time.


Ellen said...

Isn't that always the way in life? The meal may not have been as intended, but as long as it is warm, and filling, we are satisfied.