Resting in the Process
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’ve started baking bread. I made a quiet, inner vow to never go back to store-bought bread (“quiet” and “inner” because I’ve learned that “never” is an almost impossible concept), but only partly because of the money it saves us, the preservatives we’re not eating, and the way it makes the house smell.
The other part (and some days it’s the main part) of the promise I made to myself is just for myself: because of the process. Because it seems like I need to make a new loaf of bread every week, and every week the process reminds me of the importance of rest.
Because first you have to proof yeast. (You don’t have to, but I got dry, active yeast because it was a better bang for my buck.) Stir yeast in hot water, with a pinch of sugar, and let it sit in a warm place for at least 15 minutes.
I can at least mix the other ingredients together while that’s happening, but as there are only four other ingredients, it doesn’t take 15 whole minutes to put them all in a bowl – even when I augment the wheat flour with some freshly ground flax seed. I have to wait.
As soon as it’s done, and I get everything mixed up, the dough needs to rest before I can knead it. 15 minutes on the counter. Just waiting.
The kneading process is at least doing something — at least my hands are finally getting messy — but even that process is so repetitive that I find myself watching the clock. 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkling flour, pulling, stretching, squishing, repeating. At first it was romantic: look at me, I’m kneading bread! That wore off.
Then the work is over, but not done. This is the hard part. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it, and tuck it someplace warm (for my drafty old cottage in winter that’s the oven with the light on) for an hour. An hour. I’ve done the hard part, the work part, but the oven is still off. I still have to tell the baby it’s not time for snacks yet.
Walk away and get the dough out from under your fingernails, because this part is out of your hands. Scrape off the thin layer that’s already drying to the insides of your wrists. It’s going to get tight and pinch your skin soon. Go do something else. It’s not baking, just waiting. Forget about it until that timer goes off.
An hour later there is visible progress. It’s working. It’s swollen in the bowl. Something is happening, but it’s not enough. Dust it with a little more flour and punch it down. Yes, you just waited an hour for it to do exactly what it just did — now undo it. Trust me, it’s part of the process. It has to be done. Deflate it.
Roll it out of the bowl. You’ll have to peel it from the sides, because it’s gotten comfortable in there. Now you can start to shape it. Do you want a round loaf? A long one? Two smaller ones? Shape it however you want, but don’t turn the oven on yet. Cover it with the towel, back to that warm spot for another 45 minutes. It needs to rise.
Yes it just did that. Yes you just deflated it. Do it again.
Forty-five minutes later, it’s time to preheat the oven. A couple of slashes in the top of the loaf will let the heat escape and make sure it rises in the right direction. Thirty minutes in the oven.
And just at the last minute you will suddenly smell the most heavenly aroma.
Do. Wait. Do. Wait.
Let the process happen the way the process needs to happen. Trust that it will do what it always does. What it’s designed to do. Rest in between the steps, in between the actions. Rest in the guarantee that it will rise, both times, and bake perfectly. Like it always does.
You can’t rush bread, as much as I would like to. Bread is on its own schedule, and I have to force myself to remember sometimes that time is not a casualty: it’s an ingredient.
This past week I was finally tempted to add bread to the grocery list. Things were just a little too busy. I could feel the control slipping out of my hands, and I didn’t know if I had three hours for bread that day. Or the next. The romance of it is over.
But I remembered all the reasons I decided not to go back to buying bread, and when the Man Cub laid down for a nap that afternoon I took a deep breath, turned off my time clock, left the laundry in the basket and the dishes in the sink, and stirred yeast into hot water.