Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Baking Bread

Flour, yeast, water, fire. These are my tools. They have been the baker's media for 5000 years, and will remain so long after I am turned to dust, to the flour of my existence. I am a sculptor, a scientist, a magician. If the masterpiece does not inspire, if the trick fails, the fault, in all liklihood, lies with me. This is the blessing of my tools. They keep me humble and they keep me honest, and at the same time they inspire me to reach for greatness. With bread, there is no one perfect. There are a thousand perfects, and I strive for all of them.

A little fat, a more tender crumb. Less yeast, more time and the result is a hearty, earthbound boule . Knead in an egg and some honey and the humble loaf rises to religious icon. There is something holy, though, in even the simplest conglomeration. A crust of bread is a baby's introduction to solid food and the sustenance of the dying.

My arms ache from hours of kneading, but my mind is clear, my worries soothed, my problems diminished. A dough of anger and frustration, baked right smack in the middle of the oven becomes a loaf of tenderness. A lazy bread, water and yeast - too much of one, not enough of the other, lies un-kneaded and unformed. Push it up almost too close to the flame. It bakes into a crusty, chewy bread that demands effort in the eating. It insists that cheese and meat and butter and olives be laid out in accompaniment.

Yes, there is science in bread. Chemistry. Biology. The yeast is alive after all, and like any life, it needs food, it needs water, it needs warmth, and it has an irresistible urge, those needs being met, to reproduce. Yeast sex in my mixing bowl. Magic. Alchemy is a science too, right? Or an art? Of course there is art in my craft. That's a given. Cezanne created bread. Bread and Province. Van Gogh too. Bread and sunflowers. Bread and melting clocks. Bread and waterlilies. Bread and Tomato Soup?

So bread is life. Then too, art and science and magic are life. Of course they are. Without them, there is no life, and without my tools, my yeast, flour, water and fire there is no bread.