Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve, and I pulled ten loaves out of the oven this morning. It's a good time to knead bread and watch it grow; to think slow and wait. After eight weeks of micro-baking on a schedule, this week I just sent out an email and let friends order whatever they wanted. Out of five choices, three varieties made it to the table: French Country Levain, Whole Wheat Levain, and Cranberry Pecan Levain.

After tasting a loaf of the Cranberry Pecan, I decided it's my favorite loaf of the year. Hands down. It's also one of the prettiest loaves of the year, featuring a bird-scratch cut on top (don't mind the bird with four toes; that one's irregular). So here's to you, Cranberry Pecan Levain: Best Loaf of 2011 Award.

As my friend David said, it's lucky I made the best loaf now, or it would've had to wait for the 2012 awards. It's kind of like all these Oscar-class movies that hit theaters at the end of the year; know what I mean?

In other news, my wife was gracious enough to take some Christmas-themed still-life photos of the Cranberry Pecan bread (see below). Good work!

So, do I have any closing bread-thoughts for 2011? Here's something:

I think bread-baking, and spirituality, are both concerned with the work of discovery. But not so much the discovery of what one is, as of what one need not be. The simplest loaves are the most enlightening; the prayers with the fewest words are the most true. It's as much about what's left out as what's put in. In my mind, this raises the question, what is the world given in Jesus, and what is it not? What does Jesus mean, and what does he not? What are we for, and what are we not? I can't help but think these questions are more meant for asking than answering. Likewise, baking bread is not an answer for me; it's a question. What do I mean and what do you mean and what does all this mean? I just nod and knead my bread.

Happy Christmas, Happy 2011.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Week VIII: Micro-Bakery Dec. 10

Today marks the end of the second Micro-Bake cycle! That's eight straight weekends of baking and delivering bread. And now, time for a Micro-Bake-break until after the holidays (at least from bread subscriptions). In the mean time, I plan to continue baking (and blogging) with an eye toward experimentation. I'm hoping to have a go with the Desem recipe in The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, and to try a few more breads from Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread.

This week I've been writing final papers for all my classes, so it's been stressful to say the least. But there was a moment last night, when I was shaping the last loaf of levain, that something broke inside me (in a good way). I saw the dough in my hands, in all its beauty and simplicity, and I felt an unbidden joy. It was as if waters had wept from the deep and wet my weariness through.

This morning, when Megan walked into the kitchen, the first thing she said was, "Dragon Bread." And lo and behold, she was right. A number of the loaves grew jagged ridges in the oven, their crusty sides textured with scales (see pictures below). I was born in the year of the dragon, my Feng Shui is 'Yellow Earth Dragon,' and I have a deep appreciation for dragons in general, so this was another occasion for wonder.

To the dragon belongs the element of fire, and wheat belongs to the element of earth (or so it seems to me). The Earth Dragon would, therefore, be the patron animal of bread-baking. I can't imagine how Zen I'd be if I were baking bread in a wood-fired earth oven. The future is bright.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Week VII: Micro-Bakery Dec. 3

Well folks, another Saturday, another bake. I dubbed this week's loaf the 'Via Media Levain,' because it's made with 50/50 bread flour and whole wheat flour, the middle way between white bread and whole wheat bread. Like last week's bake, I gave the bread some extra time to ferment (about 12 hours), so it got nice and sour. I'm still trying to discern which of my subscribers prefer the acidic flavor, and which don't. If everyone likes it I'll keep pushing the sour flavor. If not, it's just a matter of cutting down on the time, and voila, a more balanced flavor.

And speaking of balance, my friend Tom and I were riffing last night on the idea of seeking balance in our lives. We agreed that balance is a verb we work at, rather than a noun we attain. And I decided that bread has a similar resonance for me. Bread is something I do, a way of being I settle into, rather than a place I arrive. There is always more to learn, more to improve, more to explore. We need "bread" in our lives, labors of wisdom that cause us to realize we are made whole in the seeking, rather than the grasping.

Today was another beautiful day to cruise around town with warm bread in my bike basket. I got to chat with many blessed friends, and at the end, to layer miracle upon miracle, I got to eat Banana Caramel Cake in the park for Blanche's birthday (Happy Birthday Blanche, thou neighbor and friend!). In my mind, you can't really ask for a better day.