The Fresh Loaf

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The pace of baking

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ericb's picture
ericb

The pace of baking

In a recent thread, someone mentioned that the act of kneading is therapeutic.


This got me thinking... I've heard a lot of people say that baking is relaxing, that it helps relieve stress, that it can be a meditative experience, etc.


As I was envisioning these positive experiences that so many of you have, I had a bit of a revelation: baking stresses me out! When I bake, things are a mess. Yes yes, I know, mise en place. Whatever. Once the dough hits the counter, it's mise en all over the place. My pace is frantic: I measure quickly, mix quickly, knead (or stretch-and-fold) like a madman. A thin film of flour -- no, scratch that -- a thick coating of flour covers most kitchen surfaces as mixing bowls pile up in the sink, slowly glued together by bits of starter. The very thought of shaping dough makes me want to grab for a stiff bourbon. Proofing makes me want two. My eye is constantly on the clock: I am in a constant race with the yeast towards my final exhaustion. This is an absolutely draining hobby, more akin to work than fun, and yet I literally cannot stop baking (due either to Catholic guilt for not doing enough with my life, or to a feeling of obligation to my starter... I haven't figured out which). Why do I keep doing this to myself!


Does anyone else out there feel the same way? What is your pace of baking? Are you cool and relaxed? Or are you like me, a veritable Tasmanian Devil of flour and dough?


Eric

gaaarp's picture
gaaarp

Eric, I can let myself get like that, especially when I'm baking multiple recipes at once, which is usually the case lately (sorry, I guess I shouldn't put any ideas in your head).  To control the situation, I keep a piece of paper handy and write down when I need to do what to each dough.  That helps keep me from feeling overwhelmed.  But, yes, I am occassionaly Taz in the kitchen.


Mostly, though, I'm more of a Zen baker.  It is entirely possible to be busy, focused and relaxed all at the same time.  Even when I am moving from dough to dough and sending flour flying about the kitchen, I find baking to be a soothing, almost religious experience.  I don't think I'd keep doing it otherwise.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Eric.


I know all about the frenzy of bread making. I would never describe myself as "relaxed" while measuring, mixing, shaping or even eating. (And neither would my wife, who knows to stear clear!) But, I love it all!


I could say it's the pleasure of creation. It's the satisfaction of conquest. It's the relief of overcoming adversity. It's the admiration by others of the finished product.


All of those are true, but, if the truth be known, there must be something about the frenetic pace of my baking activity itself that is pleasurable. Are endorphins being released, as from aerobic exercise?


Hmmmm ....


And I wonder whether all this is subject to gender differences.


David

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Relax....There's no rush....A few minutes here, a few minutes there...who cares.  There will not be a pop quiz or a final exam.  Let something go too long on purpose just to see what happens or cut it short for the same reason.  It all works.


Have that bourbon, have two, have a good time.


Jeff

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

 Clean up / organize and relax between steps... of bread making...It will be helpful for you to cleanup completely after each step of your bread making....also bring out only your ingredients that you will be using for each step of bread making you are approaching...say your bread is proofing and is almost ready to go into the oven...have everything cleaned up and put away and your parchment paper, razor/knife for slashing, pan, steaming supplies, whatever your useing to get your bread into the oven...have it all ready and waiting near the proofing bread...while it's in the oven...clean up! Set your cooling racks out....when your bread comes out of the oven...don't have dishes or mess laying around.


Hope this helps, Sylvia


 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I am deliberate and meticulous about mis en place, and I always clean up between stages. My work area is kept neat and clean, as I go. I do relax while the dough is fermenting and the loaves proofing. I get a lot of other stuff done. Wait ... That's not relaxing ... <sigh>


But I like working as I do. 


David

Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

...We're the same, I strive for perfection and can't stand anything to be messy or out of place, and as I've stated many times...No waste is very important to me.

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

How many of the married male bakers give credit to thier wives for some of the cleanup?  ; )


Sylvia

nbicomputers's picture
nbicomputers

How many of the married male bakers hear this when their wife's walk into the kitchen


"LOOK AT THIS MESS IF YOU THINK I"M CLEANING THIS MESS UP YOU'V GOT ANOTHER THING COMMING!!!!


My ears are still ringing from christmas.

gaaarp's picture
gaaarp

I resisted the urge to point out the sexist nature of the original post (until now), but since Norm broached the subject, I'll point out that my wife doesn't bake or come near the kitchen when I do.  In fact, I'd be surprised if many of the men who bake have their wives following them around with a dishrag and dustpan.  That's why we have kids.

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

What I said was only meant in fun!  I asked how many give credit...meaning when the wife does help!  I know of bakers here who have loving wives that do help them in the kitchen...without them feeling intimidated....there's nothing wrong with  help in the kitchen....I'm afraid Im not very good with words....but I certainly did not mean that men that bake have their wives follow them around with a dishrag and dustpan!


Sylvia

gaaarp's picture
gaaarp

Sylvia,


I was joking, too.  Hope I didn't offend.  Besides, I'd love it if my wife followed me around with a duspan!

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

And it was funny what you said about the kids!

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, gaaarp.


I clean up after myself. If my wife ends up washing one of my bowls, that's exceptional, unexpected but not unappreciated. So far, so good.


What's this have to do with "why we have kids?"


Is this an ageist remark?


David

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

I couldn't make bread in a frenzy if I tried.  I love the whole experience of bread, from the mixing to the turning out of that mess of dough, gathering it in, kneading it and feeling it change under my hands, letting it, and me, rest for a bit while I either take a break or tidy up; then it's back to the dough, slam it down on the table a couple of times, finish the kneading and setting it to rise.  There's something almost sacramental about working with bread dough, each stage is special, punch it down, watch it rise again, and the final baking, the glorious smell, and the absolute joy in taking out beautiful loaves of bread to share with family, and being able to say, "I made that."  Sure, there may be flour on the floor or on my shoes, but that can be swept up, cups and spoons and bowls can be soaked and washed up and put away, and then there's that bread, made by my hands, as other hands have made bread throughout the ages.  I'm part of a great long tradition of bread bakers, and topping it all off are the "mmmmm, that bread is delicious" comments from the people who eat it.  I pray while I'm kneading; I have a whole list of saints to whom I pray, and little prayers of my own that I say towards the end of my kneading.  "Help my bread to rise and nourish the people who eat it" is just one of them.  That pretty much sums up my feelings about bread baking.

cleancarpetman's picture
cleancarpetman

   I worked in fast food restaurants for 18 years and never heard of mise en place.  Consequently, I know panic.  The restaurant business can be a ready or not business.  When the doors open you are ready or not.  I started in a pizza restaurant and learned about yeast and dough and baking pizza.  We rolled our thin crust in a large machine that reminds me of a pasta machine on steroids.  As the dough came out of the machine we "caught it " and pulled and stretched it down a long table.  Before we cut it with rings, like large cookie cutters, we needed to "fluff and flop it" referred to as relaxing the dough.  Similarly, we wait on dough to rise.  I suggest this is best done without constant vigilance like watching a pot waiting for it to boil or paint to dry. Might we take some cues from the dough?
       During the time I worked in pizza I started baking at home, kneading everything by hand, NO HOBART, and I had my fair share of disasters. It was always a five hour slog from first mix to final bake.  I baked out of necessity for a daughter who was lactose intolerant.  At the time most commercial bread had some lactose derivative, casein, et al.  I can't say that it was always enjoyable but at least some of the Zen of Baking came through Edward Espe Brown and the Tassajara Bread book.  
     I took a long hiatus from baking and have recently returned, planning my own wood fired brick oven.  I found inspiration right here on this site and have begun baking again.   Floyd turned me on to potatoes as an ingredient for bread and the rest is history, as they say. I enjoyed both crust and crumb.  Preferments and retarded bulk fermentation have been a quantum leap ahead.  I start in a clean kitchen and I mix a little dough.  I clean up and go about my business.  The clock is my advisor not my dictator, back to feel.  Dough has too many variables to be as precise as a pressure cooker.  I have moved from mess en place toward mise en place but I am not "there" yet.  Its a journey.  Slicing fresh bread in a clean kitchen is a good goal and should put a smile on everybody's face.   Mistakes in baking merely provide raw data for what changes you want to make in the next batch of dough.
      In restaurants we had a few oft used phrases--"If there's time to lean, there's time to clean"  and -- "clean as you go".  This points up the need for a clean and organized space.  I have been known to wash an item several times during the cooking/baking process but you know what?  It was clean everytime I needed it.
       If you keep the place clean it will help the frantic feeling.  If you bake often and stay glued to this site you can't help but improve.  With that competence will come confidence.  Panic may be a part of the learning curve now but when all is said and done, the choice is yours. Keep at it and the flow will come. 


H.

Atropine's picture
Atropine

Let me ask you this:  why do you bake bread?  Is it for the health benefits?  For the "fun" of it?  For the flavor?  To see what sort of seriously complicated techniques you can master?


If it is for fun, flavor, or health, then may I suggest a change in attitude or thought regarding baking?  No, I do not mean you have a BAD attitude!!!  What I mean is that someone who is becoming "task saturated" and has a tendency to be a perfectionist, can become so driven in the process, trying to get the EXACT results right, that they lose the fun in the journey.  They can't "stop and smell the sourdough" because they are uber dedicated to precision, precision, precision.


If something was that serious or intense to me, that would not be worth it to me.  Or to my family.  My family would MUCH rather eat wonderbread if baking real bread made me edgy.  (I DO get single minded of purpose on various things, so they know what that looks like in me.)  My purpose in baking is to see if I could bake our bread (thank the Lord I can), to provide bread with no fake stuff in it, and because homemade bread makes people happy (including me)


I would offer a few thoughts:  if you like your results and you really do not WANT to change, then just make sure that your pace and intensity is neither affecting your family nor your health, and just keep doing what you are doing.


However, I would also humbly offer that perhaps consider relaxing...learn to bake slowly.  As someone wisely said above me "a few minutes here or there is not a problem".   Slow down, enjoy, savor, think, live in the moment.  It is not about the PERFECT loaf of bread, it is about nourishment of body AND soul.  YOUR body and soul as well.


You do not have to measure quickly...the flour is not going anywhere :-).  You can take your time mixing.  Slow down.  You might find that you have LESS of a mess if you work more slowly, deliberately.  I know I do.  I get flour EVERYWHERE if I am in a rush.


Consider sticking with one type of bread until you can master the feel of it, have the recipe memorized, and maybe even xgaspx put the scale away for a bit. 


Make bread baking more like an easter egg hunt instead of a business trip--let precision go by the wayside for a bit and just let the processes reveal what sort of bread they will reveal. 


For example, my VERY BEST BREAD was "discovered" due to a mistake I made reading a recipe.  If I had been super intent, and paying attention, my mistake would never have happened, and I would not have the incredible, "staple of our family" bread, our "blessing bread".


Why stress over shaping?  No one is going to REALLY care if the loaf is slightly wonky...as long as it tastes good!  Proofing is such a matter of choice--apparently, from what I have read, the french think that if you have oven spring, you underproofed your dough.  The artisan movement seems to look at oven spring as a sort of hallmark of good technique.  I frankly look at it like "If it springs, it springs, if it doesn't, it doesn't...as long as it eats well and is not a brick".


You will not be wasting dough or bread.  Not every loaf has to be THE most perfect loaf EVER...it is enough that it is a very pleasant delivery for homemade jam. :)


For practical suggestions, besides slow down, I keep measuring cups in all the major ingredients (flours, sugar, etc).  Even if you are weighing, if you keep the measuring cup in the flour, you do not have to wash it as often.


Take the flours out of the bags, if they are in bags, and put them in some of those rubbermaid kitchen containers.  Likewise any gluten or other messy powder.  Those bags just make a big huge mess when you are trying to work with them.


It is up to you.  It is possible to be a perfectionist and bake good bread, or be more laissez faire and bake the same good bread.  Once you get to the point where you do not make the big newbie mistakes (not knowing if a dough is too stiff, letting it overproof, etc) then you can definitely relax. 


It is what YOU want out of the process.  For me, I want it to be fun, enjoyable.  I baked a ton of bread last week and put it in my freezer (it looked like we all might be getting a bad cold and I wanted to be prepared).  Part of me is kinda disappointed now because I have not had to bake, and I WANT to.


Hope this helps.  To me it sounds like you will burn out before you master what you want to master, though it is impossible to really tell over the internet.  But it seems that you would enjoy it more if you changed your paradigm a bit. :)

Atropine's picture
Atropine

I did want to say one more thing... there is no perfect bread.  There, I said it!


Each person enjoys something different in their bread.  I have not EVER found a rye that I like.  And what I think might taste bland, someone else might think tastes perfect.  I sometimes prefer an assertive sourdough, sometimes a milder one.  You never know what your tastes might be or your audience's tastes might be that day.


As for perfect techniques, etc, I have had bread sing before, and the kids thought it was cool, but then we forgot all about it. 


So if the goal is the perfect bread, and that is what drives you to produce, perhaps consider striving for "REALLY excellent bread that I enjoy making and sharing", because you might make what you think is the perfect bread and bring it to the table and someone will think "This is good, but I preferred the bread he made last week...".


:)

ericb's picture
ericb

Wow, what an abundance of helpful responses! Thank you, everyone!


I guess I could have been exaggerating a tiny bit. Perhaps "Tasmanian Devil" is not how I appear, but how I feel. I was posting mostly to make light of myself, but reading your responses got me thinking...


I am very task oriented, and I do strive for perfection with each task (although I rarely achieve perfection. I blame that on my inaccurate scale). I also bake multiple recipes at a time, because I figure if I have the oven on, I might as well knock out six or seven loaves. This can be problematic when I don't have enough counter space to proof the loaves and I have floured towels all over the kitchen. 


Why do I enjoy baking? That's a good question. Baking has almost become a compulsion. I can't imagine going a week without baking... it has become part of the rhythm of my life, much like cooking. I do enjoy it, despite the stress. I think the best part about baking bread is that, even when I turn out a massive failure of a loaf, my family still gobbles it up. People just love fresh bread.


Anyway, thanks so much for all your responses! They were so much fun to read!


Eric