This morning, I engaged in an activity that I really enjoy. It's something I learned to do in my early twenties, simply by trying and trying again. My first attempt was not so good, but with practice, I became fairly comfortable with the results.
What am I talking about? Baking bread. I am not talking about dumping ingredients into a bread machine and pushing the on button, but the real experience. Using simple flour, yeast, water, sugar and a few other ingredients, I can create something worthy of fresh jam.
There is something so enjoyable, nearly sensual, about the process. There is the scents...that warm yeasty smell that brings a sense of anticipation to the atmosphere. Then there is the fell of the dough. I set a timer, then it is just me and that dough. At first it's a pile of flour that sticks to the board. I sprinkle on more flour, fold the dough in half, then turn it a quarter. This action I repeat over and over again, and slowly, the dough comes together, becoming an elastic, smooth ball. There is such an elemental feeling as you stand there, up to your wrists in warm dough.
Then I put the dough ball in a greased bowl, cover it and step away for an hour.
The time up, I check, and find the ball has doubled in size. Now comes the fun part. I plunge my fist into the warm dough, deflating it. Next comes the shaping... I usually roll it out, and form it into loaves and put them in a loaf pan. This time, however, I tried shaping them into free form loaves...like the kind you get form a bakery. It seemed to go well.
Now, more rising time...that done, the loaves slip into a hot oven. Once baked, you tip it over, and give it a thump, and hope it is done. I rub butter over the crust, to soften and flavor.
Then your kitchen has that warm, grandmother's-kitchen smell. It's heavenly.... I love baking bread!