Yesterday, I attempted to bake bread at home for the first time. It was 3 p.m. and I was mentally spent from staring at my computer screen for hours on end. I’d been telling myself I’d bake bread since the holiday season started, and I was feeling guilty about putting it off now that it’s the new year.
My goal wasn’t just to bake bread though. My goal was to prove to myself that I could, in fact, bake bread and therefore move one step closer to a sense of self-sufficiency I have been desperately craving.
I already had the recipe pinned and the ingredients in my pantry: organic whole wheat flour, organic all-purpose flour, dry yeast, sugar, salt, and olive oil. I chose the recipe, quite frankly, because it looked easiest and toted itself as the “best bread recipe ever.” It also mentioned it didn’t follow traditional baking methods but that readers shouldn’t question it because it worked every time. The author said she’d successfully baked this recipe in various climates and kitchens. It was a foolproof undertaking, but it was also vague. She suggested using between 5-7 cups of mixed flour and rising for however long it took to double the dough, about a half an hour or so.
I got to work. I set out my ingredients and started to follow the “best bread recipe ever.” At one point, I thought of taking pictures of the process but wanted to stay present and decided I’d do it next time around. After all, the yeasty smell of the dough was so enticing, I was already sure I’d be making this same recipe every single week.
The dough came together quite well, despite my lack of upper body strength in the kneading process. I put the soft ball in a greased bowl and covered it, as directed.
Half an hour passed. Nothing. The recipe said it should be doubled in size by now, but to give it more time if not. After all, it’s less about timing and more about rising. I waited. I checked. I made dinner. I checked. I read a book. I checked. I cleaned the windows. I checked, growing ever more anxious that I’d messed something up or hadn’t kneaded it enough or…the thoughts went on and on until three hours later, I kid you not, the little dough that couldn’t rise began to slowly expand. By this time, my partner had finished work and was upstairs, waiting for the promised fresh baked bread.
“Is it done?” He asked innocently, not knowing how long I’d been waiting for it to rise.
I felt a sense of self-imposed pressure that I found it easier to blame him for. I felt that if this first recipe didn’t work, he (I) would deem it a failure, thus proving, once and for all, that I am a failure too. I am not homestead material.
Another hour passed as we watched Heartland on Netflix. I checked. It hadn’t risen anymore, but the recipe did say that there was a second round of proofing to be done and it was getting late in the day. I decided to take my chances, growing evermore impatient and uncertain this would work out, no matter what I did at this point.
I set the oven to 175 degrees, as directed. I greased my counter and divided the dough in two, as directed. I rolled each into an oblong shape, as directed. The recipe indicated I was supposed to roll the dough until the air bubbles dissipated and that’s when I should have known.
You see, there were no air bubbles. Not even one. And still, I was determined to proceed in hopes that maybe, hopefully, something would happen during the second proofing. I twisted the bread into the “tight cylinder,” enjoying the feeling of working with my hands in a way that wasn’t typing on a keyboard. I pinched and tucked the sides and then decided to go rogue and add some artisanal etches on top.
At this point, my partner was by my side. “They look like croissants. Are we making croissants?” He joked, full-well knowing that we were not making croissants.
“Get out of here,” I said, shooing him to the living room. “It’ll work. I’m sure.” I wasn’t sure. And he could tell. “Babe, I don’t think those are going to do anything but burn.”
Oh the fury of a woman who knows her man is right but can’t admit it. “Do you have to be so negative? I worked really hard on this. And I want it to work.” I started my characteristic worried pacing around the kitchen.
Half an hour passed with me pacing and swooping down to stick my face on the oven window, squinting to see any sign of life in that bread. Nothing.
“Come on, babe. Just bake it. Who cares? Come sit down and relax.”
“I care! I hate failing.” I also hate sounding like an entitled brat, but hey, a writer’s job is
Two more hours passed and the bread didn’t rise at all. We went back and forth saying the same things.
Him: Bake it. Me: We can’t bake it until it doubles. Him: We’ll cut into crackers or something. Me: How dare you. Him: Or bird biscuits. Me: Laughing, just another half an hour more. Him: You’ve been saying “half an hour more” for hours. Me: Just one more try. Him: Are we eating fresh bread tonight or no? Me: Just wait!
I checked again. “Hey! You know what? The funny thing is, it’s actually rising a little now. Like, it’s definitely not going to be a loaf of bread, but more like, a healthy baguette.”
He checked. “Babe, it hasn’t changed.”
Finally, I turned up the heat to the directed 350 degrees and baked it for half an hour. The house began to smell like fresh bread, but that’s the best part.
This is what we ended up with, around 10 p.m. — about seven hours after I had the bright idea to bake bread as a way to unwind.
Him: So…can we eat it now? Or will it be another ‘half an hour?’ Smirks.
In the end, we decided to ditch this recipe and try again. In the midst of all his joking, my partner reminded me that this is a process of learning and really, we’re just beginning. We broke bread together, put out some spreads, and enjoyed it while it was hot.