My husband and I make all our own bread. (I say we but it is mostly him.) We started making bread about five years ago and have only bought bread occasionally since then. Over the years hubby has perfected his recipe and more importantly his technique. Bread is in fact very easy to make, but it does take time. Just the same as writing a book takes time.
The first part is fairly simple. 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 of sugar is added to 330mls of lukewarm water. Stirring the water dissolves the sugar and salt. Then a teaspoon of dried yeast, or a sachet if that’s how it comes is added to the mixture. Stir to mix in the yeast and then wait while the yeast feeds on the sugar and salt creating a frothy bubbly mixture. There is something magical about watching little bubbles appear from nowhere.
My characters start life as those tiny bubbles. Each one a small nebulous fragment of an idea. A girl washing in a river, or a man running for his life in a winter storm. All clamouring for attention and wanting to be developed into a well-rounded character.
Characters are only developed by hard work and thinking, bread would be nothing without flour. 650gms of strong bread flour, sometimes we add in a proportion of granary bread to add interest. The yeasty water is added gradually and slowly to the flour and mixed together. The dough is then kneaded for about ten minutes. We normally use our Kenwood food mixer for at least some of the kneading. But the final part of the kneading is always done by hand.
At some point during the kneading process the bread dough changes from a sticky substance to a glossy pliable texture. I love this moment because then I know that the bread is going to work. Kneading dough is like a first draft of a novel. Its messy and just plain hard work, but at some point within the draft you realise that the idea, that the tiny bubble you started to develop has enough potential to become a novel. A marvellous magical moment.
Once the kneading is finished and the dough placed in the tin, covered over with a loose plastic bag or shower cap and left to rise. Rising or proving takes time and puts many people off bread making. Once the bread has risen enough it is knocked back, and then left to rise again.
Knocking back, literally knocks the air out of the dough making sure that the texture of the bread is even. This is the process of revising and editing a novel. Taking out the parts that are improbable or unworkable, making sure that the plot and character arcs are evenly developed and both inevitable and unexpected.
The more times the bread is knocked back the better, and the same is true for writing. However, there comes a time when the bread has to be placed in the oven and baked. Or the novel has to be released into the world and the oven that is amazon, kobo and the other ebook marketplaces. Once in the oven, 180 C, there is nothing more that can be done the bread will either cook nicely or it won’t. Opening the oven can cause the bread to collapse and all the hard work to be ruined. Leave it in the oven too long and the bread will be burnt and inedible.
Regardless of how it does in the oven, bread is normally eaten the next day, and then more bread is needed. Sometimes the bread will go wrong and not rise enough or rise enough. The important thing is to keep making bread, not stopping and to keep trying.
Do you agree that bread making is like writing?
This blog post was inspired by AEM who reminded me just how magical making bread is. When you do something everyday its easy to forget how magical it is.