Well, it’s happened. Two weeks ago I graduated from Yale Divinity School with my Master of Sacred Theology degree with a little more knowledge and a lot more debt, packed all my stuff, and drove south. And now, I’m living into a fine tradition of my millennial, nearly-30, overeducated-but-underemployed cohort: I’m living in my parents’ house, waiting for a job.
I mean, it’s slightly more elegant than that. I’m trained, qualified, and approved to be an ELCA pastor, it’s just that with the way the call process works, I don’t get to be ordained until I receive a call from God through a specific congregation. It’s an idea wrought of beauty and simplicity, which I’d be in a much better position to appreciate were it not also wrought of ever so much waiting.
My parents are very generous, very hospitable people, and are letting me and my large dog sleep on the futon in their home office/guest room for freesies. I’ve done nothing for two weeks except sleep in, binge-watch Doctor Who, and fret over the fact that my health insurance expires in July.
And yes, I’ve started to go a little tiny bit stir-crazy. To the point that I’ve started putting on makeup for grocery store runs, because that represents my most intensive contact with non-familial members of the human race.
Clearly, I need a hobby.
While casting about for just such a thing, I noticed that it’s Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary, and that means that Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations will start reading their way through John 6 on July 26th. That’s right: buckle in, people, because five straight weeks of sermons on the Bread of Life are headed your way.
And I thought: I bet I could learn a lot about bread by July 26th.
And then: I bet there’s probably some good sermon material to be had in that learning process.
If only you had a congregation to preach to, replied some unhelpful bit of my brain.
Well, if you had a congregation, you probably wouldn’t have time to learn about bread for fun, responded another bit.
I really hope you have a congregation before your loan repayment grace period expires, chimed in some obscure lobe.
This is unhelpful. Can we think more about making bread? I silently queried.
Whereupon all thought circuits agreed that, concerns about utility aside, making bread sure did sound like fun.
Next thing, I was on Amazon, looking for a really good book about making bread. Not just recipes, but something that would actually explain why bread happens when you mixed certain ingredients together, and why different kind of bread happened depending on which ingredients they were.
I ended up ordering one called Flour Water Salt Yeast based on a Google search for “best bread books.” The book arrived just a few days later, while my excitement about a new project was peaking, and therefore I was determined to dive in right away.
I flipped open to a random page, my eyes devouring the gorgeous photography of pretty, pretty artisanal bread before taking a look at the recipe. And I thought, “What the hell is this?”
The list of ingredients was in grams.
And there were phrases I didn’t understand. Like: “Bulk fermentation: 12 hours.”
And there was an absurdly small amount of yeast being used.
And there were only four ingredients. Guess which four?
It turns out that the basic premise of Flour Water Salt Yeast was that every recipe in the book is made out of…omigosh, you’ll never guess…. Flour. Water. Salt. And yeast. And in demonstrating the myriad of different ways you can combine and treat these four ingredients, the author, Ken Forkish, endeavors to teach not just how, but also why, bread happens.
Which is exactly what I was looking for, if in maybe just a leeeeeettle more detail than I’d been expecting. So I set about reading the first three chapters of the book, which, as it turned out, was a prerequisite (or at least highly recommended) before making the first recipe.
As I read, it became clear that Ken Forkish does not bake bread the way that I know how to bake bread. My bread-baking know-how involves eyeing ingredients, kneading dough, short rise times, and—my favorite bit—punching down the risen dough in one extremely satisfying poof!
His involves being incredibly exact about everything, from measurements (which accounts for the metric units, though, to be fair, he does include standard measurements in small print) to the temperature of the water, rise times of anywhere from 5 to 14 hours, and never ever raising a violent hand to one’s dough. No poofs!. Just very gentle folding that keeps air pockets in and eeeeeases the gluten into stronger networks, which is what kneading is supposed to do.
It’s actually kind of hard to believe that this approach to bread-making, which is so different from anything I’ve encountered before, is actually going to produce markedly better bread. And according to the book, it takes several tries before you can produce a reasonably good loaf. Even the slightest factor, like the dough being a couple of degrees too warm or too cool when you let it rise, is apparently enough to make a noticeable difference to flavor.
Either someone’s taking the mickey, or there’s a whole new world to bread baking that is mine to discover.
In any case, with all the stir-craziness, it’s nice to have something to actually stir. 🙂