Doug Bruns

On Making Bread

In Life, The Examined Life on June 5, 2019 at 7:01 pm

A recent loaf.

I’ve been making bread, off and on, all my life. I distinctly remember making bread for my grandmother over five decades ago. I can even recall that it was a dark bread and it didn’t rise and she was kind in accepting it, this woman who really knew what baking bread was about. I made bread two days ago. It was a better bread than that I made for my grandmother.

The night before I make bread, I take my sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and feed it. I leave it on the counter overnight and I wake up excited that it is a baking day. Every baking day is a day that holds the opportunity for improvement. Will today’s bread rise better? Will it have a good chewy crust? I’m always experimenting. As with everything in my life, I’m always wondering if it can be better.

I took bread to a dinner recently. I was asked what kind of bread maker I had. I raised my hands, my bread makers. That is the way I like things. Simple.

Recently I’ve taken to folding the dough after kneading. You stretch out the dough and fold it, turn it, fold it again, give it a push or two, then let it rest.

I’m at a place in life recently where it seems I’m sort of folding and pushing, folding and resting. Seeing what happens. Always an experiment. In his great poem, September 1, 1939, Auden has the line: “All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie,” I like to think that I am folding truth. I like to think that my life is rich and full–which it is–and that a simple fold, a little tug here and a little stretch there, then a rest, and the fabric of life, its true essence, will rise a bit, be a bit stronger, a bit richer, and a bit tastier. Always experimenting.

When I get up in the morning, I can sometimes taste the excitement of a new day. Will it rise better? Be tastier? Will life’s true essence be revealed today?

  1. Hi Doug, its good to read your writings again. Hope you are travelling well.
    I love the concept of making bread and avidly read the Tassajara Bread Book.
    Alas, my product is usually of less interest to bread lovers and more interest to Space-X reentry heat shield engineers!

    • So good to hear from you Ian! Trusting that all is well. So I had to go look up the T Bread Book. Great reviews and it seems like something I should own (though the hardback is going for $140 on Amazon!) It took a bit more digging to discover that Brown is a zen priest. Now my starter is really invigorated! Thanks for the tip. I’ll be on the lookout for a copy in the used book stores I frequent. And let me know if you hear back from any of those heat shield engineers. I have a few reentry shield plates I can send them too!

  2. Your beautiful description of finding meaning in life, through the transformative process of bread making, is inspirational. When I was a new mother, I attempted the homey tasks of bread making and preserving jam. My dough didn’t rise, and my fruit floated. Plus, my children were not nearly as well-behaved as I had anticipated before their births. A reasonable solution seemed to be to go to law school. That was marginally more successful. Now, retired and with adult children who managed to thrive in spite of my ineptitude, I have remained distant from bread or jam making. However, I am going to rethink my hesitation. Your delight over a day of bread-making sounds so inviting. In fact, I have been looking for some cooking opportunities to do with my 13 year-old granddaughter. I am going to see how she would feel about getting into bread making with me. She’s a big fan of slime and other kneadable but useless, products. This folding, tugging, and stretching may be good for both of us. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Such a lovely comment, Susan. Thanks for the kind words. But most of all, I’m thrilled that you’re inspired to try cooking–baking bread specifically perhaps–with Jane. Let me know if you proceed with that and how it works out. I tried it with Sullivan and she was into it for a few minutes. But bread making is a slow and patience-requiring process and she’s not so good at either of those things. Plus she’s not so keen on slime.

      And BTW, where would be without those “marginally more successful” life courses? Anything above the center is a success!

      Thanks for touching down here at … the house…

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