Bread is one of those sacred things. You mix some stuff together, leave it alone for a bit, and then poof. Sustenance.
I’m always kind of stressed out when I’m baking. I want to get it right, I don’t want to forget a step, I don’t want to mix too long or let it sit too long, or kill the yeast or spoil it. And god forbid (whenever I cook) I don’t want to make someone sick.
But with bread, I mostly just don’t want to fuck it up.
My dad is the one who makes bread. I eat bread. Challah was always on the verge of being made. My dad can whip up a dough-y, egg-y Challah blindfolded, with one arm tied behind is back. Me? I needed two arms and maybe some verbal affirmations from Kamel all along the way.
I only kind of knew what I was doing from watching my dad make it so many times. But sitting in the kitchen while he mixed and measured, kneeded and let rise, rolled and let rise again, while simultaneously watching whatever movie was on TBS, is not the same as making it by yourself.
I tried to soften the butter. But then I left it in for about 5-10 seconds too long. When I went to pull it out of the microwave a river of melted butter came shooting out of the wax paper the minute I picked it up. It arched in my direction and splattered on the floor until I could crab it with both hands, the butter becoming soup all over my palms. I yelled for Kamel to get me a bowl.
“Hurry!!” I said, “Hurry! Hurry! A bowl!! Any bowl!” This is my impression of the weird oh-my-god-I-have-no-clue-what-to-do dance that Kamel performed for a solid 5 seconds while butter was quickly coating my hands and hardening on the floor and in the microwave:
Until the dough went into its first rise, the kitchen was borderline panic, and complete pandemonium.
At first when I took the dough out, it was too sticky. The directions were vague. “Add in enough floor to make a soft dough.” I didn’t know what this meant at first. I didn’t want to add too much flour and make a hard dough. But not enough made it unworkable.
And then I remembered what my dad always said. “Not until the dough pulls from the sides.” Ok, i thought and I put it back in and added more floor. When it was rolling around the mixing bowl without creating clingy strings to the sides, I knew it was ready.
I love this photo because it’s as if I’m supporting the rump of a small child.
This is the making of bread.
Once the dough was successfully rising, I felt like I could breath. I hadn’t killed the yeast, the kitchen was warm and quiet, everything was as it should be. And the dough doubled in size.
In my grandmother’s kitchen I used to work on dough until it became tough. Rolling it around in my hands, folding it in on itself and then flattening it out again – this was the best part of any baking. The cool, moist, sponge of it. The flour sifter, the elasticity. Like playdough but better. Real.
The first loaf I made was loose. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but I wanted to do it quickly. Quick, fast, before it’s ruined. This was my mantra.
With the second loaf, I took more time. I braided better. It’s a little smaller and more put together. You can tell.
While the loaves rose again, we ate pizza and watched Top Chef.
Egg yoke + water. Paint egg bread yellow.
Worry that you are going to make an omelet on top of your bread. Repeat.
Kamel went away for 7 minutes and when he got back he found me here, in this position.
I rotated the loaves half way through to make sure they cooked evenly.
They are so, so, so beautiful.
We ate so much bread that night, with the pizza and the garlic bread, and the Challah… I literally became a gluten. One big giant gob of gluten. And my tummy got all big with gas. And I was kind of a mess the rest of the evening.
But oh my god, it was so worth it.