These two loaves will hopefully provide lunches for the first two weeks of school.

These two loaves will hopefully provide lunches for the first two weeks of school.

The kids go back to school this week, which means it’s time for me to get back into my baking routine. Today I baked two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread from the Kripalu Cookbook. We use this recipe a lot at the Homestead, and the bread is a perfect all-purpose loaf. The loaves are cooling in the kitchen now, and the smell of warm bread is making its way throughout the house. I think this aroma is better than any incense.

Making bread is one of those things that intimidates most home cooks, but it is well worth overcoming fear and giving it a try. I think the reputation that bread has for being difficult comes from the bread machine craze. Making bread in a bread machine is tricky and often produces poor results. This is because bread is a work of compromise between the ingredients, the environment, and yourself, and bread machines create the false impression that human interaction with the dough was merely optional.

I am not going to write a full tutorial on bread making here because many before me have done it so well. The best written lesson for the art of making bread that I know of is in the Zen Monastery Cookbook, which taught me that baking bread is not so much about following a recipe as it is about shepherding the yeast through its life cycle and preparing the gluten to properly net the yeasts’ exhaled gases.

There is one thing I can teach you about making bread: you must touch the dough with your hands. Knead it in a stand mixer, by all means (I do most days), but unless you feel the texture of the dough as it forms and again as it rises, you cannot possibly hope for it to turn out well in the end. Some days the dough will need more flour; other days it will need more water. If you feel the dough as it’s kneading, you can tell easily if it is too wet or too dry. The rising time will also vary for each loaf, and the only way to tell it’s done rising is to touch it. The same can be said for baking it: no timer can determine the done-ness of a loaf as well as tapping it can.

Baking bread is not a chore to me. It is a joy and an honor. On days like today I wish I could earn my living baking, if only to spend my days surrounded with this wonderful scent.