As long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed making things with my hands. From painting and sculpting to cooking and gardening, I love the thrill of digging in and creating something from scratch.
Last year, inspired by my Aunt Mary Jo’s homemade bread (pictured below with her daughter, Deanna), I started to learn about the bread making process. She bought me a book, “Flour Water Salt Yeast”, by Ken Forkish, which opened me up to the wide world of fermentation, fancy French baking terms, and cool equipment like bannetons and scoring lames. Before I knew it, there was an entire section of my kitchen dedicated to storing my baking equipment and supplies.
When I first started baking bread, the whole process was overwhelming: the precision (I like wiggle room), the chemistry (my worst subject), the time commitment (I’m busy!). But something kept pulling me towards the process and I stuck with it.
Now, I love the process of making bread ALMOST as much as I love eating it. My Saturdays are dedicated to mixing up the preferment (a fermentation process that gives the bread more complex flavor). On Sunday mornings, I mix the final dough, fold it, and shape it for proofing. I love the feeling of the dough in my hands when I form the loaves.
Sunday afternoons are reserved for the actual bake. The smell of freshly baked bread is simply delightful. The deep golden color of the crust is such a satisfying sight. Did you know that bread “sings” when you take it out of the oven to cool? As the steam escapes through the cracks of the crust, it whistles and snaps. When the singing has stopped, I flip it over and give the bottom a “tap tap tap” with my index finger to ensure it’s done.
The whole process is one that I’ve come to deeply enjoy. Bread baking is a mindfulness practice. It helps me to slow down, use all of my senses, and connect to the present moment. Mindfulness can be applied to any aspect of your life; you just need to remember to practice it.
Back when I stated teaching yoga and before I co-founded Unfold, I would have never predicted that I would be writing a blog post about mindful bread baking, but it truly is an extension of my yoga practice.
Baking bread is both a science and an art - much like the practice of yoga. The ingredients need to be carefully measured on a scale, the dough needs a specific amount of time to rise, the oven temperature needs to be just right for the perfect bake.
But with all those controlled variables, there are SO many that are totally out of my control: the humidity in the air, the minerals in the water, the way the yeast is behaving. One way to drive yourself crazy is to try and control everything. When I started to let go a little and trust the feeling of the dough in my hands to assess the moisture content, the smell of the bake to decide when it was done, and most importantly, be fully present with the process … that is when the magic happened!
Yoga is no different. It works best when I can find that delicate balance between effort and ease. Getting my body into a perfectly aligned yoga pose will only take me so far. I need to feel it.
I made a new year’s resolution to give a fresh loaf of bread to people that have impacted my life. Everyone’s face always lights up when I hand over that crusty loaf. My heart fills up with loving-kindness every time. It feels good to share and makes me feel a little more connected.
I love the sensory experience of baking bread. Unfold has started to incorporate sensory based programs into our offerings in like our Sound Meditation Experience, our Tea Tasting + Meditation, and our Mindful Eating Series to help our clients to engage their senses in a more meaningful way.
As I write this, my whole wheat dough is nearing the end of its 4-hour final rise. It has tripled in size - alive with tiny pockets of air and ripe with all sorts of funky fermented goodness! Soon, my whole house will be filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Close your eyes. Can you smell it?
Wishing you happy hearts and full bellies,