Editor’s Note: If you missed our new weekend diversion, Breadder Burque, here’s Chapter One. We’ll be back to all things non-motorized roadway transportation in ABQ next week. Enjoy the following and happy weekend.
by Emily Esterson
I follow a few bread blogs, and one thing I’ve noticed about bread bakers—at least amateur bakers—is that they tend to be science- or math-minded, or people with precise personalities. I am not totally sure I fit this description, and while having my recent career crisis I’ve often wondered if I have a “baker’s personality.” What is that? What do bakers like to do? Are they extroverts or introverts? Where do they fall on the Myers Briggs?
In my work life I’m currently in a business coaching program, and a few months back we all took a personality test meant to highlight our leadership styles and triggers. My results surprised me: I’ve always thought of myself as a “creative”—I’m a writer, editor, creative director of my company—but in fact I’m a “guardian/nurturer.”
From the baking viewpoint this makes sense: The guardian likes:
- Step-wise progress;
- To think everything through before starting on a project;
- To adhere to deadlines; and,
The nurturer likes, well, nurturing, and the act of giving someone a loaf of bread feels like the ultimate nurturing act. Lately I’ve given the fruits of my labors to close friends and new neighbors, to my husband, of course, who never notices if the crumb is too tight, or the bottom soggy, or if there is too much salt.
Listen, I make so many baking mistakes. I measure an 1/8 ounce of yeast instead of an 1/8 of a teaspoon. I forget to read the instructions carefully, so I bulk ferment in the fridge instead of at room temperature. I mix the olives into the dough at the wrong stage of mixing, so I end up with a beat-up-purple-olive mash instead of nicely incorporated slices of Kalamata goodness sprinkled throughout.
As a young girl, my father helped with my math homework, and I was pretty useless at it. He was impatient with me, because I never remembered to carry the one or move the decimal point. I was not careful enough for math. And baking is math. A fair amount of math. I have a journal in which I’ve recorded some standard calculations, but the my phone-cum-calculator has streaks of flour fingerprints from my frantic fraction calculations.
On the one hand, I love process and how it leads, if followed carefully, to excellence. On the other, I never follow process exactly. But I’ve also learned that within process there’s forgiveness (my father might disagree). The bulk fermented dough that spent too long in the fridge still had some nice oven spring. The over-yeasted dough didn’t seem to mind. The olive bread, well, that one needs a second try.
With almost every loaf these days, there’s always one thing I did wrong, and it always shows. Because while bread dough is forgiving, it also doesn’t lie. If I didn’t shape and seal correctly, the scoring doesn’t work and the bread bursts out in the wrong place. I get no “ears” (for the uninitiated, those are the crusty flaps that give bread its character and allow the yeast to rise and expand in the oven. They are made with a special blade called a lame).
When the Navajo weave rugs, they leave a rough border around the edge, known as a “spirit pathway.” The pathway allows the weaver’s soul, which is incorporated into each stitch, to exit the rug. This is how I feel about my imperfect loaves—the olive bread exploded from the bottom, leaving a cloggy, splodgy crumb (okay, we ate it anyway, but it wasn’t good enough to gift to others). My soul must have needed a big escape path that day. it’s often as simple as poor planning, poor timing, or just a lack of attention, but my soul is in that bread, however imperfect.