Making Bread: Delighting in Embodiment

It’s Friday morning.

After four days spent bent over a computer, huddled inside to escape the single-digit weather, and cringing through the pain of a stiff neck and shoulders, I feel like a brand new person.

Sure, a chiropractic adjustment last night helped, and so does the sun shining through the window this morning, but the reason I feel so at peace is this: I’m making sourdough bread.

The stores in our freezer have run low, and with our weekly Friday-night bread dinner ahead, it is high time to make two more loaves. But this is no mere practical provision; yes, it gives us food for the table, but the act of making bread is food for my soul.

Bread-making is rhythmic. It cannot be rushed. It requires us to use our bodies in ways our technologically-driven world little calls for, and⁠—frankly⁠—hinders.

As I write this, my dough is in what is called the “autolyse” phase. This allows the flour to moisten and the yeast to begin to interact with the flour and water prior to adding the salt. (I’m no bread scientist⁠—feel free to look up “autolyse” to find more information if you’re curious.) After adding the salt and a bit more water, the stretch and fold window begins. During this two-hour window, I will “stretch and fold” the dough in its proofing bowl four times⁠—once every thirty minutes.

This used to stress me out.

I would read a bread recipe, and all the different actions and times would⁠—rather than instilling me with greater anticipation⁠—leave me more exhausted and less likely to make the bread after all. If that’s you, I understand. I’ve been there. If you have not experienced that before, be aware that it may happen. If you press on, you can⁠—and will⁠—make it through. Like all things, bread-making takes learning and practice. The unfamiliarity can be daunting at first, but as you get used to the stages, the time it takes, and seeing how your dough progresses through the process, it becomes familiar.

Part of you.

Your hands begin to do the tasks without as much intentional thought. When at first you were overthinking everything, instinct begins to grow and take the reins. Instead of being fraught with anxiety and concern, the process becomes filled with delight.

If you have never made bread before, oh, my friend, please do. It is one of the most satisfying experiences on this good earth. As simple and quotidian as the phrase itself, our “daily bread” is far from dull or mundane. The interaction of yeast, flour, water, and salt is purely magnificent. It is (edible) evidence of God’s creativity and goodness.

Not only this, but the process of making it reminds us that we are human. That we inhabit⁠—indeed we are⁠—bodies. As we touch the dough, feeling it squish between our fingers or stretch against the tug of our hands; as we smell the dough: essence of life as yeast feeds on wheat sugars; as we see the transformation of raw ingredients into something altogether different: an outwardly crusty, inwardly moist and spongey mound of mahogany gold⁠—we know that we are alive. Organically, fragilely, and beautifully alive. We are not machines. We are humans⁠—lumps of clay imbued with divine breath: ourselves breathing, dancing, imagining, loving, tasting, wondering, working, playing.

I find that making bread helps me remember this. It is bodily, culinary play.

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