Swift sweet slashes across the belly of the swollen loaves and they are prepared for the oven. These small hours are the hours when mundane magic takes place in the kitchen. The alchemy reaches the final stages of transformation from flour and water to hot steaming bread fresh from the oven. The invitation for sliced toast and coffee for every one in the morning when they wake is sure to be met with a smile.
Few foods are as plain and simple as bread. Few fares will readily satisfy an empty belly. Few forms are crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the in. Few friends would resist the arousing aroma from their sleep.
The weighing, multiplying, sifting and shifting from sieve to salt focus me to slow me down. The scales teeter and hover finding just the right balance for each ingredient. My senses are high with the sour leaven I have poured from the jar to the bowl. I slowly, carefully pour the water into the bowl and mix with my hand. It is a long stroke, meticulous and purposeful to combine the leaven, with the water, the water with the flour and the flour with the salt. I leave them to meet each other and mingle in the bowl and to charm the chemical interaction. I have no real wish to understand this mystery. After I have cleared up, about 10 minutes, I pour the dough out onto a surface smeared with olive oil. I gently but firmly knead and stretch the dough – encouraging the alchemy to take place. And so it goes on through the day at various intervals; when risen I knead, when risen I knead, when risen I knead. Then the moment comes for me to divide the dough into loaves. I cut and measure each one into equal proportions. I then shape the loaves and tenderly lay each one onto a tea towel covered in flour and I wrap them up like small infants ready for bed. After about 3 or 4 hours they swell and fill the tea towel, keen to be baked. So I unwrap, lay and slash each loaf on a baking tray and slide them into the oven. After 35 minutes or so the air is thick with the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread.
I will be using the alchemy of bread in the creative being workshops in the future. I want to explore it as a metaphor for becoming – what is it that we can become in any given moment when we apply enough attention, the right presence, the right balance of being and doing. What might we meet in ourselves when we are patient enough to listen to what flickers between moments, when transformational alchemy at a level beyond our reach is possible. I am fascinated by the alchemy of combining a liquid and a powder into a doughy substance that bakes into a crusted soft centred simple loaf of bread. I think much is to be learnt by these everyday transformations that can feed and guide our own.
But what I am most excited about is carrying on the sharing of bread with friends and story. The stories we share over a piece of toast made with love are full of the presence of the bread. It is a small moment, in a shared story, and a slow, simple exchange of love.