I have a love affair with bread, it’s definitely a weird one but I realized this last weekend how universal this weird passion for people is. I can talk comics to my partner for hours , genuinely see the nerd in him come out when he gets talking about story arcs and the value attached to these books. He took a full 20 minutes to explain to me what a variant cover was and why they are rare. It’s like Easter eggs in your favorite Disney film, coming back to them years later and finally getting the subtle joke. We either love it or have become more confident in ourselves to say how much we hate it.
We went to friends for lunch and my friend’s dad popped by to pick up something left. He sees me and gets very excited as he knows about my bakery and knows I make sourdough. We chatted like old friends about the types of flour we use and the beautiful places they come from. We chatted about hydration and crumb and how there’s nothing more satisfying than having a bread work after you thought it had flopped. I brought bread from the bakery as a gift and my friend insisted we all eat it with lashings of butter. He is a 60 something little Slovak man and struggles to sometimes find the English word he’s looking for to describe what he’s saying but we both speak bread so I knew exactly what he’s trying to say. This man was like a ray of sunlight with his enthusiasm and it really put a brightness in my day.
I had had to try and manually get out of my gate with loadshedding that morning to get to a cold and dark shop. Boil water so I could make dough for the day, then proceeded to knead and mix my doughs, in the dark, on a very cold Sunday morning. It was super bleak. My hands hurt from rolling dough the day before, so not only was I miserable, I was in a lot of pain. In those hours you really don’t think what you do is magical.
This bright gap in my day fashioned by a magical human really picked up my week. I’ve been questioning more and more what I do as I’ve been incredibly depressed. I still have a lot of pain from my surgeries and now with winter my old injuries are starting to surface. Add loadshedding, cash flow issues after the renovations and you’ve got a very dreary trifecta. I haven’t quite been able to find someone that I can train to make my bread so I have been making all the bread for the store, so no days off. I know I know, “that’s what owning your own business is” blah blah blah. I’m close to burnout but it’s such a tricky situation because why would I hand over the reigns to someone that doesn’t feel like I do about bread. I’m not sure I’ll ever find that person. Owning your own business is tough, but if I didn’t love my bread this much I really don’t think it would taste the same.
We have a rule in the kitchen that you’re not allowed to bake if you’re upset. All of that energy goes straight into the cake and you will taste it. Or your entire cake will flop. I burnt an entire bread order one day because I was dealing with a problem that I didn’t have the capacity to deal with. I was exhausted and it pushed me right over the edge. Sadly, there’s no space to feel in a kitchen. When the pressure is mounting and you have ten or so deadlines per day there isn’t time for a cry or a moan. You’re there to work and get your orders done.
But I love baking when I’m upset. It switches off all the anxiety from the day and I can forget about it while I do something that involves me fully. My world consists of simple things I can control. Ingredients, method, skills and chemistry all working together to provide something beautiful in its simplicity. A sponge cake bouncing back when you press it, a cookie rising and falling in the oven to get a perfect chewy bite. The smell of cloves and burnt butter. It’s a sanctuary. My senses feel at peace. More and more people are admitting to how sensory they are and we’re only now starting to accept that some people cannot deal with all of it all the time. We put in our headphones, we look for quiet spaces, we try and dissociate in whatever way we can because sometimes the world is just too noisy.
My go to bake when the world is too much are these fabulous chocolate chunk cookies. This recipe has been rewritten so many times just to get the consistency right and balance of it right. Some might laugh because it’s just a cookie, how hard can that be? I have struggled to find anyone that can make these like me. If your butter isn’t creamed to the right level, your flour is not absorbed correctly, which makes your dough dry, which makes the cookie tough. If your butter is too cold or your sugar too fine, the dough doesn’t cream. On and on it goes. If there was ever a recipe to describe how I bake it would be this one. The level of Obsessive Compulsion that this requires, the fact that it’s just a part of my make up is so perfectly matched. I’m not an easy person to work with as I like things just so, things must be clean and packed away where they are supposed to go. I’m certain my level of perfection drives many people away that I train, I know people find it hard to work with me. Instead of seeing this as something I have to fix, I’m going to look for those that see it for what it really is. My utter passion for what I do. Yes its soppy, but my love for this side of me will never waiver. If I stop loving what I’ll do, I’ll quit. I wouldn’t feel like I’m doing the profession any justice if I wasn’t all in.
Chocolate Chunk Cookie Recipe
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbl golden syrup
2 free range eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp bicarb
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chunks (use Bournville, cut into big pieces)
Cream soft butter, sugars and syrup until light and fluffy
Add eggs and vanilla
Add sifted dry ingredients and mix until just together
fold in chocolate chunks, roll into balls and bake at 180C for 10 min (should make 24)
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