Homemade Bread and the Writing Process

Bread - finished product - Guenette photo

Homemade bread. Ah . . . the feelings those words evoke – everything from nostalgic images of Little House on the Prairie to mouth-watering memories of Grandma’s kitchen.

Bread Book - Guenette photoI’ve had various flirtations and more than a couple of long-term relationships with homemade bread over the years – all of them satisfying. More years ago than I want to admit, I received a gift copy of a book by Ellen Foscue Johnson entitled: The Garden Way Bread Book: A Baker’s Almanac. What a jewel of a cookbook. The book is sprinkled with black and white line drawings and filled with recipes time tested over the years to a level of perfection. Ellen Foscue Johnson and I have been through a lot!

My latest foray into the bread making world has me thinking about the parallels between making bread from scratch and the writing process.

Line drawing of wheat - Guenette photo

I’ll say from the outset – there is nothing particularly difficult about making bread. No special talent is required beyond patience and a bit of elbow-grease when it comes to kneading. The similarities with the writing process begin when I think of the flow experience I have with each.

Bread sponge - Guenette photo

Between morning tasks of checking out social media, making coffee, starting the wood-burning stove and whatever else needs to be done, I’ll toss two cups of water, two tablespoons of sugar (or other types of sweetness – honey for example) and one tablespoon of yeast into a large bowl.

Sometime later, I’ll add oil, salt and some flour and whip that up for a couple of minutes with my hand-held mix-master. Most of the time, I toss a tea-towel over that sponge and go about other tasks. When I get back to it, I add more flour and knead for ten minutes.

Kneading process - Guenette photo

We tried to get a decent photo of kneading but apparently I was moving too fast. Kneading can be a good work out and gives lots of time for thoughts to wander. I let the dough rise, punch it down, form it into whatever shape takes my fancy and let it rise again. Then it’s into the oven to bake. Easy-peasy as my granddaughters say.

Bread in the pans - Guenette photo

Like bread making, the writing process requires patience and elbow grease. Imagination and fledgling ideas are the writer’s yeast. We sprinkle those ideas out on a warm and receptive surface and let them bubble. Later, we outline and storyboard, do research and take notes – we’re about adding our writing flour. We whip everything together. We wait and we think. Then comes more structure and planning as we work the whole mess into a smooth story – so similar to that neat ball of dough we get after kneading and kneading until we’re sure we can’t push that dough around the floured board for even one more turn. At some point we need to leave the story alone. Let it rise. We punch it down and rework it a few times, forming it as we go. We bake it up with editing and formatting and then we send it out into the world. Hopefully our efforts are met with the joy that accompanies that first bite into a fresh-baked loaf.

Bread - first slice - Guenette photo

If you’re a writer, I suggest you bake some bread. Even if the process doesn’t match what you go through when writing, the results will be mouth-watering enough to make you forget any thorny, little writing problems you might be experiencing. And when the other people in your life take that first bite of hot-out-of-the-oven bread slathered with jam, they will forgive all the times you neglect them to be off in your own writing world.

Here’s the basic, white bread recipe from Johnson’s book – enjoy Smile

Bread Recipe - Guenette photo

(I used a half a cup of mixed, ground sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds in the loaves I baked today. Use any combination of flours you like – add an extra tsp. of yeast if you go heavy on the whole wheat.)

22 comments on “Homemade Bread and the Writing Process

  1. Gallivanta says:

    This made me smile. I had just taken a loaf of bread out of the oven and placed it on the kitchen bench…..then I saw your photo. I don’t write but I do love the bread making process.

  2. smilecalm says:

    wonderful the way bread was made & played
    with love & skill (kneading so fast)
    and the satisfied look on the taste testers lips
    is a most convincing testimonial 🙂

    • Yes indeed – I might draw some interesting correlations between bouts with bread-making and pants fitting – as in – did these pants shrink or is it me? It’s a good thing the taste tester has such an active lifestyle 🙂

  3. My husband is the bread maker in our house. He mixes it and leaves to rise in the bread maker, then just gives it a quick knead and shape, onto a tray and into the oven. He likes to experiment with ingredients and toppings, so we have a cupboard full of different types of bread flower and oats and seeds for toppings.Homemade bread. Wonderful stuff.

    • You bring up one of my favourite things about baking bread – the invitation to experiment with different ingredients – flours, nuts, seeds, fruits and I’d never even considered how one could go wild with toppings! I’ve always been that kind of a cook – a substitute – if I don’t have this, well, I’ll try that. Sometimes it works out fine, sometimes not so fine. But there’s always tomorrows loaf.

  4. Cate Macabe says:

    Great analogy. And how I love warm, fresh-baked bread and butter…

    • Ahhh . . . warm bread and butter and maybe a bit of jam. Many a loaf have disappeared with the words just one more slice echoing in the air. And so it is with a good novel – before you know it, it is over.

  5. Roy McCarthy says:

    Ah, a true author’s observation there! And an accurate one too. Even if not homemade how much better is an artisan loaf to mass produced?

    That said I’ve not bought (or made) a loaf of any sort since last July. It’s on my list of high carb do-not-touches 🙂

    • Though I love the baking process, I must say – bread and I don’t always get along the best when it comes to digestion. I mostly leave the warm bread, butter and jam to others. But the artisan loaves are close to irresistible – we have eaten the most wonderful bread while travelling – olive and herb focaccia, sourdough, whole grains with nuts and seeds and fruit. In moderation – ohh, la, la.

  6. I can relate to your analogies, Fran, as I’m a bread baker and a planner and editor from way back. However, there are writers, like my husband who don’t bother with all that planning, kneading, etc. He just knocks it out and that’s that. I guess he uses the quick bread process. No yeast, no kneading, just throw in some baking powder and/or soda, mix and bake. I guess we all have our individual methods.

    • So true – everyone bakes bread in their own way. We planners have to stick together, though. I may be biased but I can’t help but think, for both writing and bread-baking, it yields the best results at the end of the day.

  7. Behind the Story says:

    What a good comparison, baking and writing!

    I haven’t baked bread for a long time.Years ago, when we lived in the Philippines, the bread we could buy was tasty but plain and white, so I tried my hand at various breads with hearty, healthy ingredients.

    Bread always smells so good when it’s fresh out of the oven.

    • I think the smell of fresh baked bread might be the best part! I remember once, years ago, when some friends were selling their home, the real estate agent had her bake fresh bread every day that someone was coming through. I don’t know if it helped push a sale but her family sure loved the process.

  8. This took me back to my childhood. My mom was a great bread maker. I loved the aroma of freshly baked bread which permeated the whole house. 🙂

  9. Fran,
    Please send some of that delicious bread this way! I believe I can smell it across these many miles!😊

    • I would love to do that, Mark. Maybe we need to form a virtual writer’s group where we all show up somewhere in cyberspace with our work-in-progress and some virtual fresh baked treat. Hands up – who is in?

  10. mmmmm…homemade bread! I love making bread, the house smells soooo good! I also whip up a batch of cinnamon buns while I’m at it! The boot or heel of the bread is my favorite when hot! My mother baked for 7 when I was growing up, my memory is of the chicken’s going crazy for the dough rubbed out of the mixing bowl!

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