Is bread the better for kneading? So is the heart. Knead it then by spiritual exercises; or God must knead it by afflictions. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare
Mamacita says: My family always knew when I’d had a particularly rough day in the public school; almost the very minute I got home, I would get out the ginorous stainless steel bowl and start throwing flour, yeast, sugar, salt, butter, eggs, and milk in it. Then, I’d set it on the stove top – no burners turned on! – and wait for an hour.
An hour later, the mixture would have risen to the very tippy-top of that huge bowl. Then came the therapy.
I would sprinkle flour over my very scrubbed kitchen table, turn the dough onto it, give it a name, and beat the shit out of it. The angrier I was, the better the bread was.
You see, with yeast bread, you really can’t knead it hard enough. With quick breads, you really don’t want to mix them very much. You can’t make quick bread when you’re angry.
But yeast bread?
I can’t put into words how therapeutic it is to use your hands to hit, hit, hit that pliable lump of dough, knowing in the back of your mind that what you’d really like to be doing is hitting something else, but knowing you’re not the hitting kind, so you make bread and hit, hit, hit it over and over again. Fold it over and use the heels of your hands to push, push, push it into shape. Knead it through four or five songs; sing along if you want. Knead rhythmically. The bread, if it’s made of the right stuff, will respond. Yes, it will change.
Unlike the real target of your anger, the bread will let you bully it into shape.
You can bully that lump of dough into loaves, into rolls, into doughnuts, into fancy star-shaped things of such lightness – because they’ve been properly molded, you see – that they fairly float up to the clouds. You can require that lump of dough to become something people will beg for, request, ask for by name. You can sprinkle sugar on it, melt butter on it, shake some cinnamon over it . . . .
Whatever you do to it, however you shape it, whatever you sprinkle on it, will be wonderful, because before you made it presentable to society, you made bloody sure it was going to behave itself and do what it was supposed to do.
Once the dough has been taught to behave, it can then soar to the clouds. It will then deserve butter, cinnamon, sugar, pecans, whatever you decide to enhance it with. Without that severe kneading, your dough will not respond properly and anything else you do to it will be wasted effort.
Now, don’t get all huffy with me. I’m not advocating hitting. I might, however, be recommending some discipline and some self-control. I might be hinting that nobody deserves anything until it’s rightfully earned. I might be connoting that before anyone gets all fancied up, he/she should be ready to deserve it. I might be outright, downright stating what I’ve outright, downright stated so many times before: nobody deserves anything he/she hasn’t rightfully earned.
Whether that be sugar and cinnamon, butter, toys-when-it’s-not-Christmas, parties, privileges, ice cream, a turn at the playground swings, a promotion, a life outside of a jail cell, a driver’s license, a good job, or a good grade: it doesn’t matter. Earn it or go without.
I’ll say it again: Life is full of choices. Choose to get behind the wheel of a car when you’re in no fit condition, and you’ve also chosen to deny yourself most other privileges you might have had free reign over had you not been such a duck-billed jackass.
Once you’ve whipped your dough into shape, you put it in the oven. Don’t think for a moment that your job is over, because you have to watch over it carefully while it’s in there. Take it out too soon, or leave it in too long, and all you’ve got is a mess. Be vigilant.
And if you do your job, the dough will do its job, and everybody in the world will be better for its existence.
Here’s how to do it:
Step one: have a lot of sex until you get pregnant.
Step One: Get out a ginormous bowl.
Step Two: Put 1/4 cup of yeast and a cup and a half of lukewarm water in the bowl. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar.
Step Three: To this mixture, add six eggs, two sticks of melted butter, four teaspoons of salt, and two cups of milk. Any kind of milk will work, even buttermilk or milk that’s a few days past the freshline.
Step Four: Start dumping flour in the bowl. Begin with four cups, and just go from there. Add flour and blend until you’ve got a bowl full of dough that just feels right.
Step Five: Set the bowl on the back of the stove and go play Facebook Bejeweled for an hour.
Step Six: Poke your finger into the dough. If it leaves a dent that doesn’t fill back up, it’s ready to knead some more. Knead it through three or four more songs.
Step Seven: Start shaping wads of the dough into loaves, and put each in a well-buttered loaf pan.
Step Eight. Roll out a wad of the dough and use your biscuit cutter to make rolls. They won’t look like biscuits after they rise.
Step Nine: If you have any dough left, roll it out thin, spread butter over it, and sprinkle it with sugar and cinnomon. Roll it up. Cut it into medallions, or stuff the intact rolled-up log into a big pan, or shape it like a heart. Use your imagination. Go nuts. Speaking of nuts, you can sprinkle them on your rolled-out dough along with the butter, sugar, and cinnamon if you like nuts.
Step Ten: Let it all rise again for about a half hour.
Step Eleven: Turn your oven on to 375, and put the loaves in. They will need about a half hour. After 30 minutes, just keep checking.
Step Twelve: After all your loaves are baked, turn your oven up a notch to 425. Put your rolls in, and watch them carefully; they need about fifteen minutes.
Step Lucky Thirteen: Last of all, put your rolled-up cinnamon goodies in the oven. They will need about fifteen minutes, also, unless you’ve got a loaf, in which case it will need about a half hour. Be sure your pans are well-buttered, because the sugar will leak out and stick. If you like your buns sticky (heh) put some pancake syrup, honey, and vanilla in the bottom of your pan and set the sliced rolls on top. Watch these even more carefully than you watched the plainer breads.
Step Fourteen: Bag everything up because homemade breads get stale fast. Set some aside for your family, and put the rest in a box. Get in your car with the box and start giving your bread away.
Step Fifteen: Accept the gratitude and praise gracefully. Understand that without all that careful preparation, you would not have delicious and beautiful breads for your family and friends to eat. Realize that everything worth doing requires effort and dedication. Remember that to deserve recognition and praise of any kind, you first have to do something worthy of recognition and praise.
Remember that the lump of dough would be nothing but a grayish inedible smelly lump of ick fit only to bury in the back yard in the dead of night, in shame, if you didn’t do it right. Understand that when you DO do it right, you’ve got wondrous treasure that other people will also recognize and desire.
Then take a good long look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Am I kneading myself properly? Am I kneading my children in such a way that they will know and understand how to do this by themselves when the time comes? Do we do what is right no matter what, or do we settle for what is easy? Am I teaching my children, and myself, to work for what they want, or to go without it?
You’d better be.
Because if you expect things handed to you without effort, and are enabling your children to expect the same entitlements, you’re a bad, bad parent, a bad, bad person.
P.S. That’s a real yeast bread recipe. I’m making some tonight, as a matter of fact, and I feel better already.
And guess who I’m hitting, hitting, hitting, over and over and over again? Yep, you got it.