Bakers talk about something called “oven spring.” It happens not long after the dough goes into the oven, when the internal temperature of the loaves reaches around one hundred degrees. Jeffrey Hamelman in his book called Bread explains that there is a “rapid increase in yeast fermentation and an increase in enzymatic activity” at this temperature. Basically the starch is swelling and gasses are being produced and all of these things cause the bread to puff up, or “spring.” If no one has ever explained the chemistry of it all, it can appear pretty magical. This week I got to explain the process to a group of kids at our local drop in center for homeless and food insecure youth. While I was teaching them about the bread breaking process, I learned something myself. The kids and the bread dough are a lot alike. They are in a process of transformation. And during times of transformation some patience is required. The hardest part of teaching bread baking classes to kids, compared to teaching kids to make cookies or pancakes or pasta, is the waiting. We had a lot of fun measuring and mixing and kneading. No one had seen a dough whisk before. We learned the right way to measure flour. Kids lined the countertops kneading their bowls of dough. There was laughter and chatter and story sharing. One wants to be a baker. One had a grandma that made cinnamon rolls this way. One asks for an apron to keep the flour off his pants for a job interview. The bowls of dough were lined up and covered and admired by the staff, but then came the hard part. The waiting. Oven spring doesn’t just require a warm oven, it requires dough that has been able to rest and to rise. Kids are like that too. These kids don’t like it when you call them homeless. For them, homelessness is a situation but not an identity. It is something they are going through, but it is not who they are. We teach them to bake because someday they will have homes and kitchens and kids of their own to feed. It just takes a little time. A safe place to rest overnight and the right environment to help them spring. I’m glad to be baking in place where the bread isn’t the only thing rising.
Archives for July 2015
Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It’s all about the memories. -Buddy Valestro
Around here our birthday cakes tend to be a little less fussy than what you can find in a “real” bakery. I’d rather tackle wild yeast than buttercream any day. The cake in the oven today is the fantastically simple strawberry summer cake from Smitten Kitchen. Loaded with fresh strawberries and barley flour, it smells like a strawberry patch in the oven, just as the recipe promises. But it smells like more than that to me. To me, a cake in the oven is the smell of birthdays. And of children’s wishes being made real. When you ask for strawberry cake, you get strawberry cake. There is no greater joy than being the one who gets to bake the cakes of childhood. My mom made one with peaches for my sister and me growing up. My son prefers chocolate cream “birthday pie” instead of cake, with a double thick graham cracker crust and homemade whipped cream. For my daughter it’s an apple cake loaded with cinnamon, although I once sent a carrot cake through airport security when that was what she craved her first year at college. At the drop in center we bake for, there is a monthly party where kids get to pick their own decorations. But it’s not really about the decorations that go on top, or even so much about what flavors the batter on the inside. The essential ingredient for a good birthday cake is love. Thats what makes the memories sweet.