ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

The most important step in bread making: attention

Here's an article I wrote for Mindful magazine's December issue, "rising awareness," on bread making as a meditation. Although i started baking on a whim, it did offer me relief from my daily job in front of a computer and the craft took on a life of its own--something I explore in the piece. Mindful is running a contest with a give away of my book over at their web site.

Here's a brief excerpt and then the full PDF file of the story.

…Something else—something more substantial—happened the more I baked. The work itself wasn’t time consuming. It amounted to five or ten minutes here and there to take the bread to the next stage, whether feeding my sourdough starter bubbling away in a kitchen cabinet, hand mixing the dough, or shaping and baking a loaf in the oven. But because each was a distinct step that had to be car- ried out at precisely the right moment, I had to learn to pay attention to this living, changing, fermenting substance. I began to be guided by my senses rather than my thought process. The intuitive mind that feels and senses began overriding, or directing, the cognitive mind of logic and analysis.

This hit home for me one day as I slid a loaf of sourdough onto the baking stone in the oven, then set the digital timer on my oven. I had made this bread dozens of times, so each stage was familiar. But that day, as I was working in my office, I forgot about the bread and went about my work until a kind of toasty hazelnut aroma brought me to attention. My brain was off running, doing other things, but the smell brought me back, not unlike a bell rung in a meditation session. I stopped, jogged downstairs and arrived in front of the oven, with just a minute left on the timer. I peered inside. The crust was dark, toasted. I grabbed the flat wooden peel (the paddle-like tool that bakers and pizza-makers use), opened the oven door, and slid the loaf off the baking stone. I tapped the bottom and heard a rich, hollow knock. The loaf was done. What had happened?

My sense of smell had, in effect, woken me up and told me the loaf was ready. This wasn’t chance. Not then, not now. No matter how long a loaf takes, smell guides me. Like so much else about baking, your senses—sight, smell, and especially touch—are your most important tools.

A few recent #bread pics plus home smoked salmon

In Search of the Perfect Loaf, in the Media

I've been gratified by the media attention the new book is getting and just want to make note of a few articles and interviews here.

Tim Carman of the Washington Post visited me in my home kitchen while I mixed, shaped and baked some breads and wrote about the process here, which was a bit awkward for me.

“Whenever I bake more than my usual couple of loaves, I really have to focus, because it’s not my usual routine,” Fromartz says. “Just having multiple people in the kitchen was a challenge.”

That awkward, specimen-­under-a-microscope feeling is common among journalists who find themselves on the other side of the reporter’s notebook. But the situation is compounded for Fromartz: As he explains in his brilliant new memoir/breadmaking book, “In Search of the Perfect Loaf” (Viking), “baking was the antithesis of writing, my version of chopping wood, crucial to maintaining my sanity amid the daily pressure of work. Cordoned off from writing, baking offered a brief reprieve, and for many years I sought to keep it that way.”

In some ways this book has thrust me down a new path with my baking, but still, at home, I bake quietly just as I've been doing for years.

The book, though, brought a new depth to the process and I explain some of the themes here on KPBS in San Diego.



In Search of the Perfect Loaf Gets Early Notice

Just under two months away from launch of In Search of the Perfect Loaf, reviews are starting to trickle in. Here's what Library Journal had to say in a starred review (July 1, 2014):

This impressive work falls somewhere between a cookbook, an exploration of bread-baking techniques, and a history of bread. It’s thoroughly researched and engagingly written, and his dedication is inspiring.

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