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On Baking (Yes, really, stay with me)

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Photo by Jude Infantini on Unsplash

One of my first memories is noodles. Not like the Chinese-take-out ones, more like pasta, but we used to put them in the soup. When I was in preschool, we lived in a city not far from my Dad's parents. My grandfather would pick me up from kindergarten, and I'd stay with them for the afternoon, while my parents were at work or university. My grandmother used to make noodles for Friday's chicken soup. She would make the dough, and then roll it out and cut it into long strips which she hung all over the little fourth-floor apartment. Some were resting on the table, some hung on the back of the chairs, some hanging from the curtains' rods. They had to dry out for a few hours before they went into large plastic containers.

When I was in high-school, we lived in a village that was a two-hour drive from the Kibbutz my grandmother lived in (my grandfather passed away when I was 14). On school holidays, I would take the bus (change buses in Beer-Sheva) and visit my grandmother. She lived in a little bungalow in the "old people section" (the term was probably a bit kinder, but that's what it was). I tried to get her recipes for the cookies she used to bake, for the rolled cocoa-filled cakes, for the noodles.

It was impossible to get the recipes because she didn't have any. She would make the dough based on how many eggs and how much butter she had that week, a relic from caring for a family in the 1940s and 1950s when eggs, butter, and sugar were luxury treats. She would decide what to make based on whether there was fresh milk or something. And her answer to my question "how much flour do you add?" was always "however much the dough takes", which helped me none whatsoever.

When we moved to Canada 15 years ago, we lived in a suburb (don't get me started). There were no bakeries in that suburb, only the one inside the big Loblaw's, making mostly inedible but gorgeous birthday cakes. They had Wonderbread, or bread that had so many seeds it couldn't hold anything in a sandwich. That's it, nothing in between. I started baking Challa, a traditional, semi-sweet egg-bread usually made for Sabbath. I made two every week, and it lasted us for a few days, and then we either didn't have bread or I would make rolls or something to get us to the end of the week.

About five years ago, I started a sourdough starter. It was a fun experiment at the beginning, but I've been baking two sourdough loaves every week since. It usually lasts us for almost a week, so it works out fine. Baking, for me, is several things. It's an essential part of my family's life, as we rarely buy bread, except for fresh (real!) pita bread which is a bit more tricky to prepare because the pocket is finicky.

Baking is also childhood memories. I firmly believe that my personality was shaped during the baking sessions with my grandmother. Working hard, being frugal, baking (i.e., caring) for others, all those values were kneaded into the dough until it was smooth. It's also, still to this day, a kind of magic. You put a bunch of stuff in a bowl, mix and knead, and it becomes something else entirely. It transforms in the oven into a cake, or cookies, or bread, something that can sustain and comfort you.

Baking is a link to my roots. My grandmother's grandparents had a bakery in Lelov in Poland, where she helped out before school, or so she told me. Everything was gone after WWII, obviously, but the love of dough, I suspect, was passed on from my grandmother to us. All my siblings are more than decent bakers, all bake for their families. It's a way of connecting to my siblings—sharing recipes, baking and eating together.

So, yes, I understand that people are now discovering home baking. And it's great, it really is. It's lovely that people are experimenting and keeping themselves busy and finding comfort in carbs. But for dough's sake, don't hog all the flour.


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