Slightly off-topic: National Baking Week and deadlines

I have to thank Sam Leith in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph for a fantastic article that appealed to my breadmaking alter ego.  Apparently this is the first time that a National Baking Week has been run in the UK – it was launched earlier this year, so the motives behind it can’t be too closely connected to the economic tsunami currently wiping thousands off everyone’s savings and pensions.   My only carp is that the initiative does hark on about nostalgia, as you can read in the introduction:

Baking is nostalgia. It gives a warm glow. It makes us think of family times, licking the spoon and making pastry ‘shapes’ to bake alongside tarts, pies or cakes.

That’s fine and well – and I’m a wholehearted supporter of family baking, complete with bowl licking, pink icing and the works – but it’s not nostalgia that I’m after when I bake.   What’s more, I think breadmaking falls into quite a different category.   Rosemary Shrager – the chef who is behind National Baking Week and who memorably starred on TV with her fantastically down-to-earth cooking courses at the unpronounceable Amhuinnsuidhe Castle on Harris [note to self: must break the piggybank and go there!] – does emphasise the relaxing qualities of baking (and she’s obviously thinking of bread) which she ranks as the no.1 reason for donning an apron:

Feeling stressed? Take all of that frustration out by kneading dough. Or just put on some good music and start baking.

However, Sam Leith sums up the pleasures of baking in a nutshell.  Using a Dan Lepard recipe that takes nine and a half hours before the bread even gets near the oven, he writes, “Breadmaking is a contemplative activity. It’s about the process… you are working to the loaf’s own deadline.” Unfortunately, I’ve lent my copy of The Handmade Loaf to a friend, so I can’t check which recipe Leith is referring to – but, for anyone isn’t already familar with Lepard, he’s been at the cutting edge (ha) of the British breadmaking revival and has an excellent website, complete with forum.

But it’s precisely this lack of deadlines that makes breadmaking so appealing:  my deadlines are imposed by others (OK, I accept them, so in a sense they are also self-imposed), but they are usually far too short.  For example, on a Friday afternoon I might receive a phone call offering me a 3000-word translation for Monday – maybe with the words “after lunch will be fine” as a well-meant afterthought.

Leith’s article ends on a lyrical note that I hope will be noticed by the organisers of next year’s National Baking Week:

“The home baker gets from baking what the fisherman gets from fishing, or the monk from meditation. It slows down the mind; it untaxingly but regularly engages the body.  And you do not need a trout rod or a hilltop monastery to do it.  You need only flour and a kitchen table.  And like a long-legged fly upon the stream, your mind moves upon silence.”

No mention of needing an apron here – although I’m not sure about the choice of imagery in the last sentence!  If the mind is a long-legged fly, perhaps the resulting loaf is the brown trout that will rise beautifully for the occasion.

About Lucy Byatt

I'm a translator, from Italian into English. I also teach Italian Renaissance history and write.
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