Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Challah back, ya'll.

For the past week, I have been physically unable to stop baking. Every new day sees a pie, a loaf of specialty bread, cookies, pastry, or some other variation on something else that has to be put in the oven for a specific amount of time.

Perhaps it's because I need to forget. I need to forget Paris. I need to forget how many times my heart has been broken. My time in the kitchen has turned into entire days. Sometimes I feel as though the only place I really belong is in the kitchen. I understand the kitchen, and it understands me. Even if i don't eat what I make (I usually don't), it's my time to meditate. It's like a cathedral. I don't speak. I don't sing. I don't dance. I just listen. I listen to the sizzle on the stove. I listen to my Kitchen-Aid whirring as the dough hook pulls the mound of flour, eggs, salt, and yeast into something that will make my house smell more and more like a home.

I usually cook all the time when I come home from one of my adventures. But baking, that's a different animal. When you bake, you have to hyperfocus. It is impossible for one to think about anything else when they are baking. You have to count the ounces of flour in the bread. you have to count the minutes you knead it. Sometimes you have to count the revolutions the bread makes around the mixer. You have to count the hours for rising and pay strict attention to the temperature where it is rising. Baking requires - no, demands - your full attention. Perhaps that's why I have been baking nonstop since I came home from Paris a week ago. I cannot think about Paris while I am baking.

And yet, all I think about while I'm baking is Paris. I think about the way the boulangerie smells at 4am under my 6th floor window. I think about the unhappy woman behind the counter at Boulangerie Caulaincourt with her automatic "Madame, bonjour!" before she takes my order for a demi-baguette, a croissant, and a pain au chocolat. I think about eating sugar covered profiteroles with Guillaume under a clear August sky, dipping them into my chocolat chaud. I have Proustian memories of Parisian boulangeries.

I have found myself making challah a few times this week. Challah is the braided Jewish bread traditionally found on Shabbat supper tables. I have to admit, I have been to more than a few Shabbat dinners in my short life, and the challah has always held a certain symbolism for me. The challah is only cut after the blessing is said (Baruch, ata adoni...etc, I won't pretend to know the whole thing). It is a kind of brioche without all the sugar. Instead, a tablespoon of honey is added. Of course, I speak of a Jewish bread in French terms. How very ethnocentric of me. They are beautiful though, and the dough is soft enough to sleep on and smells yeasty and fresh when it rises.

I also made a cinnamon raisin loaf this morning. I don't know what it looks like on the inside, or what it tastes like, for that matter. I should have made two. The cinnamon raisin bread and one of the challahs are gifts for friends tomorrow. I hope they eat them with Thanksgiving dinner. I hope they are worthy of sitting next to a stuffed turkey and a happy family around the table.

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