Faith

As a baker, I’ve learnt 3 things about life from making bread

by Jeremy Tsang // May 12, 2021, 2:33 pm

3 lessons baking bread

Remember 2020, when all anyone posted on their Instagram stories were photoshoots of their freshly baked loaves?

I was one of them who caught the bread baking bug. And with sourdough starters and bread-makers having become the new normal in homes everywhere, I too have since fallen in love with making bread.

It wasn’t always the case. While I’ve always liked baking — because I have a sweet tooth (it’s a problem) — bread always just seemed like too much work.

And boy, was I right. I’ve found it to be a labour of love.

When you’re walking down the kitchen aisle with your bread baby dressed in white (tracing paper), you know you’d do it all over again.

Yet, baking bread has definitely got its own charm. There’s something so satisfying about bringing up a young supple ball of intricately woven gluten strands, from a simple mixture of flour, water and yeast — it’s like making something out of nothing.

Yes, it makes a right mess of the house, but when you’re walking down the kitchen aisle with your bread baby dressed in white (tracing paper), you know you’d do it all over again.

Ok, enough of the bread talk (pun unintended). I don’t claim to be an artisan anyway — a Phoon Huat member is as close as it gets — but learning to enjoy baking bread has taught me a couple things. Here are three of them.

1. WAITING IS PART OF THE PROCESS

Life really does slow down when you’re baking bread. Of the time you spend baking bread, more than half of it is probably waiting for the dough to rise. 

There’s simply no way to rush yeast. You can give them the best conditions, a warm, moist and draft-free environment, but they have a mind of their own.

Most recipes call for the dough to rise twice, and depending on the recipe, you may have to wait an hour, a day or even a few days.

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You might find yourself hovering over your sleeping dough, and you might be tempted to just throw that thing in the oven already.

But all you can do, really, is wait.

You’ve extracted yourself from the human concept of time, and now exist on the timeline of a curious little microorganism. 

For someone who likes to watch Netflix on no less than 2x speed, waiting doesn’t come easy to me.

I used to wish I could go through life on 2x speed too, so I could skip the boring parts and get to the part where I get to live out my life goals.

I remember being so frustrated thinking about how I’d still be an orientating freshman while my friends from school who weren’t conscripted would be more than halfway through university.

My life could have been fast forwarded two years!

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It’s easy to try to run ahead of God in our eagerness and ambition, but I’ve since been made aware of my own folly in trying to do so.

When I allow myself to be caught up in my own plans and projections, I forget to leave room for God’s bigger and better plan. 

I’ve discovered that busying myself always crowds out the still small voice of God. It is in the stillness of waiting that God speaks loudest. 

Waiting, to me, is a lesson in trust.

While I learn to wait on God’s perfect will in His perfect time, I take comfort in how God has already said that He makes everything beautiful in His time

2. KNEADING IS PART OF THE PROCESS

A big part of the fun in baking bread is in the kneading of the dough. At first, I was hesitant to hand-knead bread because it felt so strange. 

Along the way, I discovered folds like the envelope fold, the gather up fold, and techniques like the windowpane test to check for gluten formation.

I also found out how to shape cinnamon rolls and braid babkas! Unlike machine kneading, kneading by hand allows you to feel the firmness and hydration of the dough that are crucial to the eventual outcome. 

Kneading is an essential process to making good bread.

It takes a lot of stretching, folding and testing to turn a wet and shapeless mixture into into a complex matrix of gluten strands.

In the windowpane test I mentioned earlier, bakers check for gluten development by stretching a small piece of the dough between both hands till it forms a thin membrane that should let light pass through.

If the dough tears before the membrane can be formed, that means that more kneading needs to be done because the gluten isn’t adequately developed which will stop the dough from rising.

God stretches and tests, but also strengthens and perfects.

Isn’t it funny that it is this rigorous process that makes bread fluffy and pillowy? Isn’t it even funnier that the same applies to our Christian walk?

Like a baker that kneads, God often seems to be stretching us too, sometimes even till our breaking point. Yet, it is this process, like kneading dough, that stretches and tests, but also strengthens and perfects.

It is this process of sanctification that takes our formless faith and turns it into something ready for every good work.

We can take heart in the kneading, because we know that God is doing a new work in us as we yield to His almighty hands. 

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

3. SHARING IS PART OF THE PROCESS

How quickly a loaf of bread disappears never fails to amaze me. Was it really worth it to spend all that time and effort on bread that was gobbled up within a few hours?

And yet, I’ve come to see that the biggest joy in baking is watching others share what you have made and be merry as they eat it.

When friends find out that I, 21-year-old male, like baking bread, they are usually pleasantly surprised.

Thankfully, that surprise is usually enough for them to see past a loaf of bread that may not be the most technically perfect. 

After all, imperfect bread, shared, is infinitely more rewarding than eating perfect bread alone! We’re called to love people, not things anyway. 

That was how it was with the early Church in Acts, who displayed the height of our Christian understanding of fellowship and community, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship — and to the breaking of bread

Bread’s better when it’s shared!

In the end, baking bread really is a rigorous art. Like any art, however, bread never really satisfies.

Good thing we can take inspiration from Jesus, the Bread of Life Himself, who has told us: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27).

So while us aspiring bakers keep at it, remember to take delight, in the waiting, in the kneading and in the sharing too!

THINK + TALK

  1. Waiting. Kneading. Sharing. Which of these three stood out most to you in the article? Why?
  2. What are some ways God is stretching and testing you in your current season in life?
  3. Who is someone who could use some Living Bread? Pray, then bake up a plan to share God’s love and message with this person today.
About the author

Jeremy Tsang

Jeremy is usually referred to by his last name, but responds to both 'Jeremy' and 'Tsang'. He is an ice cream enthusiast, known by his friends as having the mental age of 40, and by his neighbours as a shower singer.