Updated: May 18, 2020
The recipe calls for mixing the yeast directly into the flour. Mix 1 teaspoon yeast with 4 cups flour, 1 tablespoon of rosemary, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Then add 1 cup water and let rise overnight. It’s a gorgeous recipe—simple, and the few ingredients are decadent enough to create something delicious. I mean, salt and rosemary. There’s no going wrong.
But I just can’t mix the yeast directly into the flour. Years ago, I learned that yeast is alive. This was about the same time that I met my husband, who worked in restaurant kitchens for years as he worked on his engineering degree. The first time I ever baked for him, cake batter somehow ended up on the ceiling, and so he took it on himself to teach me a few basics. The only thing I really remember is the wort—a mixture of warm water, yeast, flour, and sugar that you put together before you make bread. This allows the yeast to get active even before the dough is made.
The yeast is alive, he told me, and likes to eat. So you give it flour and water and sugar and let it have it’s fun for a while. It’s like a yeast party, I told him, one last good time before the great sacrifice to come. And the yeast party is incredibly satisfying. Not long after I mix everything together (with your fingers is best, gently massaging all the separate ingredients into one whole), it begins to grow. Bubbles appear, expanding, sometimes popping, sometimes not. It doubles by the time I’ve measured the flour, the salt, ground the rosemary. It reminds me that it is living.
I place it in a bowl coated with olive oil, flip it to coat the dough. The recipe says to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and, though I normally would use a damp towel, I do. Hours later I wake, as is my habit. My midnight thoughts are not restful (are anyone’s?), and I often wake to the beginnings of a panic attack, the slight rattle when I breathe the physical effect of whatever stressor I was trying to solve in dreams. Tonight my thoughts are today’s numbers: eighty thousand, three hundred thousand, four million. My brain is constantly trying to make sense of the scale of this thing. After a while, I give up hope of returning to sleep and stumble down the stairs to make tea. I turn on the oven light and that small circle illuminates the dough. It is breathing now, the process made evident by the plastic wrap on the bowl: it expands, slowly, and then a bubble pops, and the plastic sinks, and then it begins to expand again. I fill the kettle with water and place it on the burner, standing close to catch it before it begins to whistle. I watch the dough rising and falling, timing my own breath to its cadence, breathing deep as it grows, and then releasing.
How are you, Carly Israel?