I’ve never baked a thing in my life, until yesterday. In my mind, baking was this unattainable goal reserved for those people in the culinary space who were established chefs and bakers extraordinaire. Why would I want to challenge that status quo?
And then, yesterday happened. You may be wondering why yesterday was different and it’s actually a bit of a hilarious story.
My husband and teen daughter woke up and started talking about the world-famous Einstein Bros’ Bagels. The man had lived in the US and one of his standard breakfast items used to be bagels and cream cheese.
On our own trips to the US (once in 2010 and again in 2019), my daughter enjoyed bagels so much that she’d have them regularly.
Memories are strange things- they can trigger cravings in ways that you don’t anticipate. All of a sudden, both of them wanted to eat bagels right away! So they started scouring all the food and grocery delivery apps in the city in search of a place that could deliver them home. Given that we’re currently in total lockdown in our city, stepping out to pick up baked goods to satisfy a craving is out of the question.
After about 30 minutes, they discovered that the only place that could deliver them home had a wait time of 10 days. So we booked the order and settled down to wait.
Or so I thought.
A few hours later, I walked into the kitchen to see the two of them mixing wheat flour and salt in a bowl. Turns out they were trying to make bagels from scratch, with nothing but gut feeling and a craving to help them out!
I must confess that I totally lost it at this point and just glared at them both, asking them to get out of the kitchen while I could salvage what was left of the flour and perhaps turn it into something more workable.
Standing there, hands on my hips, as I surveyed the disaster zone, it struck me that there was an opportunity to try something new. What’s the worst that could happen?
Lesson 1: Life gives you chances; learn to watch out for them.
One of the biggest reasons I’d stayed away from baking was the sheer dread I’d felt towards the process. People in my family (read, my mom and sister) are both accomplished bakers and I’d been content with wolfing down whatever they created and placed before me.
I’ve never owned an oven. The one I have at the moment is a microwave oven with a convection feature, but I’ve never felt comfortable baking in it. A part of me always imagines putting the wrong vessel in and not checking the setting and watching the vessel explode or melt into a sticky mess. (You can tell that I have an overactive imagination).
But yesterday, something nudged me forward. It was the intrepid explorer seated deep in my brain that whispered, ‘Hey, here’s a chance. Let’s play with it. What do you say?’
So, quite literally, I rolled up my sleeves, planted my feet on the ground and grabbed the mixing bowls. It was time to play with flour, salt, yeast, and water and see where this would take us.
Lesson 2: If you approach anything with a sense of play, it becomes way more enjoyable.
Tweak & Iterate
I’m a person who follows a recipe when it comes to making anything for the first time. With baking, though, I was in a bit of a bind. Where could I go looking for the best recipe to make bagels from scratch?
My mind had already decided that I’d turn the flour into bread instead, so I started hunting for recipes online that would help me turn the sticky mess before me into something more edible.
That hunt landed me on this recipe and as I watched the video, it didn’t seem too hard. I had all the ingredients, fortunately, so it seemed reasonably doable. Moving through each step was comfortable and before I knew it, the dough was stretched, folded, patted, pounded and placed under cling wrap for it to rest.
After I’d reached the part where I had to let the dough rise for a couple of hours, my mind started working again. What if I could actually turn this into a set of bagels? Was I too far gone in the baking process to change things mid-way?
I switched over to this recipe and started comparing notes. Okay, perfect. Now all I had to do was shape the dough into the bagel form and follow those steps. So that’s what I did.
After the dough was ready to be baked, my mind still balked at the idea of placing it in the convection oven, so I went hunting for a third recipe: How to make bagels in an air fryer.
Lesson 3: Experimenting will help you step out of your limited mindset
The Flow State
Probably the most enjoyable part of the entire baking experiment was how I totally lost myself in it. Plus, let’s not forget the aroma of baking that fills the kitchen, but I digress.
As I settled down to mix the dough and then knead it with both hands, stretching, pulling, folding and tucking it, it was the happiest I’d been in a long time, apart from my daily writing practice.
Nothing had given me this sense of absolute joy, where I completely let go of all my anxiety, my stress, my worries about the future. Every cell of my being was occupied with ensuring that the dough was just right for the baking process.
When you bake, you bring all your senses into the process. You use both hands to knead the dough; you use your sense of smell to check if the baking is moving along at the right pace; you watch carefully to see if the baked item is cooking right.
In those moments, I didn’t worry about missed notifications on social media, emails waiting in my inbox or all the pending items on my to-do list. It was just me and my baking and nothing could come between us.
Lesson 4: When you get into a flow state, nothing can distract you from it.
Baking is the one aspect of cooking that teaches you a truckload of patience. From waiting for the dough to rise to letting it rest and then actually baking it, the process can take anywhere from a couple of hours to half a day.
It’s an important reminder that all good things take time.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
When we rush things, we expect and anticipate that things will just happen. That’s also partly due to the culture of instant gratification that we’re all being subjected to, day in and day out.
But baking humbles you. It teaches you that all things take time and the best lessons come from the moments that truly allow us to grow into them, learn from them and evolve with them as we mature.
And, sometimes, those lessons can result in an absolutely delicious end product. Like a bagel.