I am a self-taught home cook, and I used to believe that if I can teach myself to cook, then baking would be something that I can swing just as easily. So when I was invited to join a baking class one Saturday at the Center for Culinary Arts Manila (CCA), I immediately grabbed the opportunity to try and test my baking hypothesis. The class was about baking breads--rolls and loaves to be exact--and it was part of CCA’s Fundamentals in Baking & Pastry Arts Course (FBPAC). As the day progressed and with one of CCA’s seasoned instructors, Chef Ann Atenacio at the helm of the class, I soon found myself learning the science and the art of baking. Just a few minutes into the lecture, I soon discover that baking is a league of its own with this added perk: life reflections. It sounds so much like a cliché, I know, but when you’re kneading bread, and it feels like it’s going on forever, your mind wanders and somehow finds itself in introspection. I had shared my thoughts to one of my best friends, and she pointed out how it sounded like commandments for the journey that is parenthood.
The word “commandment” comes with too much pressure though. I’d rather think of the following as ingredients that I’ve witnessed in my profession and among many of my friends who go through the daily parenting grind of tears, laughter, and so much love. There may not be a parenting manual, but there are surely a few guiding lights.
Like in life and parenting, baking bread…
…requires a keen eye and a steady handâ€¨ Unlike cooking where we basically “eyeball” everything to taste, baking requires precision. This is especially true for baking bread. You need to treat each component with a gentle yet confident hand. In baking and in life, results are born out of being faithful to your goals, paying attention to the needs of your family, and a well-placed confidence in what you are doing to meet them.
…teaches you about the importance of being earnest. Chef Atenacio stressed that there is no room for shortcuts in bread making. You cannot just tweak the ingredients at whim or add a little extra late into the process thinking it will yield the same results. So you see, although “shortcuts” make life easier as a parent, mindfulness and foresight are more likely to yield better results than decisions and demands made impulsively.
…teaches you about relationships. Yeast, if you ask me, is like the soul of the bread--it is what gives bread “life.” As you knead the bread, you are distributing the yeast evenly into the dough, and yeast together with the flour and water, start the process of fermentation, an essential process that lend character and flavor to the bread.
Aside from making the bread rise, yeast also strengthens the bread dough because as you mix the flour and the water together, gluten is produced that now gives structure to the bread. When you are proofing your dough (rising), you are strengthening the gluten structures in your bread. Too weak, the bread will lack volume. Too strong, the bread becomes dense.
It’s pretty much like relationships--you need to go through a process of being before you enter a season of becoming. You mix in the key ingredients that you think will make your children come out as decent human beings--value systems that champions faith, honesty, kindness and compassion, a lot of love (both the soft and tough one)--hoping that as you “knead,” you are forming a masterpiece that speaks substance and character.
…reminds you that great things come to people who wait. As Chef Ann and the whole class went through the whole baking process, from scaling the ingredients, mixing, fermenting, folding, portioning, proofing, baking and cooling down of the finished product, it’s easy to understand why baking takes a lot of time and requires patience. Each stage has a waiting phase, some short, some as long as an hour or so. When we finally had all the baked breads on the cooling racks, I felt proud of my two accomplishments: I had the tenacity to pursue something that I was unfamiliar with and I had the serenity to wait for the right timing for things to turn out the way it should.
In life, I guess these two qualities are musts when you want to succeed in what you do--your career, your relationships, and your family life.
…shows you the meaning of balance. One of the most challenging tasks in bread baking for me is mixing. The goal is to knead all the ingredients to make uniform, cohesive, smooth dough. To do this, I learned from Chef Ann you need to be confident, not heavy-handed, with your strokes. You cannot be too “angry” because the yeast will also fight back. As I rounded and shaped the dough, one thing came to mind--the key really to anything is balance. In disciplining our kids, we need to be firm with our decisions yet it needs to be carried out with love in mind. Like in life, you need to be sure with what you want yet you also need to be flexible when life deals you a different card. Learning how to bake bread was indeed something that taught me more than I set out to accomplish in a day. So if you are looking for a way to spend a meaningful weekend, I suggest that you try out this activity. The school takes care of the bread, and you take care of finding meaning into doing and becoming.
Mae Raguindin Rafanan's first love is counseling but considers teaching and mentoring young minds her true love. For the last 15 years, she has been living out her passion at her alma mater, St Scholastica's College Manila, where she is currently the associate dean of Student Affairs and a professor at the Psychology and Counseling Department. For inquiries on its diploma or short courses, call CCA Manila at (+632) 218-8566, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. CCA, Manila campus is located at 287 Katipunan Ave., Loyola Heights, QC. Application is ongoing.