There is nothing particularly restful about working in a bakery. At least not where I work, where each day begins promptly at 4AM, unlocking the walk-in freezer and pushing pastry carts with frozen wheels through a narrow corridor teeming with backstocked pallets of wheat berries and rye flour. There is always one moment, right after my alarm goes off, when I stare into the moonlit tree outside my window and try to slow the pace of my uneven heartbeat, still shocked by the unnatural hour of my waking. Why, I think, am I doing this, before slipping on my clogs and doing it anyway.
Each morning is a variation on a theme. Sourdoughs first, then yeasted loaves are mixed, shaped, scored and baked off. Sacks of flour are flung into bins, totes of dough are hauled overhead, and there is nowhere, really, to sit. It is hard, physical labor, and like many other service sector businesses across the country, the bakery is sorely understaffed.
But every morning there is me, and my coworkers -- mostly bushy bearded men, young fathers -- working around a table, making the day’s bread.
There is a funny camaraderie to being awake at that hour. And to the extent that one can be a “morning person” before the sun rises, you’ll find four or so of us there, chatting away, mostly about their kids, or the weather, when we got to sleep last night, and how quickly the dough will rise today. When I first started, I asked if I’d ever really get used to the hours. “No,” they laughed rather bluntly, not even after seven years.
Yet even still, despite the unseemly schedule and all the days that I leave work with flour and sweat stuck to the skin above my mask, I have learned that rest is imbued into everything that we do.
For me, it is in the work itself -- a stage set to the cadent hum of mixers, an uneven heartbeat; the buzzing of each timer, an alarm. There is restfulness in the repetition, and the intimacy of knowing my fingers so well. And there is peace in creating something so whole out of what feels like nothing really at all.
But even more so, rest is a step so essential to bread -- for expansion and strength, malleability and growth -- that it is literally written into every recipe.
Mix water, flour, and yeast. Allow to rest. Fold once. Allow to rest. Shape. Allow to rest. Bake. Allow to rest.
Allow to rest. Allow to rest.