Baking bread during the final days of Advent

When we wake up, the world is glazed in ice. We aren’t going anywhere for a while.

I call my parents to see whether they still have power, and my father starts talking about baking. It’s a baking kind of day, and he mentions cinnamon rolls.
“You probably don’t have yeast,” he says.
Yet somehow I do, even though I’ve never used it and it expired a few weeks ago.
We hang up, and I go looking for a bread recipe. I find one that seems doable and has good reviews.
My 7-year-old chef joins me, and we start measuring and mixing.
It feels like a bit of a leap of faith. I’m not a precise person, and precision seems to be important for bread making. Even though I try to use the measuring cup lines, we spill. I don’t sift and can’t decide whether I forgot or just don’t want to admit that sifting might matter. Then, because I’m cooking lunch at the same time, we lose track of how much we’ve kneaded. And the principal kneader is extremely enthusiastic, but he is not always the most focused on his kneading.

We are undeterred. Daniel and I keep talking about the bread we are making. And, as we wait twice for it to rise, I have to have faith that something good will come from the process.
When Daniel runs off to play with his brother, I think of how much this baking day is like my Advent journey. I fumble and fall short and take on tasks that require more of me than I may be able to give. But I know what Christmas brings, and I believe that somehow I will be ready.
I have never made bread, and I don’t know whether the dough needs more flour or less. But I have to trust that it will come out of the oven all right.
Suddenly I realize the recipe makes two loaves, not one. So I stretch the second ball of dough into a rectangle, spread a little melted butter on it, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, and roll it into a loaf. My father’s mother, my Grandma Beyer, used to make cinnamon bread, and it was delicious. But I don’t have her recipe. Today I have a memory and a bowl full of cinnamon sugar.

We put the loaves in the oven and wait, wondering whether our experiment will be a success. And when they come out, we marvel at how different they look–and then how good they taste.
We probably could have made better bread, but we made bread. There’s something magical about the fact that we pulled together ingredients we had in the house and produced bread.

This Advent has been full of so many assorted distractions and tasks. There is never enough energy or time. Yet at the end we will reach Christmas. We will celebrate Christ’s birth. Even with my imperfections and stumbling and failings, Christmas will come. And we still have a week to prepare ourselves for the Infant Jesus.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.