Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Let's Bake A Book

Kait Nolan, awesome cook and up and coming writer, guest blogs.

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to talk about baking bread in the conventional way rather than using the revolutionary (and well worth it) method put forth by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois in Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day, which does away with time consuming steps like proofing yeast and kneading. If you love fresh baked bread, try their method. It will be the best bread you ever put into your mouth. End foodie fangirl plug.

On to the meat…or crumb of the post (did you know the soft part inside a loaf of bread is referred to as the crumb? There’s your foodie fact for the day).

Writing a book is like baking bread. At least that’s what I told CJ, and she thought it was a cool idea for a post. I’m not sure I had any idea exactly how writing a book is like baking bread that day. Mostly I was focused on the super awesome loaf of French bread I’d just pulled out of the oven and had bread on the brain. However, on further consideration, I stand by my off the cuff statement.

Let’s review the basic steps of baking a loaf of bread.

1. You add your packet of yeast to the requisite amount of warm water, along with some form of sugar (could be granulated, could be a natural sugar like honey). Then you wait for the yeast to “proof”. Basically, this is waiting 10-15 minutes for the yeast to activate and get kind of foamy and the mixture to get cloudy.

This step is analogous to the initial inspiration for a book. We’ll call your brain the water, your natural creativity the yeast, and whatever the random thing is that’s inspired you is the sugar. In most cases you need a little time to process that inspiration and for ideas to generate and arrange themselves in your head before you start writing. Kind of like how you see, for example, an episode of Deadliest Warrior and think that someone should really write a time travel romance about how a Spartan travels through time to the modern world (which they totally should). You’d need a little time to process what the implications would be and how that would work (whether you are a pantser or plotter).

2. Next, in a separate bowl, you mix your dry ingredients—typically flours of one ilk or other, possibly wheat gluten if you’re making whole wheat bread, etc. Mix well. You will also be adding any additional wet ingredients to the water/yeast/sugar mixture—possibly oil, eggs, etc. Whatever your recipe calls for.

I’m going to compare this to whatever prep work you do before you write. Maybe you do character interviews or character sketches. Maybe you outline. Maybe you just map out the basic story structure. If you don’t do any prep work before you write, then you’re probably making quick bread and this analogy may not apply to you. Just go with it.

3. Next, you mix the wet with the dry and stir until well incorporated. Then you dump it out on a lightly floured surface and you knead it for some period of time. The point of kneading is to develop the gluten that holds the bread together. You know how if you pull on dough it’s kind of got that stringy looking thing going on? That’s gluten.

So clearly this part is the writing of the book. You’re working on all the elements that hold a plot together. Character arc. Goals. Stakes. Conflict. Turning points. Motivation. All of these things (and more) go into a plot that will stand up to cutting once it’s baked.

4. Once you’ve finished kneading, you set the dough aside, covered with a damp cloth, to rise.

I think this clearly compares to the resting period between finishing a first draft and revisions. Whenever I finish my first pass at a WIP, I have to set it aside for some period of time (usually a week) to let things rest and allow my brain to shift over from writing to revising mode. It’s always much easier to approach when things aren’t quite as fresh in my mind.

5. After the first rising, you dump the dough back out onto a lightly floured surface and you punch it down and knead it again.

Punch your book down. Yes, I said it. This is the part where you axe all those tangents and little darlings that don’t add to or advance your story. You’re honing things now. Getting rid of the extra air and kneading the words and the plot until you have a book that’s tight and contained.

6. Then you set the dough aside for a second, briefer rise (perhaps in a pan, perhaps on a pizza peel if you’re making an artisan loaf), during which time you preheat the oven.

You step away one more time from that plot, just to give yourself some clarity and warn your crit partner that you’re about to need her services. Yes, a good crit partner is an invaluable part of the writing process. If you don’t have one, find one.

7. Then you put the bread in the oven to bake. You set the timer and wait.

And you turn the entire revised manuscript over to your crit partner to slaughter (because, yes, a good CP is gonna bring the heat and put your manuscript to the test). And you wait.

8. When the timer goes off, you carefully remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool.

When you get your manuscript back from your CP, you wait for the sting to fade (because of course you have actual work still to do).

9. Once cool, you slice the bread and top with your choice of deliciousness: butter, peanut butter, jam, bruschetta, sandwich makings, etc.

You take your CP’s feedback and incorporate whatever you believe will make your book the best, followed by packaging the story either in a query for an agent or in the appropriate formatting necessary for self-publishing.

10. Then you serve up both your bread and your book and hope everyone enjoys.

Are you as hungry as I am after reading this? Because I don’t have the patience for waiting hours for a traditional yeast based bread like I just described, I’m going to share with you my recipe for one of my favorite quick breads: Herb and Cheddar Beer Bread Muffins (taken from my food blog Pots and Plots).

Now I really love beer bread. My husband is a beer drinker, so we usually have a six pack of something or other that I can rob for bread (I think he’s kind of horrified that every beer I taste I immediately think in terms of how it would taste either as bread or for drunk chicken). What makes this such a fabulous quick bread is that you are using the yeast that’s in the beer as your leavening agent. It interacts with the baking powder to make it rise while in the oven.

• 1 12 oz. bottle of beer (This particular recipe works best with a sweeter beer like Michelob Honey Lager.)
• 2 cups white flour
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 oz. finely grated sharp cheddar
• 1 tablespoon herbs de Provence

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Combine the sugar, baking powder, salt, flours, cheddar and herbs.
3. Add the beer and mix until just combined.
4. Spray 3 muffin tins with cooking spray.
5. Using well floured hands, pinch off 1 inch sections of dough and form into a ball. Each muffin cup should hold 3 balls of dough.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
7. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before eating.
You can certainly make this in loaf form, although if you do that, you should adjust the cooking time to 45 minutes and allow the loaf to rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then cool on a rack for another 10 minutes.


Thanks for hanging out in my kitchen today! For those who are interested, my debut paranormal romance novella, Forsaken By Shadow, is available at Scribd, Smashwords, Amazon, and the iBookstore. It is the first in the Mirus series.

Cade Shepherd is on top of the world as this year's Ultimate Fighting Champion. He doesn't even remember his life as Gage Dempsey, a Shadow Walker with the ability to magically transport himself from shadow to shadow. In fact, he can't remember anything before waking up in a cheap motel room ten years ago with mysterious burns on his hands--not even the woman he almost died for.

Embry Hollister has picked up the pieces of her life, learned to control her ability to generate flame, and now works an enforcer for the Council of Races. But when her father is captured by the human military and the Council refuses mount a rescue mission, Embry has no choice but to go rogue. All she has to do is find the man with the new name and new life who was completely wronged by her people, give him back the memories they stole, convince him to join her on what's probably a suicide mission, and hope that after ten years of living as a regular guy he still remembers what her father taught him.

And after that, she just has to leave him. Again.


  1. Great post, Kait! I'd never thought of it before but you're right. Writing is a lot like baking bread. (I'm going to have to do that now, maybe try your beer bread--which I haven't had since I was a kid)

    The power of the analogy! : )

    Good luck with Forsaken by Shadow! For those of you who haven't read it? It's awesome. You'll love it.

    Thanks CJ and Kait!


  2. The beer bread is a really versatile recipe--the flavor changes a lot based on what kind of beer you use and what you put in it. A good honey lager makes a nice sweet bread. And a dark beer makes for a great savory.

  3. I love the foodie fact - I didn't know it was called the crumb. I love trivia like that.

    Great analogy and post - I'll have to try out that recipe :)

  4. Awesome post! I love how you worked the writing into baking bread. Clever girl. Never thought of it that way. =)

  5. Confession: I totally pulled it out of thin air when proposing topics and CJ liked it. Then I had to figure out how it was actually true!

  6. Hi Kait! Now I'm hungry...and I kind of want a beer. Oh right. I usually want a beer. It just seems odd because it's 8:30 a.m.

  7. You can totally have beer at 8:30 in the morning if you put it in bread first... :D


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