May 5, 2020
By Kelli Gile, WVUSD Office of Community Resources
WALNUT, CA—On a recent Saturday, C.J. Morris Elementary teacher Jennifer Veneracion eagerly removed the jar containing a bubbling yeast concoction from her kitchen cupboard.
After four days of stirring and waiting, the fermented starter was finally ready to be combined with a few cups of all-purpose flour and mixed into silky dough.
She would spend the next several hours methodically kneading, allowing for rising, and repeating before shaping and popping in the oven.
And when the timer sounded, out came the steamy, crusty loaves of success.
The Title 1 Specialist has joined legions of homebound bread bakers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Veneracion decided to learn a new skill at the onset of stay-at-home orders that began in mid-March.
“Bread making seemed fun to do as well as something the entire family could enjoy, and it could carry on after the quarantine,” she explained.
The novice baker had always been too intimidated to attempt baking from scratch.
“I was afraid the rising dough would grow so big that I couldn’t handle it,” said admitted.
“It feels silly now that I’ve learned more!”
The baking got off to a slow start because the educator first became a student desiring to learn all about her new hobby before donning an apron.
First, she bought a bread book for beginners, and then became immersed in reading recipes, articles, and following popular bakers including Amber’s Kitchen and Bonnie O’Hara on social media.
And then there was the shortage of flour and yeast on supermarket shelves due to the surge in quarantine baking.
But once Veneracion started, she was “hooked.”
During the past several weeks, she has cooked up traditional Filipino Pan De Sal bread, ventured into loaves, sandwich breads, tortillas, cinnamon rolls, and more.
Her tried-and-true techniques include keeping the right tools at hand: a big bowl, kitchen towels, kitchen scale, and food thermometer.
And before each baking session she measures out all the ingredients, puts them in different containers, and then combines as directed.
“Kneading the bread is key,” she added to the list of tips.
“You might think the dough is too wet, but if you continue to knead it, it will develop gluten which will make it firmer.”
Veneracion has discovered the restorative magic of the experience.
“Now that I’ve learned a lot, bread baking as become a form of therapy for me,” she said.
“Teaching remotely and getting my three kids on track with their work is rough, so unplugging and working on a recipe is both relaxing and rewarding.”
In the end, Veneracion’s family decides if each bake is a winner.
“My kids are pretty honest and will tell me if the bread is a hit – with reactions ranging from ‘Mom, this is amazing’ to ‘Whelp, it’s bread, I guess,’” she said.
“Either way, I’m hoping they see the importance of learning a new skill, celebrating the successes, and powering through the failures.”
C.J. Morris Elementary teacher Jennifer Veneracion has discovered the simple rewards of bread baking. Shown with husband, Ramil, and children Mia, 11, Max, 9, and Marley, 7.
C.J. Morris Elementary teacher Jennifer Veneracion has discovered the simple rewards of bread baking during quarantine. Shown with children Mia, Max, and Marley.