The children were playing in the hall when he arrived. The summer holidays were in full swing and the playscheme was popular with parents and children alike.
The sun shone through the kitchen window as he began to empty his bags. Flour, salt, yeast, bowls, jugs, scales, trays. He enjoyed the familiar sense of relief that everything was there as he headed into the meeting room to set up the tables.
As he put out the equipment he ran through the timings for the day in his head. When he was satisfied that everything was ready he stepped back into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
Twenty children crowded into the room. They were already in pairs but still they jostled for position. Cries of “don’t touch the equipment yet” fell on deaf ears and it wasn’t long before the first puffs of flour settled on the tables.
“Who can tell me what this is?” he said, holding up the flour. Hands shot into the air as they confidently identified it.
“How about this?”, and the salt was named too.
“And this?”, as the water revealed itself.
But at the final question, “what about this?”, the room grew quieter. Some tentative suggestions, butter, sugar, clay, were offered but it took a fair amount of prodding and sniffing before a quiet voice said “yeast?”
The last time he had been here they had made pizzas. He had made the dough in advance to save time and the children loved piling on the toppings but he felt like they had missed out.
The mystery of taking these simple ingredients and creating something that is living, breathing, growing, was still hidden from them. Surely they could do it in the time?
The kneading was well underway. Each pair had a different dynamic and it was easy to see who had done this before.
They had started off gently, prodding the dough and trying not to get too sticky but as they got into it they were soon slapping it on the tables like seasoned professionals.
One pair got so carried away that their dough landed on the freshly swept floor but they picked it up and carried on regardless. One pair spent more time arguing than kneading but eventually each ball of dough began to take on that familiar silky shine.
As they filed into the toilets to clean themselves up he breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it could be done.
They had been to the park. The fresh air had given them yet more enthusiasm and they crowded round the bowls to see whose had risen the most.
Cries of “don’t touch” went unheeded yet again but they soon had their dough turned gently out onto the tables.
Each ball was split in two and the design process began.
Hearts, balls, plaits, robots, hedgehogs, all these and more were poured out from their imaginations directly into the dough.
Some found it easier than others, some were more decisive than others, but soon they were all back in the hall playing, as the dough rested once more.
The oven was old but it was mostly sound. The panel with the lights on had long fallen off and the fan emitted a dry rasping sound, as if it had spent too long in the sun, but all in all it was a good oven.
He had used it many times in the last couple of years. Hot cross buns. Pizzas. Harvest loaves. Bread rolls. Croissants. It had served him well.
There was no reason to think that it would not do so today.
He turned it on to heat up then joined the leaders to eat lunch.
Ten trays. Twenty loaves. They fitted perfectly into the large oven, three at the back, two at the front, top and bottom. Very satisfying.
At first he didn’t notice that the familiar rasp of the fan had died away. It’s hard to notice something that is not there and it wasn’t until he went to check on the bread that it dawned on him.
The latent heat in the oven had begun to bake the bread but it had soon cooled down.
What would he do now? How could he explain this to the children?
In frustration he slammed the door shut and, joy of joys, the oven rattled back into life!
The first time he had done a workshop like this it had nearly been a disaster too.
He had got the quantities wrong and the result was a sticky mess. Combine that with the group of rowdy teenagers and it could easily have descended into anarchy.
Fortunately he managed to salvage enough dough from the situation that they were all able to take home some warm bread.
All is well when you have warm bread and their earlier troubles were soon forgotten as they headed out into the cold night air with their creations steaming away in their hands.
He had learned from that experience. Warm bread is key.
He left the bread as long as he dared, not knowing whether the oven would cooperate again.
When at last he opened the doors he was greeted with the glorious sight of twenty golden brown loaves. All was well again.
The robot’s feet were singed, as if he was wearing his smartest shoes, but all in all he would count this as a success.
As he slid the loaves onto the cooling racks, being careful to ensure they each remained on their named pieces of baking paper, he breathed a sigh of relief.
It could be done.
They had done it.
Twenty children walked out into the golden summer sunshine with their creations steaming away in their hands and smiles on their faces.
All is well with the world when you have warm bread.