Things Learned From Making Bread

January 04, 2018

In this post

I type out loud on the things I’ve learned from making bread.

Prerequisites

Any enjoyment or curiosity for any of the following: bread, processes, miniature revelations and/or epiphanies.


I’ve been baking bread, about once a week, for the past three months. I have a few suspicions as to why I’ve started making bread, but I don’t think I knead to share those misty speculations, and would rather point out some of the things I’ve learned over the past two months.

Respect for the Craft

Immediately, I’ve grown a healthy respect for the bakers out there. I’m not merely referring to waking up at 4 a.m. to make the day’s bread. When I go out for meals, I order sourdough so that I can look at the damn thing, and wonder why doesn’t mine have nice bubbles like that and how do I get such a nice crust that is NOT impossible to cut with a knife?

I think there are several things in life that you come to appreciate them once you’ve tried to do it yourself.

Understanding Difference

Every breadmaker I’ve spoken with makes their bread differently. Some people follow recipes to a T. Some people use a very specific, refined set of tools to nourish, measure, and make their bread. Some people have spreadsheets for the times that they’ve fed their starter.

Everybody does it differently.

What’s exciting about bread, is that you can pick, for yourself, how technical a process you want to take with your bread. You get to enter a world with a great depth of potential jargon, shop-talk, and yes, gear, and you get to pick how deep you want to go. Right now, the idea of owning a dough hook sounds like too much — for me. For now, I’m quite excited to have a bread proofing basket.

Every now and then you’ll meet a person who makes bread semi-casually, and is good enough at it, but also humble enough to remind you that there are a million ways to do it, and there is no one right way and it’s still probably going to taste decent no matter what you do (thanks, Le).

With Bread, you can appreciate the refinement of process, or you can appreciate throwing process out the window.

Accepting the possibility of failure

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Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something”

  • Jake the Dog

It’s hard to start something new and be bad at it. It’s uncomfortable to be bad at something. In these types of situations, I’ll usually ask an abundance of questions to try and figure out how to do it “right” before doing it at all.

It’s taking a while, but making bread is slowly working at erasing the above mentalities.

In the spirit of the bread puns that have littered this article thus bar, I’m just going to say that:

Mistakes are proof that you’re trying.

In the past, conversations around my breadmaking might go like this:

Enter: Duncan, stage right.

  • “Ooooh, you’re making bread”
  • “Yeah, but I don’t think this one is going to work out,” I say not-confidently. “The bread is hardening where my plastic wrap failed to keep out the dry air. I didn’t let it rise long enough and it seems less bubbly than the first time I tried. I think it’s going to be a sadlad.”
  • “Oh.”

They shrug and move on. It’s inconsequential to them. It’s just bread. It’s just flour, water, salt and yeast. This is one of the best things about making bread. The mistakes are not costly, and every time I’ve made a mistake, the end product has been still edible. Well, almost every time.

Not only can I fail but I can also fail fast (and cost-effectively). Growth happens as fast as how stubborn you are. After about five weeks of inflexible, dense, squat sourdoughs, I’m finally learning that I need to follow the recipe. Yes, it took me that long. Yes, I have problems with authority figures (at least, ones on pieces of paper). The first time I made the recipe I’ve been trying I followed it perfectly (albeit, by my naive standard), and it was excellent. Look!

1st sourdough 3 c17a55b8 1af6 4aaf 9a0b d23c010fb524

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I think it was excellent, at least. Since then, every attempt has failed in comparison. Same recipe; I’m just not following the rules, because generally, I find them (rules) annoying. I’m a kitchen diva, that for some reason, thinks that if I pretend hard enough to look like one of those kitchen-creatives who knows what they’re doing without following the recipe, then I’ll be just like them. I am not. Yet.

Making for others

When the opportunity arises, and the people I love are around, making bread and seeing other people excited to try it is a real joy. I love that I can make something in the span of 24-48 hours and have the end result right there, to share.

Most of the projects I’m building outside of my bread-life are taking a lot longer. Writing code, music, or taking photographs all take a lot longer than bread in the oven. It’s nice to find something I can share with others, and faster. I think this only seems particularly epiphanic to me because the creation and enjoyment of food has only really come to the forefront of my life as a pillar of creativity and pride in the last few years—and there seems much to explore still.

That’s all for now! I need to go feed my starter.