Four ways to improve your baking
Society is extreme. For example, that sentence. But in the niche of society that bakes (especially bread) I’ve observed this: someone posts a photo of their bread asking how it can improve. Comments seem to be either “it's fine, just eat it, it doesn't need to be perfect” or "here's 5 reasons it's bad but I'm not going to offer helpful advice". Or is that just the pages and group/s I’m (sporadically) part of?
For me, the balance is celebrating and enjoying and seeking to improve; because you are reading this you’re probably similar. So, four simple RRRRs for you to improve your baking.
Image: reviewing a loaf of fresh-milled wholegrain sourdough bread.
If you don’t know or remember what you did, it’s hard to replicate. And what you measure you can (usually) control.
Try writing down times, temperatures, comments on the dough at each stage and observations (from the Review) after baking and eating. Trends can show up and if you need help from someone else troubleshooting or just seeking ways to improve it makes it a lot easier. Write it down, photograph it, keep a record and then review.
Baking seems to attract opposites, or maybe opposites are attracted to baking. Either way, people seem to be ‘because it’s homemade it’s awesome’ vs ‘it needs to achieve the current social media trending appearance goals’. Wherever you land it that spectrum, if you want to improve your baking it’s helpful to review your baking.
Take a moment to thoughtfully taste, look and touch. Is it the flavour you’d like? Is it the texture you prefer? Does it look like you hoped? It’s okay to enjoy and also desire to improve.
Made it? Bake it again. Happy with it? Bake it again. The real art, science and skill of baking is consistency; understanding the ingredients, formula and process to get a consistent, predictable result.
Professional bakeries achieve consistent results because they make the same baked goods, usually lots of those baked goods, everyday. Practice, practice, practice.
Repetition is hard for home bakers with limited oven capacity and stomach capacity.
So, two tips: overcome limited oven capacity by using loaf tins (more fit in the oven at once) and/or refrigeration (to slow dough rising) and overcome stomach capacity by sharing/selling/donating the extra loaf or two. Maybe a neighbour, friend or colleague would cover your ingredient costs for a fresh, hand-crafted loaf. Or just give it away.
This goes against repetition and is a slight stretch to keep the ‘R’ words but sometimes the best way to improve is to increase your range; try something new. Always baking refined [white] wheat flour? Try rye. Always making rye? Try spelt. Always making upright loaves? Try a flat-style bread. The possibilities are endless.
When you change something you’ll be forced to learn, experiment, record keep, review and repeat, and that will improve your baking.
Image: my notes (scribble?) from trying a new recipe = range+review+records. Now to repeat...
For me, the balance is celebrating and enjoying and seeking to improve. That's one of the bonuses for baking as a hobby or profession: there are always variables, something new to try and another day to try again.