Fail your way up. Fail your way to the top.
I have heard it said that the best way to learn in life is to make as many mistakes as possible and then never repeat them.
Even Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Beethoven, W.A. Mozart, Fela Kuti, Eminem and Ichiko Nita were newbies at some point in their lives. At one point, all of them were terrible at their instruments.
At one point we are all beginners.
There is no way around this. There are no real prodigies. Talent is mostly skill and repetition, just done at an earlier age or more often or more effectively than those around you.
Today I will walk your through highlights of my bread baking journey, as an example as how failure can inform your learning and learning from your mistakes makes a great foundation for improvement.
My bread baking began a few years ago, as many hobbies do, on a whim. A fancy that I wanted to make some breads from scratch.
After a bit of this inkling interest, I looked up some rudimentary recipes and mixed up a batch of dough and shaped and baked it. At this point I thought you jsut stirred some flour, yeast, salt and water together until it stuck in a ball and then separated and baked it hot around 450F til it was brown and bready.
And how did that first bread turn out?
Well it was bad. It looked much like bread, it had some browns and some tan colors.
But the pieces were sturdy like bricks. The loaves, if you could call them that, were more suited for masonry than for dinnerstuffs. And I followed the recipe!!!
After this, I took a break from bread baking. It allowed me a long, slow chance to reflect on my failings. To digest my mistakes, if you will. And by chance, I had the fateful awakening that I needed better resources and more practice once I learned some techniques.
Taking the leap towards competency, I purchased the Bread Bakers Apprentice – called the BBA in breadier circles.
With the BBA in hand, I had not only a series of professionally tested and adapted recipes, but also a decent amount of exposition explaining the processes relating to bread and the different stages as the author understood them.
The book taught me to mix my dry ingredients together well before even adding any water or liquid – this lead to more thoroughly mixed ingredients.
Another thing the BBA taught me, is that the dough needs be worked in certain ways after certain amounts of time.
The dough needs to be kneaded. ..It wants to be wanted.
OK, but seriously, it does need to be kneaded.
It also needs to be proofed and let to ferment, it needs to be shaped with a mind for the surface tension and contained gas. All this and more came to my awareness and I began to repeat the recipes and processes with a mind to learn and engrain these techniques.
The bread improved!
The taste is much, much better and still improving as I learn.
It became bigger, more evenly cooked, it was firm and crispy but also more soft and loving breadlike inside.
Yes, the bread actually began to be quite good!
Now this positive feedback from the results of the first stead of practice continues to help me grow and produce better breads.
From here, I will continue to look at the short comings of my breads and to practice and continue seeking and consulting high quality resources. I will begin to get more adventurous and experiment and the concepts become more natural and clear to me.
And all of this repetition and learning will lead me to build better and higher quality mental representations of the processes, allowing for better breads and more exciting variation and exploration.
Please, if you are a terrible bread baker or are interested in making bread but have never done it, check out the Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. My version is the 15th anniversary edition, so they do seem to keep it up to date and accurate.
Until next time, go mix some dough, and play some notes!!