Baking

Escapades in Bread Baking, Part III: Deciding to Play

Many times in my life, I’ve been in friends’ kitchens, baking something together, and I’ll see them nonchalantly use the same measuring cup to add both the flour and the water to a batter… and a little voice inside me starts shouting, “No!!! You’re doing it wrong! How could you possibly use a dry ingredient cup to add a wet ingredient?! That’s wroooooooong!” And a part of me clenches up, feels a tiny bit of pain, and generally manages to keep my mouth shut. Because: It. Doesn’t. Matter.

Not when the POINT is to spend time with a friend. And to make a sweet treat for us to enjoy that doesn’t have to be perfect or a measure of our worth or proof of our competence. Because we aren’t trying to impress anyone. We’re just trying to add a bit of joy and delight to our lives and the lives of those around us. And when you’re feeding people homemade cookies or cake or pie or ice cream — that they didn’t have to put any effort into producing — they don’t care if it’s not perfect. They just know that it’s pretty dang good. And made with love. And that’s what matters.

So! All of that is a very round about way of introducing my surprising approach to bread baking these past two weeks. Which has been, essentially, to kind of wing it. And to have fun playing with it.

My normal approach in most things — kitchen things especially — is to figure it out! To do a bunch of reading, find the “right” recipe, and to try to get it really right the first time.

I’m the first one to criticize my own baking. I’ll hand over a slice of cake and offer the caveat that, well, it didn’t quite turn out how I wanted it to, but it’s pretty good anyway. Or, I’ll point out that the cookies are a little under baked. Or, I’ll announce what I plan to do differently next time.

And a big part of that is because I have this very deep ego-identity-attachment-thing to being a Good Baker. Like, that’s a big huge part of who I am. I am a good baker. So, that means that in order for me to be good/worthy/competent — my baking has to be “right.” And if you hadn’t picked up on it already, I’m starting to acknowledge how that might not be a great way to live.

Like, yeah, it’s cool that I’m good at baking. And it’s great that I like to share the love and joy of sweet treats with the people around me. But. When I’m trying to do it perfectly, when I’m attaching my sense of worth and competence to the quality of my baked goods, when I’m using that to try to impress somebody or something (or myself) in order to prove… something? Then I’m taking the joy and play and creativity out of it. I’m showing off instead of showing up.

And I think that explains in part why I’ve been weirdly okay with just… playing with bread. I know I have about a million things to learn in order to get bread “right.” My loaves so far have been lop-sided, too airy or too dense, kind of chewy, and really, really, really not perfect. But I also don’t have a clear sense of what a perfect loaf actually is because I haven’t bothered to find out (and thereby learn allllll the things I’m doing “wrong”). Which has meant I’m actually having a lot of fun messing around in the kitchen. (And I do mean messing – bread baking is SO messy).

Playing with bread dough

It turns out if I don’t have a clear sense of what I’m doing “wrong” or what the “right” way for the bread to turn out is… it’s a lot easier to enjoy what I’m doing. And to really enjoy the fruits of my labor (except it’s been really fun playing and not labor at all).

Kneading bread is hard. And I’m not doing it right.

Sourdough batter is really wet. And I’m not getting it right.

Shaping boules is an art. And I’m not doing it right.

And all of that is super, surprisingly, okay with me. Because I’m doing it good enough! I am producing loaves of bread that are edible and enjoyable and fun to make.

This week, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of It’s Great to Suck at Something. (I stumbled on this somewhat accidentally, and it’s apparently the evolution of this article – which I hadn’t read but that gives you a snapshot of her argument in the book). And the book is mostly about surfing and how the author is bad at it and keeps doing it anyway. And I really love this idea.

I think it’s part of why I’ve been oddly resistant to reading a whole lot about bread baking. I’m kind of enjoying being a little bit sucky at it. And while I’ll probably get better over time, and I’ll definitely end up learning more about how to make it better, it’s been shockingly nice to kind of just wing it. And to get results that are totally okay. Like, I’m not a bread connoisseur. Sourdough toast is damn good. And it’s especially satisfying when I made it with my own two hands!

Categories: Baking

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