I was just responding to a post about how baking has been a great lesson in the value of practice for me and decided to make a general post about it. Please indulge me a little.
(I'm a lurker and infrequent poster so consider this an introduction of sorts)
I had said:
One of the amazing things about baking to me is how much it's a concrete lesson in the value of practice. I used to do some outdoor sports and played music in school but never had much patience for practice. Maybe I'm just old enough to be more patient, maybe it's that life only allows me enough time to have practical hobbies with practical results like baking. Don't get me wrong, I've taught myself many things in life (like, auto mechanics of old cars, beer brewing...) and I've definitely improved at my career over the years, but I think baking is very demonstrative of the concept. You get very concrete results of your improvement if you stick with it, and people can be so impressed. And even as you learn and gain skill, it still doesn't seem that hard. It seems like, I just throw a few ingredients together, wait a while, manipulate it like this or that, and POW, this amazing loaf of bread pops out! It seems easy, like anyone could do it; and yet there was a time when I couldn't do it.
It's kind of funny, but one of the things that has improved my baking the most, is the fact that I can take bread into work and it will be eagerly devoured. My family couldn't possibly eat as much as I want to bake, we actually don't eat that much bread. But I can try any experiment, taste a slice or two to see what I think and take the rest in to work where it will be appreciated.
To expound on this...I work for a startup in silly-con valley designing chips. When I started we were tiny and the company would order you lunch and dinner every day, as we got bigger and the economy got weaker it turned into lunch delivered twice a week plus a fruit box once a week and bagels and pastries twice a week. This went down to lunch once a week, and eventually lunch was eliminated completely except for special occasions and it's only fruit and bagels twice a week. I'm not complaining or bitter about it, it's better than laying people off, but it's a bummer and a hit to morale. So over a year ago I made the commitment to myself that I would bake something to bring in every Tuesday, and I have without fail.
The best thing about this arrangement, and one of the reasons I'm so faithful, is that it has helped my baking ability SO MUCH. If I'm not feeling that creative I make a favorite fallback, like Pain Au Levain or Pain A l'Ancienne, but sometimes I try something new that I found in a book or read about on TFL. Sometimes if it's complicated I try new things out ahead of time for my family, but as I've gotten better I'm more able to just wing it.
It's not much, just a few loaves every week, but the repetition has been so beneficial. Of course the appreciative feeback of my coworkers doesn't hurt, a lot of them say they really look forward to Tuesdays; and of course (as I know many people here have experienced) everyone says I should open a bakery. One guy even seriously offered up funding and knows the perfect place (near his house of course).
A few months ago my family started a soup swap with our best friends. We trade off making a big batch of soup and passing back and forth a giant jar full of whatever hearty concoction we come up with. Of course I bake bread to go along with it...every week, even if it's not our turn <grin>.
So for any new beginning bakers on here (aren't we all beginners really) the best thing you can do to get better is to bake like mad, freeze some, and give the rest away to friends/neighbors/co-workers. They'll really appreciate it, and you'll get better. I started buying bulk flour at Costco, and a pound of SAF yeast lasts me months, so it's pretty cheap. The hardest part for me is time, so I mostly do recipes that involve long fermentations and retardation in the fridge, you only need a few minutes here to mix things; a few hours there to do some stretch and folds; and an hour or so at the end in the oven. I don't generally do straight doughs that need several hours to do mixing + bulk + proofing + baking all in a row.
Anyone care to share similar experiences?