The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Best Way to Learn to Bake

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breaducation's picture
breaducation

The Best Way to Learn to Bake

Hi TFL. I'm a long time lurker on here. I've been baking bread for about 3 years now. First as a home baker and now professionally. I owe much of what I know to the fresh loaf(I've been using it as a resource almost the entire time I've baked!). I figure it's about time I contribute to the site.

I'm planning on posting about my home baked experiments  in the future but in the meantime I'll share what I think is the best way to learn about baking bread.

For my first proffessional baking job I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to start a bread program at a local restaurant. I made essentially the same kind of bread everyday but I also made sure to experiment nearly every single time I made it. A little longer bulk one day, a slightly higher oven temperature the next, maybe try a new steaming method for a week. I tried everything I could think of to improve my bread. I learned more about bread doing this than any other experience I've had. Experimenting with one kind of bread over and over to see what effect small changes make on the end result is invaluable to a baker. I cannot think of a better way to learn.

To illustrate this point, here are my first loaves I baked at the restuarant:

And after one year of baking the same bread and experimenting everyday:

I'm not saying you have to go out and bake the same loaf for a year but do try baking the same formula a few times in a row. If you haven't already done this I'm positive you will learn something valuable from the experience.

Comments

Cedarglen's picture
Cedarglen

Hi breaducation.  I enjoyed your post and especially your pix.  I must agree that daily experimentation (where possible) is essential to improving one's breads.  I too h ave been hanging around here at TFL for a while, but did not post much (forums) until coming back to the site after a search about some yeast stuff.  (I may have replied a bit too much, but...)  I enjoy exploring the distant corners of TFL's space and I always leave with some new information.  Much like TFL's host, I;m not a professional, but enjoyed some very early work experience in a a couple of small, neighborhood bakeries.  After the [expletive deleted] donuts were fried, I got more than my fair share of bench time, a wonderful experience that I'll never forget.  Even 45+ years later, I know the feel of a good dough in my fingers.  I've baked at home, off and on for all of the intervening years, but I never slowed down enough to study the process or seriously improve the two or three breads that I made.  Now, as a 'retired' person, working harder and longer hours than every before, I have the time and flexibility to do exactly what you suggest: Experiment with improvements.  Thanks for reminding me!  I look forward to reading more about your adventures from the bench.  Regards,  -C.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

DO one thing over and over and pay attention to the process and the outcomes. Try small changes and see what happens. Good Job! and beautiful bread!

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

I share a similar position as regards baking the same bread repeatedly and have been "tweaking" a central recipe over time to improve results. I fully agree with this method and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to become proficient in the art. There is a lot to say for doing something repeatedly but learning something new from each instance. I've also found that making derivative bread products have come with ease through familiar practice.

Wild-Yeast

P.S. What effect has the bread had on the restaurant's patronage?

breaducation's picture
breaducation

I've since left the restaurant but I don't think it effected the patronage too much. Before I came they were already buying very nice artisan loaves from a woodfired oven bakery. The restaurant was also very popular as it was so they didn't have too much room to grow. They wanted to make bread in house though and I was happy to do it!

I will say that the customers loved the bread which was highly encouraging as someone starting out as a professional. We even had people who were willing to buy the loaves individually for $10 a peice!

longhorn's picture
longhorn

I began baking with sourdough about 12 years ago and I baked the same basic bread (a rustic sourdough boule) almost every week for two years before I began exploring other breads and I am convinced that the repetition and  periodic one-step tweaking of the process contributed much to my sense of how breadmaking works. Baking daily is even better but a bit beyond the consumption abiity of most home bakers! Great post! Lovely loaf!

Thanks!

Jay

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

I agree with the method BUT  I do the opposite :-)

My situation is a bit different and when I began tweaking  my basic loaves to get better results I got A LOT of flack from my kids!!!  MOM, WE LIKE IT THE OLD WAY!!!  The 'old way' being just this side of a brick :-)

Unfortunatiely, due to all the wonderful information I have gleaned here over the past couple of years, I am hard put to being able to replicate those early loaves of mine anymore....

To cut down on their complaints I began to venture out into baking all different types of breads using a variety of methods presented here and in bread books I have ended up collecting.  I have learned an incredible amount by doing this so it has worked out although differently than I had originally planned it would :-)  The kids love most all I bake now but still do 'pine' for those early breads.....

Glad you saved a 'before' picture to compare with your 'after' shot.  Lovely loaf though your beginning ones ain't all that bad :-)

Thanks for the post.  I enjoyed reading about your baking adventures.

Take Care,

Janet