The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Breaking Bread, an exploration of bread and its many facets.

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

Breaking Bread, an exploration of bread and its many facets.

Parameter-based Thinking

What is the difference between a car mechanic and an automobile engineer?  Right off the bat we know the second job title sounds fancier.  Why?  We assume you have to be “smart” be the latter.  “Smart” really just means educated, in this sense.  Doesn’t a mechanic have to know about cars, too?  Of course!

A mechanic must know her parts, the way they fit together and the way the unit works as a whole.  But why is an engineer paid more, considered to be the more prestigious job?  Because the job requirements of the engineer necessitate a greater level of knowledge.  He must know everything the mechanic does plus a whole lot more.

“Level” is the right word, because the class of information the engineer must know is categorically different than a repairman’s.

To follow this analogy further, why do cars only come in certain shapes, and why those shapes?  We could begin to ask this question of every functional design choice of the car.  The answer to most of the questions would be a “because” followed by an explanation based on a pragmatic understanding of why a car must be that way, because of its conditions of use, the type of people using it, and, really, there are only a limited-number of real-world physical solutions that work.

Bread, then, is no different.  It is a system, and it is vital to understand its materials and the methods by which it is put together.  Stopping here would make anybody a good baker.  Being a great baker, though, involves knowing the system’s limitations.

Here’s a real-world example.  While writing the Mozza book Nancy Silverton had trouble adapting the restaurant’s pizza dough to a home oven.  So, she changed the dough.  What conclusion can we draw from this?  That even Nancy Silverton had trouble being Nancy Silverton, at home.  Why?  The parameters were different.  A home kitchen cannot compare to an industrial-sized bakery that delivers dough to her restaurant.  By starting backward and listing known limitations  and the ways in which they limit us (a home oven, which means less overall thermal energy and also decreased ability to store or radiate the energy) one instantly realises only certain outcomes are possible (a much longer bake with less oven-spring and overall browning).

A better way of saying this is, use what’s around you.  This truism dates back to time immemorial.  I make a bad-ass pizza but I do not make a bad-ass pizza at home.  Or at anybody’s home, really.

Finding, listing and then accounting for all parameters is the hardest part of the challenge.  Part of this blog will be to begin a record of those parameters, as well as interpretations.  Collaboration is always welcome.