When I started this quest to improve my baking skills, about one year ago, my goals weren't very specific. "Get better at bread baking" was about the best I could do. And "find help" was about as refined as I could codify my approach. Fortunately, I stumbled upon The Fresh Loaf early in my search for that help. I feel I've come a long way in that one year. TFL's members and guests are my inspriation, the helping hand I reach to first, the friends who share my best looking loaves and worst mistakes. I also search far-afield, but my roots are here, still shallow, but growing.
Moreover, I hadn't given a thought beyond, "We'll eat them." to wondering what I'd do with the products of my quest. Since then I've made many more loaves than just the two of us could consume (without becoming well-bloomed, and "doughy" ourselves). I started taking my bread (the best looking loaves) to neighborhood potlucks--our community does a lot of them. I shared other extras (the second-best-looking loaves) with select neighbors and friends. In the following months, the numbers of loaves shared and neighbors and friends in receipt grew. At Christmas I mailed sourdough loaves, Priority Mail, to select family who whould be honest with me if the bread arrived stale, or was not to their liking. This year i"ll gift loaves to all the family, and some far-distant friends. I'm relied on by neighborhood potluck hosts to bring bread.
Perhaps, the best early advice I received from TFLer's was "Pick a recipe, and practice, practice, practice, and...practice." To date, I'm confident I've got a basic sourdough bread and baguette formulae I trust my new skills to produce reliably and consistently, although I'm still working on shaping and scoring. At the moment, I bake each of them every week or ten days, and I'm working on a third: Jewish Rye. I've shared one loaf, so far, with a close, trusted couple; they rushed out and bought pastrami.
"Practice, practice, practice" has become my mantra.
I've got a slightly more specific goal now, "Build a repertoire of breads I can reliably and consistently produce.". I've got 2 and 1/2 so far. I have more than enough people eager for the output. (Yvonne and I will eat the worse-looking loaves, and the outright mistakes.) I'm havin' fun!
And I can now succinctly state how I might reach that goal: practice, practice, practice.