I started baking in November of last year. My first loaf was dense as a black hole. If you had dropped it on a toe you’d have been in the emergency room.
I ate it. (The bread, not the toe.)
Subsequent loaves were all over the map. Mostly edible, some inedible, all got eaten. Sourdough, I concluded, ain’t easy. As I baked and ate I really incorporated whole grain sourdough with various seeds not merely into my diet, but into my existence. Most days bread makes up 70% of my calories, or more.
Like anything you do daily, you learn more about it, and the more I baked sourdough the more I learned that I didn’t know, like Socrates.
One day I got into a text exchange with a friend who is also a baker, but who really is a baker as opposed to a #faker #dilettante. I was having problems getting out of the Frisbee stage, and the friend asked a bunch of questions. I made some marginal gains.
Then we went over to the friend’s house one day for tea and bread and a tutorial. It was all very depressing because the friend’s bread wasn’t simply better than mine, it was a different thing entirely. It’s like that moment when as a young adult, head filled with bicycle dreams, you finally ride with someone who truly has talent and legs.
You know immediately what is possible, and what isn’t, and my friend’s bread wasn’t possible. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was kind of grim to view and eat perfection.
I went home and struggled with the problem of wet dough, how to knead it without doing all kinds of terrible things to the little gluten babies, etc. The friend texted me some more advice and a YouTube link.
With a few more fails, I came out on the other side, which for me was far from perfection, but was instead a tasty, consistent loaf.
Off to the master
The next month I went to Austria and in Vienna I sampled a couple of world class bakeries that had previously impressed me so. They were horribly inferior to my friend’s bread.
And as I sampled, I realized something else: They were inferior to mine as well.
Not because I had the skill or technique, certainly not the experience, but because my friend had shared with me a secret to baking and many other things, which is that the goal is to make something that YOU like. Back home I cooked loaf after loaf. Each was pretty much the same, and far from the ideal loaf that my friend bakes, seemingly with her eyes shut. But the mix of rye, wheat, organic white, and some seeds, done just the way I like it, was far more than good enough.
Bread, the bike, life … perfection isn’t an abstraction, it’s the thing that’s right for you.
Thank you, friend.
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