I started baking bread ten years ago. I had seen my sister-in-law create magic. She took yeast, flour, water and salt – and made gold. Freshly baked bread without a recipe. It seemed like alchemy, and the skill was all ”in her hands”. She just know when the dough felt right.
Learning this, baking without a recipe seemed to me to be the essence of baking. An act of liberty, free from rules and formulas. Yes, in a way to me it seemed like baking as an art. Taking a risk on stage.
So, having seen her baking I went home. I practised. I followed the best recipes and learnt what the dough should feel like. I practised my eye for measuring water, flour and salt – without measuring. All done without yeast, I used sourdough to the best of my ability.
My best wasn’t always up to par. The bread came out flat without rising, or burnt or… well in any shape really. I just kept baking. Because no matter how ”professional” the bread turned out, it was always freshly baked bread. It still smelled wonderful.
And over time, correcting my mistakes, figuring things out, I developed a pretty good feel for it. I even got admired for my bread, it got famous in my circle of families and friends.
So, when one day I had the opportunity to speak with one of Sweden’s best bakers, a member of the national team, participating in the baking olympics, or whatever – guess what, I felt there was time to get some pro recognition. Talking bread among peers, so to speak.
So I told him of my process, of baking without measures or recipes. And he just looked at me smiling and said: The first tool any baker should invest in … are scales. However high risen and inflated my dough had been I left the meeting a bit flattened. (Or actually not, but it seems more imagining
I’ve thought about this many times. My enthusiasm for the art, wasn’t his as a craftsman. For him the mastership of his craft was shown in his consistency and accuracy. Running a bakery whose bread was always great – and tasting the same.
There is a simple but nice analogy here to music making I think.
In recent year I’ve become most interested in “effortless baking”. It’s not the big event of the day, it’s just something I do while doing other things. Like filling the dishwasher. Today’s bread turned out rather flat. It has something to do with it being winter. Or me being impatient. It’s cold, the sourdough culture is not really in the mood. The rising doesn’t really take off … and I’m not that worried about how it turns out.
Next time I will start with a different flour. Maybe I’ll bake a hit.