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Baking Bread - A Tale of Failure

A friend loaned us her old bread machine and it sat in the kitchen for a few months looking intimidating. You see, I've tried baking breads before and it's always been disaster. I've made pizza dough that turned into sticky goop when baked. I've tried making bread dumplings that ended up solid on the inside. I made bread that had the texture of high density Styrofoam.

It had been a long time since I tried baking bread, but decided to give the bread machine a try anyway. Encouraged by the simple 3 step instructions, I tried the recipe that came in the manual, pressed a button and waited. It smelled just like I expected, heavenly! By the time it was done we were salivating, but to my horror, in the bread pan came out like a brick. I followed the instructions!!! What had gone wrong?!

Enter frantic internet searching. Maybe it was the recipe? Maybe it was the flour? I threw out 3 more failed loaves of bread. Things refused to rise or come together, but I was on a holy quest for a perfect loaf of bread. How hard could it be to use bread machine with one button ?!

The fifth loaf seemed like a miracle when it came out fluffy and edible, but it wasn't a matter of random chance. By then I'd learned about proofing yeast, how to speed up its growth, ideal water temperatures and such. It took time to fine tune the process.

I could have stopped there. Encouraged, I decided to venture into sourdough (yes this takes an entirely different skill set - I might be a bit nuts that way). A friend gave me some sourdough starter with instructions, and I fed it as instructed, and nothing happened. It's supposed to grow and bubble. Enter more furious internet searching.

Two weeks later I had used up almost a bag of flour, and tossed out a similar amount of failed starter. Things were looking grim. I was sure I'd done the nearly impossible and killed off my starter. E told me to give up because we were wasting flour, but that just made me more determined. I was convinced I was close to figuring it out. Several days and experiments later (I set up two jars, and compared conditions side by side), we finally had lift off. My sourdough bubbled happily. Bread was baked and consumed.

My first sourdough loaf!

Was it worth it? Maybe? It is time consuming but tasty. I've made several loaves since then. They've been getting better tasting, and don't take as long to make now that I know the process. I still have a lot to learn, but I think I've made it past stage 1 boss.

You know, this was another lesson in persistence (been running into a lot of those lately) that applies to writing too. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do something. If you're determined enough, and want it badly enough you can learn. You might need to go through a few failed loaves before you figure out how it works, but you will as long as you don't give up.

PS Two more weeks and then I'm free to get back to the writing! I might take another week or so as a mini-brain holiday. The past few months have been physically and mentally exhausting. I'm all kinds of aching and sore right now. I'm counting down the days.

Printed from: http://www.tsbazelli.com/blog/2012/06/baking-bread-a-tale-of-failure/ .
© Copyright T.S. Bazelli 2010 2014.

10 Comments  

  • There's not much that beats the smell of freshly-baked bread. Mmmm. Salivating just thinking about it.

    So, just what is it that you've got going on that's prevented you from writing? If I may be so bold as to ask.

    • I'll send you an email about it ;)

    • And yes, it smells so good, that's partly the reason I keep baking!

      • I should add: if you've made successfully delicious bread and sourdoughs, then this hasn't been a "tale of failure" but a tale of success!

        • Also... I've had some peripheral experience with several bread machines: they are made of fail. Their easy instructions just don't work. I remember my parents tried one once, and the thing that came out was a solid lump of bread-like thing with a salt crust on one end. (The ingredients didn't mix properly and the salt settled to one end.) We figured the bread machine was faulty and traded it in for another. It performed almost identically. Another bread machine had similar fail-type performance, so after that my family pretty much gave up on bread machines.

          • They're not that great. We figured out a few tricks to get it to work which weren't in the instructions, but like I said to Kristan, it doesn't taste as good. It was a good introduction, though I almost never use it now.

  • Kristan says:

    I know this is a giant metaphor, which I appreciate, but if I can just focus on the literal bread for a minute... ZOMG I HATE BREAD MACHINES. Lol. My parents and I got one when I was in middle school (ish) and we kept expecting it to be so great, BUT IT WASN'T. And none of us cared enough to figure it out like you did. So after a dozen or so "bricks" (and maybe 3 decent loaves) we gave up. Now it sits in the corner of a kitchen counter collecting dust.

    Come to think of it, maybe that's a metaphor too. :P

    • Yeah they promise so much but don't deliver! I sometimes use it as a mixer these days, but the bread never turns out as well as if you do it by hand. It doesn't taste as good either, in my opinion. Since the sourdough can't be made in the bread machine, its pretty much collecting dust now.

  • Another lesson might be that some things (bread baking, writing) are a lot more complex than the simple instructions (avoid passive voice, no filter words, etc.) might indicate. But, if you really study the process, and go beyond the "just press this one button" instructions, you can figure it out.

    (We never attempted bread-baking in my family. It was always regarded as one of those things that normal people can't accomplish, like making your own beer or ice cream. We made banana bread instead, which is quite simple. :-) )

    • It was the same with us LOL The only thing my mom ever baked was banana bread. Being an Asian family, no one had ever considered making bread before (cooking rice however is down to a science).

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