Baking Bad

I like to take advantage of the summertime to work on a few projects that get ignored during the food service of the school year.  Much of the time is spent planning the coming school year's food service but I also spend more time in the gym, reading and doing all the things that I love to do but am I too busy to do during the school year.  I play with my son at parks, pools, playgrounds, zoos, aquariums and museums.  I do things that are fun to me and that includes cooking (which is fortunate since that is also my job).  I spend extra time planning our family's menu and play with recipes that have been backlogging in my brain all year.  I visit the farmer's market a few times a week and eat at the restaurants that I have been wanting to check out.  I smoke meat, grill fish & vegetables, make ice cream and eat outside.  Summertime is great!

As I review the list of activities I choose to focus on during the summer, one broad category is blatantly missing:  Baking.  I do not enjoy baking.  Baking is technical, precise and difficult. When I cook, I like to improvise and make little tweaks as I go.  Baking does not allow for this.  Baking provides a formula and the formula must be followed.  The true skill and beauty in baking is the intuition of the baker; feeling, proofing and shaping the dough.  Understanding the stages of the formula on an instinctive level, being patient as the process works its magic and moving the dough with precision and patience.  I face a hard truth about baking:  I do not enjoy baking because I am not good at baking.

Nobody likes to lose and I am no different.  Unfortunately, I have marginalized baking as an unimportant skill and use that reasoning to avoid the sense of loss when my baking fails.  I unconsciously trained my palate and brain to avoid baking and have settled for mediocre baked goods in my life.  All of this reasoning and manipulation to avoid the pain of failing.  That is not healthy.

At the beginning of summer, a friend shared the following post on FaceBook:

"Everything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Back when we started baking bread, I was awful at cutting even slices.  They'd be too thick, too thin, or crooked on any of three dimensions.  But over time I got to the point where I could consistently and effortlessly cut bread just the way I wanted it: thinner when making PB&J, thicker when making a bird in the nest, but always even and consistent.

Everybody's bad at what they're not good at.  Stick it out, be willing to be bad at stuff for a while, and put in the work to get better.  It's worth it."

This profoundly struck me.  The wisdom is clear and simple, I just had either never thought of it or was unwilling to follow the truth of it.  The truth is, I am bad at baking.  I have avoided baking and have been fearful of taking the time to practice (badly) in order to work towards proficiency.  The more I thought about this the more it seemed like a character flaw than just the lack of baking skill.

So I decided to change.  I have spent the summer practicing baking.  Many of my attempts went poorly but with each failure I learned something about the dough or batter and found a solution.  I have read professional baking textbooks, reviewed recipes from relatives and friends, watched documentaries on bread and practiced, practiced, practiced.   Wouldn't you know it, I'm pretty good at baking now.  Twelve weeks of immersion in the world of flour and I have found beauty rising from the bread pan.  I have discovered strategies to shape product for more efficient portioning.  I have explored best practices and have planned recipes for every station in our food service.  I have even developed a bread starter from wild yeast gathered right in our TLS garden!

So get out there and be bad.  Beauty is on the other side.  Follow the Kitchen Crew on Instagram @mildmanneredchef

*You can read more of my friend Micah Odor's recipes by checking out his blog:  http://bulletproofbites.blogspot.com/
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