1. Keep trying and try regularly.
I have made bread almost every Sunday evening for a year – that’s around 50 tries. This is the most important lesson I learnt. Even when I didn’t feel like putting aside three hours to bake a loaf, I did it – and ended up with a delicious result.
2. Use the resources available.
In the early stages, I used YouTube a lot. I also looked at recipe blogs and Googled the answers to my questions. In particular, I learnt shaping and folding techniques that I wouldn’t have been able to grasp without studying it more detail.
3. Connect with others.
One of my friends also started baking bread at the same time. Early on, we messaged each other quite often, exchanging tips and sending pictures of our successes and failures. I learnt a lot, and it kept me motivated to keep going until making a loaf of bread was part of my weekly routine.
4. Learn from your mistakes.
Although bread-making is much simpler than learning a language, there are still so many things to consider. The ingredients are flour, water, oil, yeast and salt – each of these makes a huge difference (how much? what kind?). And there’s also the temperature and humidity of the room, how long you knead it, the length of time you leave the bread for each prove, how you shape it, the temperature of the oven, the baking time, where you bake it in the oven … Each of these was a learning curve for me. At the beginning, I was making big mistakes – sometimes the inside of my bread was raw, or it hardly rose at all, or sometimes it rose so high it would touch the top of the oven and burn. I’m still learning something new with each loaf.
5. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
I tried different shapes, different flours, different proportions, different sizes, different toppings, different timings, different oven temperatures … all of these experiments were learning experiences for me and, although I always make a ‘good’ loaf of bread now, I still experiment and learn something new each time.
6. Learning helps you learn in unexpected ways.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but never really thought of it as a ‘skill’ – maybe more of a ‘gift’ that some people have and the rest of us will always be mediocre. I was content to follow some simple recipes or make some tried-and-tested meals. I’d never really baked much before this year, and what I had baked was ‘edible’ but not something to write home about. Recently, I’ve found myself baking cookies, biscuits, pastries, brownies and cakes, and other kinds of bread like bagels. All of them have turned out very well. I’ve realised that, through the experience of baking bread every week for a year, I’ve developed skills and knowledge that I’ve transferred to other kinds of baking – without even trying.