Learning By Doing Lesson #287

by piecurious

Speaking to my Father on the phone the other day the conversation turned to a question I think everyone considers at least once in their life, and perhaps if you’re like me, with some trepidation due to the kind of muted disappointment that only the deep contemplation of unrealistic life plans can generate: what would you do if you won the lottery?

I’ve never purchased a lottery ticket and my Father is not a frequent or enthusiastic lottery hound either.  But last week, for whatever reason, he picked one up.  “I may be a millionaire right now and not even know it,” he remarked.  To which I responded, “So what would you do?  Would you quit your job?”

He told me he wouldn’t make any grandiose life changes.  He’d give a million to each of his siblings and myself, pay off the mortgage on his house, and continue to work the same job with the same company.  “I like working there, why would I leave?”

I’ve never been after the big bucks, myself.  That’s pretty obvious from the student debt I’ve amassed studying subjects that are unlikely to generate much income.  Money has only ever been important to me as means of acquiring knowledge and being prepared for emergencies.  So it wasn’t surprising that a brief reflection revealed that if I won the lottery, I’d probably just become a lifelong learner in one way or another.

Ideally, I’d move to France and grovel at the feet of the renowned French bread masters (eventually moving on to Italy and Germany) to let me learn everything I could from them.  But I might also consider going back to school, too.  The benefit of school, I told my Father, is the condensed learning experience.  You have direct access to the equipment and expertise you need.  It’s not only unlikely you will be able to experience what it is like to make a batch of ninety 30” baguettes in your home kitchen, but it is perhaps also better to have an expert tell you how to avoid certain mistakes, instead of learning by trial and error.

However, I haven’t won the lottery and so I’m left to vicariously travel across Europe learning from the best artisan bread bakers with Daniel Leader’s Local Breads instead.

The loaves you see above are a recent (and first) attempt at Leader’s Quintessential French Sourdough, although slightly adapted.  Instead of making a stiff dough levain, as called for by the recipe, I substituted my 50/50 bread flour/whole wheat flour Tartine starter.   The end result was decent enough—a crackling crust with a ripe sour scent rising from the crumb (although the flavour was mild in comparison).

But these little loaves account for only half the recipe.  The other half of the dough I shaped into a bâtard.  It came out of the oven with a burnished caramelized crust and enticed me with its post-baking clicks and pops.  The reason why these petits pains take the spotlight is because they have a lesson to impart.

There is something to be said about learning from trial and error, not to mention from experimentation, two types of learning that are often not present, or at least less present, in the classroom environment.  Notice how the loaves are widely split width-wise? That wasn’t intentional.  Both were scored with an even cross or x.  Yet still the dominant width-wise split.

The reason?

I initially shaped this dough into a bâtard as well, but changed my mind and decided to divide it and make two small boules instead.  Clearly, the initial shaping remained imprinted in the structure of the dough, causing the dough to expand unevenly despite even scoring.  It may be only a little and perhaps somewhat unimportant lesson, but for me it’s an interesting one nonetheless.  Especially because I enjoyed the aesthetic it imparted to the small boules.

Now I know.