Trumpets and Bread - Deceptively Simple

I tend to think of playing the trumpet and baking bread as pretty similar both appear relatively simple, and yet their amazing richness comes from subtle variations in technique that could take a lifetime to master.

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Years ago, I decided to try and learn the trumpet. I scheduled a couple of lessons, and when asked by the instructor why I wanted to learn that particular instrument I said, "because it seems simple." I love the trumpet, but truth is that with only three keys/pistons it didn't look very hard to learn.

Well, the instructor laughed a little and explained that it was, in fact, just the opposite: that the trumpet is so difficult because it only has three keys. All the amazing variation, the depth of tone, the quick notes, that all comes from the trumpet player and what he does with his body. Three "buttons" to push is only the very beginning.

And that's a lot like bread, I think. Four ingredients make up the most basic of breads (flour, water, salt, yeast), but it's really all in the technique. And from those four basic ingredients, with some simple variations and knowledge and experience, you can make just about anything.

In the course of getting a diploma in culinary arts, I spent eleven weeks in an introductory baking class. We covered a lot of ground relatively quickly and superficially, concentrating more on technique than any one product. We made muffins and cakes and pies and tarts and ice creams and pastries and, yes, breads.

While our breads we're not bad, they also weren't particularly good. We just didn't spend a lot of time perfecting any of them, and so mostly what we wound up with we're basic loaves, sandwich bread maybe, simple and smooth and not at all difficult. What we didn't make, and what I've always obsessed over, is a really good rustic loaf of bread. You know the crusty kind, with big holes and a dark exterior, the kind you really have to chew on.

I kept trying to make that loaf, experimenting with different flours and rise times and baking temperatures. I used more water. I used less. I kneaded more, I kneaded less. But something wasn't working, and that really great rustic loaf remained just out of reach.

Finally, recently, I got around to using a recipe many people know. Last year the New York Times published a "no knead" bread recipe that, the author swore, made an amazing rustic loaf of bread with almost no work and with no chance of failure.

I ignored the recipe for a long time, assuming that somehow having been to culinary school put me beyond this method. And perhaps, a little, enjoying the idea that good bread, for all it's apparent simplicity, was actually a very difficult thing.

Turns out, I was wrong. Really wrong. Baking this bread was a humbling experience.

I encourage you to try this bread recipe, which you can find here. It really is as simple as claimed, and the finished product really is as great. It makes an excellent loaf of bread, a basic, rustic boule, and it's far better than anything else I've made.

Now, true, it's just one type of load. This recipe doesn't end baking classes everywhere, or put professional bakers out on the street. Technique and subtlety are still vital for producing all kinds of breads. But it's fascinating, beautiful, to know that this simple method can produce something so perfect.

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Posted in Renovations Post Date 01/02/2019






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