Writing is Like Baking Bread

If anyone survived reading yesterday’s mind-numbing ramble, you might like to read something a bit simpler. And useful, even. So here it is. Writing is like baking bread because you have to keep doing both, over and over, until you figure out how to do it right. That’s all there is to it. Well, maybe not so simple.

I’ve been fairly content with just throwing the ingredients into the bread machine and making do with whatever came out. I never turned out a loaf that wasn’t edible, but I rarely turned out one that came out just right. And the one-third whole wheat content made the loaves dry out too fast. So, several weeks ago, I decided to analyze the random sub-optimal results and figure out how to eliminate them. The process went through many drafts, but I think I’ve got it. By god, she’s got it!

The rising: dumping cold-from-the-refrigerator into the flour mixture did a good job of slowing down the rising process in the time the machine allowed. The result was flattish, heavy loaves. Solution: warm any liquid before adding. Also, take flour out of fridge early enough for it to reach room temperature.

The shape: high at one end and almost flat at the other made for a wild variety of sandwich slices. The solution: pay attention to the timing of the rest periods. As soon as the last one starts, push the dough around so it isn’t piled up on one side, and smooth out the top.

That looks like two drafts, but it doesn’t include all the times I forgot a step, or opened the machine at the wrong time and cooled off the rising dough, which made it collapse slightly. But I was getting prettier bread most of the time. There was still the problem of the bread drying out and getting crumbly, very fast.

It’s lucky that I spend too much time reading interesting stuff on the web when I should be writing. I learned that the real secret of a light, fluffy loaf (though not the airy stuff you buy at the grocery store) is gluten. All wheat flour contains gluten, but apparently my loaves needed more. Wheat gluten is one of those esoteric items that costs more than it has any right to, but… it works. Two or three teaspoons added to the flour mix makes all the difference. I was in a rush with the evening out and smoothing today, but I still had a loaf that rose nice and high, with a gently rounded top.

I don’t know how many drafts that took, no more than I can figure out how many drafts it takes to turn a scruffy novel into something I can be proud of. It’s as much a learning process in writing as in baking. The ultimate sign of success is eating a yummy slice of homemade bread while reading my published novel.

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One thought on “Writing is Like Baking Bread

  1. Love the analogy – and I think some of us would have found a lot of that out before hand by compulsively reading recipes (and Julia Child – that woman’s cookbooks are an education in themselves). Others, well, they plunge right in and experiment. No patience.

    However, the latter group get more imperfect bread loaves in the same amount of time, and imperfect bread just begs to be eaten…

    And it’s to your taste.

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