What Makes a Successful Bread Experiment?

For years now I’ve been an amateur bread baker that keeps trying the new and upcoming thing that runs across my computer.  In the 90s I started with a focaccia recipe I found on USENET and Julia Child’s baguette recipe scribbled out of my mom’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  In recent years I’ve picked up no-knead recipes, sourdough recipes and the like.  I’ve also taken to radically changing some recipes with expectations on specific results.  I see others doing the same thing in my groups.   As we move around and try things the question becomes: “What makes a successful bread experiment?”  Obviously if it turns out exactly as you intended that’d be a success but is that really it, or do we sometimes see a success staring right back at us but we don’t know it.

This whole concept came to me a lot over the last month or so.  I have a sourdough starter that I’ve been keeping for years that was given to me by a neighbor who has been keeping it for decades.  I wanted to find new ways to use it up and thus a bread experiment began.  I’ll be posting what that looks like later but the point was as I kept orbiting around various options I wasn’t getting the exact preconceived loaf that I was expecting.  Was it delicious?  Yes.  Did it have good texture?  Yes.  Did it have good crust?  Yes.  Did it have good crumb?  It had a good crumb but a different crumb than what I was going for.  So what is the problem here?

Anyone who has experimented with bread recipes probably falls into the same perfectionist mindsets that I keep falling into: “It didn’t have enough oven spring,”  “The crumb isn’t open enough,”  “The crust didn’t blister (or it did blister when I didn’t want to).”  The list of very specific things that we tweak our experiments and recipes with can probably go on for pages. Yet all of those questions still miss the biggest point of why we make bread: to make something delicious for people to enjoy.  I therefore would say we should ask ourselves first, “Does this taste good?” and “Is this enjoyable?”  If you answer in the positive to both then I think you have had a successful bread experiment.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t try to continue tweaking to get something different?  That’s actually up to you.  In the case of my experiment the crumb never got to where I wanted it to but frankly it’s more usable in the tighter crumb than I was originally hoping for.  I may keep playing around with some of the techniques that I used but I like the flavor and the factor that the whole wheat flour ratio is pretty high.  If technique changes open up the crumb a bit great, but at this point I don’t want to adjust the flour ratios to get a more open crumb.  So is that a failure?  Absolutely not.  I think it’s great just the way it is.