Bread-baking and the value of repetition

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the value of repetition in the kitchen, of doing the same task over and over and over again. Repeating it until you’re completely sick of doing it, then repeating it some more until you can do it in your sleep. And, ideally, becoming a little bit better at it every time, a little more attuned to the nuances of the products you’re working with or the ambient conditions you’re working in.

It’s hard to reach that level of repetition outside of the professional kitchen, but there’s still value to be had in repeating things on a lesser scale. I discovered this particularly over the summer when I was roasting coffee at least once a week, sometimes several times. I started off unsure of the process, and gradually gained skill and confidence, until by the end of the season, I found myself mentally compensating for the weather and degree of roast I wanted. I’m still far from an expert coffee roaster, but I learned a lot just from going through the same steps week in, week out.

I’ve put coffee roasting on hold for the winter, since I roast outside, and it’s a bit cold out there these days. (For me, if not for the beans.) So I tried to think of a similar project I could pursue during the winter, and it occurred to me: bread. While I’ve baked bread several times, I’ve never been consistent with it, and as a result, I have never grokked bread – especially kneading by hand.

So I decided that, for the next few weeks at least, I would bake bread at least once a week, just as I did with coffee. I started simple: for the past two weeks, I’ve baked a loaf of Dutch oven bread, using the recipe in Ruhlman’s Twenty. I’ve enjoyed them, and I recognize that they’re just a starting point.

What tasks, in the kitchen or elsewhere, did you learn thoroughly through repetition?

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