One of the articles I am preparing for the Summer issue of Bread (which comes out around the end of June) is an interview with Phil Agnew, the passionate amateur baker turned pro from Australia you may remember from his beautiful blog and Instagram feed — and an interview in the first ever issue of Bread.
I started this second interview by asking Phil how being a professional baker differs from being an amateur. His answer, before going into details about the work, inspired me tremendously, reminding of something important. Phil wrote:
I would still consider myself an amateur in the truest sense — amateur as in the old French term for “lover of”.
This is an important observation: more than a stage in the craft, being an amateur is an attitude.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept called Shoshin, a “beginner’s mind”. This concept, which can be applied to many things from craft to creativity, is built around the idea that someone with a beginner’s mind is open and eager to learn more, excited even — and that this attitude can be maintained even when one is no longer a beginner. Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki has said:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Put the two ideas together and you have ingredients for something magical.
Visiting bakeries, I have seen bakers who are passionate about what they do as well as bakers who just put in the hours — and one thing is clear: the results go hand in hand with how much they enjoy their work.
But this is true not just for professional bakers but also for us home bakers. While the boredom might creep in more commonly among professionals, we home bakers can just as well get so stuck in our routines that we forget what brought us to bread in the first place. We can find ourselves in a place where we still kind of enjoy bread making and wouldn’t go back to buying supermarket bread, but at the same time start to notice that the process is slowly turning into a household chore.
This post is for those moments when you need some inspiration for rekindling the love for bread and finding the fun in bread making again.
Here we go, 7 ideas for maintaining a beginner’s mind and an amateur’s attitude towards bread making and keeping the craft fun:
1. Take the time to experience the dough
One of the first warning signs telling you that your bread making is turning into a chore is when you notice that you are going through the motions without fully being there. When you notice yourself doing this and turning on the auto pilot, stop what you are doing and take a close look at the dough.
Touch the dough. Smell the dough. What it feels like in your hands? Can you smell the flour, how about the fermentation?
Breathe in the aroma of bread as it bakes in the oven. Listen to the sound of crust cracking as it cools down.
Bread gives you a great opportunity for escaping all the busywork and learning to live in the moment, focusing on one thing at the time. Don’t let this opportunity escape. Take time to pay attention to your bread making and in no time, you will find yourself getting more excited than ever before.
2. Surround yourself with bread inspiration
Having someone to look up to and inspire you is a great way to keep you motivated. Bread making is not a competition and so most bakers are happy to share what they are doing and even share some of their secrets with you.
Find great bread to fall in love with, then try to learn from it and apply the things that inspire you the most to make your own.
You can find bread inspiration by following bakers on Instagram, watching our collection of bread making inspiration videos, joining #BreadChat (check out our April 2013 issue for an interview with the creators of the monthly Twitter event) and getting in touch with other bread lovers in your home town.
And from time to time, go and buy a loaf of bread from a great artisan bakery and allow yourself to look at and taste the bread in awe, as if seeing it for the first time.
3. Challenge yourself
One of the key ideas in the concept of a beginner’s mind is the willingness to fail. Think of children as they practice walking: they fall, they get up, they fall again, challenging themselves to more and more difficult routes — even trying to run well before they seem ready for it.
Failing teaches you more than success, and learning is what makes bread making fun.
So, if you have gotten just a little bit too comfortable with your bread, try expanding your comfort zone and being ready to fail again. This doesn’t have to be anything massive — often just trying a new type of bread (and then getting obsessed by it) can do the trick.
Then, when you fail, analyze the results: What did you do differently this time? What caused you to fail? How can you improve next time? And remember to always have that next time! Successfully completing something challenging is where a lot of the fun lies in.
4. Be curious and embrace what you don’t know
I would guess that it was curiosity that first got you to bread. A simple question: how is good bread made? Could I make it too?
But maybe somewhere down the road you stopped asking questions and felt as if you had arrived. To be a beginner is to go back to the beginning and approach the craft as if you had never done it before, questioning the things you know.
After asking more questions and letting your curiosity drive you, you might find that what you knew was actually right — but now you also know why that is. Or you might end up realizing that maybe things weren’t quite the way you thought. Both are great, fun, ways to encourage more learning!
Even the stupid questions are worth asking, because then you learn and don’t have to ask them again.
5. Let yourself go overboard
Hack your oven. Go out and build one — and do it without a plan. Fill your cupboards with flour. Bake every day for a week, month… or a year.
Don’t think too much about what others think. If you feel like sprouting grain and grinding it in a coffee grinder, just do it.
Quite often, going overboard and letting yourself be a little crazy is a great way to bring more fun to the craft.
6. Share what you learn
I believe bread is mostly about sharing. There is an element of gift, giving something to people you care about as well as an element of giving back. Coupled with a healthy dose of pride for your accomplishments, sharing bread with friends and strangers can fuel the passion.
Sharing what you learn can take many forms: it can be a loaf of bread you bring to your grandfather, a baking session with your children, a bread making blog, a sourdough bread making tutorial, or a photo shared with other bread lovers.
7. Read Bread magazine
I just had to put this one in… While this is obviously my way of marketing the magazine, this fits well with many of the other ideas listed in this blog post: BREAD Magazine is a magazine full of bread making inspiration as well as ideas that will fuel your experiments.
Because of this, I like to think of the magazine as a way of encouraging you to bake more and while doing so, have more fun with bread.
How do you maintain a beginner’s mind and keep bread making fun?