Prove it! How to bake the perfect dog

 “Cooking is an art, baking is a science” *

Having been on a breadbaking course a couple of months ago at the fabulous E5 Bakehouse in London, I can confirm that there is indeed a lot of “science” involved in baking bread.

(Who knew that you could weigh water? Seriously…)

Of course, I can already bake (I was a kids’ nanny after all). I make a mean cake, awesome cookies, killer flapjacks. So, bread: how complicated could it be, really?

Well, yeah. I don’t mind saying, I was just a teensy bit blindsided by the complexity and technicalities of the process and, despite producing four successful sourdough-based delicacies during the day, I’ve since been procrastinating about going it alone.

Yesterday, I finally plucked up the courage to make my first loaf.

(I’ve been busy ok?!)

As I was explaining to my husband over dinner last night (before he tasted it), there are a lot of parameters involved in creating the perfect loaf: room temperature, efficiency of your oven, “liveliness” of your starter, amount of time you prove the dough, recognising the exact moment your bread is cooked, etc. etc.

It occurred to me, as we devoured my (not perfect, but edible) creation, that for all the scientific theory involved in baking bread, MAKING bread is actually an art.  Knowing where to juggle, tweak and make tiny alterations here and there so that each individual loaf has the best chance of achieving perfection.  It’s the sort of skill comes with experience, which in turn breeds expertise. Both of which are the result of practice. 10,000 hours of practice, according to Malcolm Gladwell.

(Better keep baking…)

It’s kind of like dog training really.

There’s a lot of scientific theory, which any dog trainer definitely, totally and absolutely MUST understand. And no, it doesn’t involve wolves. That’s kind of like comparing Michel Roux and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. (No offence Hugh – I love the way you cook – but we’re talking chalk and cheese here. Different breeds, if you will.)

But knowing the theory is one thing. Knowing how to APPLY the theory, to each individual situation, problem, and dog-owner dyad, there’s no science for that. There’s no scientific analysis of tweaking (as far as I’m aware). It’s practice, experience, expertise. It’s 10,000 hours.

Sometimes (I will probably get shot for saying this), it’s even about just doing what “feels” right and following your gut (actually, this probably applies to bread as much as dogs). Because we’re not machines, we’re humans. We don’t just bake, we MAKE.

So yes, understanding dog behaviour may well be a science. But the act of training dogs is an art.

And if Seth Godin is right (and when isn’t he?): “Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work”.

So whether it’s bread, cookies, cakes, or puppies, bring your best. Bring all your skill, all your knowledge, all those hours.

Bring all your humanity to the process and don’t just bake it, MAKE it.


* (Quote from a 1060s King Arthur Flour catalogue)

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