Monthly Archives: December 2013

Startup Lessons In Baking

My first-ever-proper-Brioche is well underway. It started out with a nightmare vision of “There’s waaay too much liquid in this to ever turn into something manageable” and ended up having potential. I guess I can draw some parallels to startup life.

Brioche Dough Proving

Brioche Dough Proving

I’m following along with Paul Hollywood’s recipe, but don’t have a stand mixer so am freestyling it on the technique.

It didn’t start out too well, I can tell you. I mixed wet & dry ingredients, turned out onto a surface and tried to knead it. After scraping most of the gloop off my hands, telling myself to keep trusting the recipe (i.e. resist the temptation to add a buttload more flour), I googled round a bit and read that letting the dough autolyse for 30 minutes makes it much easier to handle. So back into the mixing bowl, and had a cup of coffee to help me unwind (?!)

When I went back, sure enough it felt better. It was still really wet and sticky, and the only way I could see to knead it was using Bertinet’s “slap & fold” method (ooerr missus!). All seemed to be going well, and it started to get more structure to it. But then all of a sudden it really changed (in about 30 seconds), and seemed to get reeeaaaaallly sticky. Ulp!

At that point I added a bit more flour, which brought things back from the brink, and decided it was time to include the butter. I switched from “slap and fold” to “stretch and roll up”, as used by Dan Stevens from River Cottage. In went about 25 grams, and I worked it through. And the more butter that got added, the silkier and more managable the dough became. At about the 125g mark, I experienced something amazing.

Rather than stretching, I was smearing. Rather than rolling up, I was folding back with a bench scraper.

In between smearing and scraping I was adding more and more butter. What was happening can best be described as the baking equivalent of a particle/wave duality. The two actions were fundamentally changing the state between a dough and a batter, and back again.

And it took more butter, and more butter, and more butter. When I spread it out, butter oozed on the bench, when I scraped it up, it hung together as a single substance. I could have played with it for hours, but all-too-soon it had taken all the butter I had to give it, and it needed to rest in the fridge.

So now it’s safely in a tupperware bowl in the fridge and my hands are cleaned. I can’t yet say the same about the kitchen. Of course, I still don’t know how it’s going to turn out – it needs to rest for at least 7 hours, so will get finished off tomorrow morning. But the signs are hopeful. For now, I’m happy with how things are turning out.

If you’re a bread baker and haven’t yet tried making brioche by hand, I can highly recommend it. It’s a rollercoaster ride but when you get to adding the butter, it becomes a thing of beauty.

If you’re a startup entrepreneur, there’s lessons to be learned in here:

  • Innovate when necessary, but try to innovate in one direction only!
  • Trust your instincts, but take advice from others.
  • If your gut tells you something’s wrong, it’s worth finding out why.
  • The journey is as important as the destination.
  • Have faith, and have fun.

What startup lessons can you see in this?