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?

2 thoughts on “Startup Lessons In Baking

  1. When it comes to cooking, I am no entrepreneur I know a few recipes that I can do really well, and I can have fun making kanapes and stuff, but my baking skills are pretty much nil. That won’t stop me having opinions about your blog though:
    Make it a bit more clear for us baking noobs why the “Amazing moment” was amazing, from a bakers point of view, cos, I didn’t get that part.
    I think there is a start-up lesson right there: Look for that magical moment, where the product suddenly goes from gloop to something that feels right. Look for it in planning, in marketing, in talking about the product, in the product itself.
    EXPECT to make a mess when you start out. If you’re not fucking it up, you’re playing it too safe.
    Nice piece !

  2. Thanks Lars,

    So I’ve been reflecting on your ponts that you made, think there’s something really interesting there.

    So firstly, I honestly didn’t expect the “I didn’t get it” response. That’s a lesson for me right there – I need to remember to put myself in the shoes of the person I’m trying to communicate with. Just because something makes perfect sense in my head, doesn’t mean it will in yours. This is a startup blog, and I spoke to bakers 😉

    I believe that “people that bake” would read the blog post and completely understand “aaaaaaahhhh” moment. People that have made brioche, I’m sure, would “get it”. Because they’ve been there, and done that.

    And maybe that’s something that speaks to the heart of what I’m trying to do with Founders Anonymous.

    As founders, we need the chance to talk about things when everything looks like startup gloop. If we talk about it, then we get to hear that it’s all just part of the process, or it’s time to throw it in the bin and start again, or to add this ingredient, or whatever. And that advice can only meaningfully come from our peers. People that “get that part”. People like yourself 🙂

    And for me to hear that I should expect to make a mess when starting out gives me permission to fail, which in turn invites me to try. And if I never try, I can never succeed.

    So thank you for your kind words, and giving me the impetus to continue trying.

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