“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”

…or so goes the famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote.  Not so with certain culinary quests, I say.

For example, I bake French baguettes.  A lot.  I bake all the bread for our family of two.  My issue is regardless of how fastidious I am with my ingredients and methods, the end result is never exactly the same.  A loaf would be slightly more brown or less brown, slightly more or less crusty, the crumb slightly more or less open.  One might think that I am being too critical and too unrealistic, but I don’t believe so, and I think I know the reason why the results are never the same.

Recently, I was chatting with a colleague at our Friday beer bash-cum-company meeting about brewing beer.  I asked him if he thinks he can reproduce a particular batch of beer if somebody asks him to.  We eventually decided that while it may appear that a product is reproducible, it’s really quite near impossible for amateur small-batch producers to do so.  Variance in ingredients would singlehandedly thwarts such an effort.

In my case, the flour might differ depending on the crop, on how soon it was milled after harvested, on its age when I use it.  The water, though from the same faucet and filtered in the same filtering pot, might have varying quantities of dissolved gases because of temperature, season, or atmospheric pressure.  The long pre-ferment time may give the yeast too much leeway in its interaction with the flour, diverging down different paths of development each time.

Large-quantity producers produce products of consistent quality perhaps not only because of greater skill and experience, but also because the amounts of raw materials involved are so large that there is a much much larger “averaging” effect within any one batch, and also from batch to batch, such that the products vary little in quality.

2 Comments on ““A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds””

  1. #1 Susan
    on May 11th, 2013 at 10:02

    I’ve also read bread bakers who say the temperature and humidity of the day makes a rather significant difference!

  2. #2 aqn
    on May 13th, 2013 at 12:15

    Susan:

    Absolutely! My beer-brewing colleague also raises the point of whether the consumer of the beer/baguette can distinguish between beer/baguette of slightly different characteristics, or whether they all appear to be of an uniform quality.