I am a compulsive follower of recipes. I cannot not follow a recipe. And I'm not very good at cooking if I don't have a recipe to follow. This makes me a rather poor cook, but a pretty decent baker. I like baking and baking is a precise art. It's not so precise that a little slip-up here or there can't be recovered from, but it's precise enough that one should have a recipe and one should follow it. Usually a followed recipe when baking means a reasonably delicious outcome.
Unless, I am learning, the baked good is yeast breads. There is magic to yeast breads, and I haven't quite mastered it yet. My suspicion is that the problem has to do with my blind recipe-following and the fact that I'm not entirely sure of the reasons behind the recipe.
Take, for example, these attempted bialys.
we both think they look like onion-topped nipples; the resemblance is disturbing
I followed the recipe exactly, including the careful pricking of the centres so that they wouldn't do exactly what they did. They taste fine, but the experience of eating them is somewhat less than satisfying.
The thing I am realizing is that I need a little more understanding of the science behind baking. Chemistry was not my favourite subject in university, to say the least, but this is chemistry I can eat. And when it's taught to me by people like Alton Brown on Good Eats, well, I can get in to chemistry. Once I learn a bit more about why yeast breads do the magical things they do, I think I can follow -- or adapt, or embellish -- recipes with more confidence.