Should I learn how to make sourdough bread? Entry #3
Blog Entry #3, written by Yana Bacheva
We asked the sourdough community on Instagram to tell their sourdough stories. We found all of them moving and beautiful. Enjoy reading about your fellow sourdough friends. Please feel free to leave comments.
Should I start baking sourdough bread? That’s the question Tyler asked. I wasn’t going to write anything, forget about typing it and sending it. I am not a writer, English is my second language and I barely get any time in the day to finish a thought or answer a text. I have a toddler at home that keeps me busy and wants to be involved in anything and everything. But I kept thinking about this idea and about all the writing people will send and how I can’t wait to read it. I knew I would love each one of them, because they will connect to how I feel about sourdough bread, even more so than the daily inspiration I get from fellow bakers on Instagram. Every day I am blown away by talent and support, by one person creating something and then watching that design or certain recipe take and continue to take on a different life and shape. So I thought maybe I can just try and write it down, even if just for myself, as I have been so thankful to have started on this journey.
Just like many at the beginning of the Pandemic I decided to try and make my own starter and see if I can make sourdough bread. I have always loved baking, but bread somehow never made it into my routine. I was intimidated by it I think. There wasn’t much we could do anymore, store trips were saved for once a week or so and there were limited things in the grocery stores anyway, due to everyone panic buying for the next ten years. I remember thinking I could bake more and then realizing I can’t as most of my usual staples were out of stock. The starter seemed simple enough and I had flour and water at home. Plus, I love bad puns and was very excited about naming my new starter. Mark Ruffaloaf was born. He had a short life and never got to fulfill his purpose. I left him in the oven with the light on to get warmer and then forgot all about him while preheating the oven for pizza night. Oops. I almost gave up right then; it had been over a week and I wasn’t getting the bubbles or doubling like I had seen in recipes and online. But In the end, I decided to give it one more try. Yeast Buscemi. Just like his name giver, he may not be the most handsome, but boy, does he always deliver. A badass, good guy all around actor and one of my favorites, this starter had to be named after Steve Buscemi. And sure enough, it was a success. I started making bread and the moment I took out my first loaf, now one I may be embarrassed to show, I was hooked. The forty minutes in the oven made the whole house smell so good and cozy. I forgot we were quarantined and feeling unsafe, that the world around us was so unsure and scary. Out of the oven came something made with three simple ingredients that brought such comfort. A thick slice of butter and silence as we all chewed the crusty bread and thought of how a simple thing like this can put us at ease and bring such satisfaction.
Once I had tasted the bread and gotten a taste of the comfort it gave me, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to get better at it, get the sought after ear, the open crumb, the beautiful wheat stalk scoring. Bread was all I could think about while taking care of my son. As soon as he was napping or in bed, I would go online and read articles, follow people online and wonder if I could ever make a loaf at least half as beautiful as what I saw. I bought the Tartine book and got to baking. One thing was always true, I didn’t seem to get the results I had seen in books and online, but no matter what, each loaf was good. Even the overproofed, flatter ones. My heart would sink seeing them out of the oven, flat, with no ear and the scoring design not perfect or bursting. But it smelled so good. It tasted good. Somehow, this imperfect beginner’s bread was still magical, still wonderfully satisfying. So I kept going. The anticipation of those 20 minutes before you can open the lid of the Dutch oven is nerve racking and thrilling at the same time. The pure delight and squeals of joy when you do and it’s looking good. That feeling would stay with me all day. I love being a parent and am so thankful and very lucky to be able to be with my kid all day and not have another job. But it gets to you, especially in a pandemic. You forget who you are, apart from being a mom. A caretaker, thinking of the next meal, game, nap, walk. Raising a human being is not easy. And it’s a full time job. Getting a good looking loaf, where I scored something pretty on and it worked, gave me a feeling of accomplishment. With folds every 45 minutes, autolyse and cold retard for 12 hours, it was all fitting well into our day. As long as I planned it, we could go to the playground and be back for the next set of stretches and folds. No matter how tired I got, knowing tomorrow morning I get to bake a loaf was giving me adrenaline to keep me going. I started getting better and feeling confident giving my bread to friends. And that was even more satisfying. Sure, I have made cookies or cakes before and gifted them. But bread, bread felt different. The simplicity of it. The power it holds. It can be all you need for comfort and nourishment. It can make a meal or be the meal by itself. There is something about a loaf of bread that just brings you to your roots, taking a moment to listen as the knife slices the crust, to smell it and then slather a thick chunk of butter on it. The process is the same, you can’t control the starter and bacteria, you can only try and guide it. It changes daily, with weather and temperatures, with the environment and everything around it. You can measure the growth during proof, but the only way to really know, is to just feel it. To keep making the same recipe over and over again and learn to read the signs. I kept thinking of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, a documentary about the revered sushi chef Jiro Ono, a movie that’s a thoughtful meditation on his work, family, and the art of perfection. He spent 10 years learning only how to make the rice for sushi. Nothing else. I always loved that part. The determination and patience he must have had. That desire for perfection. I don’t think I will ever be such an expert on bread, but I don’t mind making the same loaf day after day after day. To me, it’s fascinating, comforting, something is always different, no matter how similar all the steps are. I love eating it, but more than anything else I love giving it. Neighbors in our condo became friends through gifts of fresh bread. Friends came by to pick up bread, masks on and distance away, smiles and fresh bread in hands. I would drive to a friend’s house just to deliver bread. A pandemic made better with new appreciation for what is truly important, wrapped in the gift of learning a new skill. And the scoring, oh how I love it. Just like a mandala, you create and then wipe away, I would score a design and sometimes it will burst, others it will remain somehow even better as the bread rose and expanded each motif. Then sliced away and eaten. Just the right amount of pressure on the lame, not too deep or it will break. Not too thin or it will not be seen. More intuition and feel than technique. More letting go and trusting yourself.
So, is sourdough bread for me? Yes. It is therapy and friendship, comfort and indulgence. A new skill and burst of creativity. Inspiration and lesson in patience. A new world that seems to only be expanding and giving.
Should you start baking sourdough? I can’t answer that, but I would say give it a try, even if just for coming up with a silly name for your starter. I regret not using Judy Stench, so maybe this can be yours?