Sourdough School: What I'm Teaching Myself This Fall

look at Maurizio Leo's gorgeous bread!

You know what my mission is this fall? Learning how to make sourdough bread from scratch. I've made bread in my day - a girl who loves bread as much as I do should know how to make bread. But all bread pales in comparison to sourdough. That crust. That open crumb, like a honeycomb. That flavor. That crackle. That incomparable moment of knowing you've got some excellent loaf of bread in your hands.
Somehow the soft, billowy loaves of whole wheat honey bread that usually come out of my oven just aren't the same as a bread that looks more than a little bit like it should be sitting just off-center in a painting by one of the Dutch masters.

I wrote a heading in my notebook today: Sourdough School. Then I started research. I pulled up a lot of articles. A lot. Some approach sourdough like it's simple. Some approach sourdough like it's pure algebra and science and all those things I've never been good at. Let me say something straight off - those math-y sourdough people almost intimidate me enough to scare me away from my quest to master the art of sourdough. Of course baking is science - I don't know how I got this deep into baking without acknowledging the fact. So the ironic "sourdough school" heading is actually how it's going to be. Like, school...only with more study-guides and fewer spelling lists. There is so much to learn, but after reading Maurizio Leo's extensive collection of analysis and notes about sourdough bread on his blog, The Perfect Loaf, I'm feeling (fairly) empowered. The first thing, of course, is to start the starter. Then you've got to feed the starter at least once a day but probably two or three times. Unless, of course, you're just a weekend baker in which case you can feel free to simply feed it once a week. Then there's the weighing - no proper sourdough bakers actually measure ingredients using conventional (American) methods. Everything is weighed here, "and please don't give us any lip cups and Tablespoons." I've wanted to put myself through the sourdough paces for years now, and even started a time or two. But I've never dedicated myself to the pursuit of a proper sourdough loaf the way I intend to dedicate myself to it this fall. I'm tired of the only good bread existing at a bakery an hour away from my house. I'm tired of making killer soups and stews and having to settle for some pale, golden boule that Panera dares to call "sourdough." If that's sourdough than Kim Kardashian is Queen Elizabeth II. The famous bakery, Tartine, is royalty here with Chad Robertson's starter recipe being called upon again and again by so many of the bakers I read up on. There are various alterations to the recipe, but time and again the advice newbie bakers are given is as follows:

weigh, don't measure
take your time (single ladies, the perfecting-time sourdough takes gives a girl hope for her man)
work it into your daily schedule
don't be afraid

You know, I somehow fail to feel totally comforted by people saying "don't be afraid." But if successful bakers of sourdough are bread angels, and the angels are crying "Be not afraid," then I think I'll just shut up and begin a starter. Stay tuned, friends. This is the Fall of Sourdough. In second thought, that's not a very auspicious name for something that depends on wild yeast and cozy temperatures for a living. Let's call it the Autumn of Artisan Sourdough. Because that doesn't sound pretentious at all. Now I'm off to go order a cheap little kitchen scale and get to fermenting. Who'll do it with me? You know you want a pet sourdough starter. This is the scale I bought - at just shy of $12 and a bunch of 5-star reviews, it can't be a huge mistake.

 

All joking aside, I'm super happy about this autumn project. Even a mediocre loaf of sourdough is going to be pretty dang tasty. And I believe in the power of flour and water and salt to create flavor beyond believing. Let's do this the way it's been done for centuries. We're going to master this.

4 comments

  1. We've done low-key sourdough. Or at least that is what we called it. It didn't look like that. It was quite soft, didn't have a crust, and my least favorite part . . . tasted sweet. Apparently we had some San Francisco sourdough after we toured the factory there which everybody loved, but I don't remember. If it isn't supposed to be sweet I might have to consider trying this challenge sometime.

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    1. Wow! I'll have to do some research and see what kind of sourdough you had going on there! Because you're correct, it is not supposed to be sweet! And it is supposed to have a shattering, hard crust and an open crumb. :)

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  2. My sister did sourdough for a while and it was delicious. You can definitely do it! I like the name of your self-challenge; it sounds very yummy. The only problem is that I can't taste your bread after you've learned how to make it. :)

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    1. Well, you know. I'll try at least! One never can tell what will end up happening, but one can hope.

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