Bread was among one of the first things I ever baked, and it was a strange, mysterious and incredibly rewarding experience. Watching the yeast dissolve and grow foamy in sugary water, then the springy aliveness of the dough – it was all so new and exciting. Enamoured with my new hobby, I even wrote a short story about breadmaking for a high school English assignment, about which my teacher said, “This is very sensual” – a comment that surprised my logical, rational outlook of myself, but I didn’t know much then (I still don’t).
From that first basic white loaf I branched out into making whole wheat bread, rye, pita breads, bagels, challah…but of course the next big step in any self-proclaimed serious baker’s repertoire is sourdough. The promise of Real Bread flavour, the beautifully uneven holes that are revealed upon slicing – these rewards demand planning and patience, qualities that apparently our fast-paced lives lack regard for. Feeling somewhat ready for the challenge, my first dalliance into sourdough was over eight years ago with a wild yeast starter made with organic raisins (I don’t think I could find organic ones then, it still wasn’t that common), flour and water. The lumpy potion sat in a Mason jar on the kitchen table for a week, eyed suspiciously by my roommates. After a week, not even a blip of a bubble came out of it, and I was crushed; looking back now I see that the whole thing was a misguided and overly ambitious endeavour to be made in the dead middle of a Canadian winter in the suburbs of a university town. Brokenhearted, I went back to the relative dependability of store-bought dried yeast, but the shadows of sourdoughs unrealized haunted me.
This fall, I decided that it was about time that I shook off the emotional distress of the past, and pep-talked myself into feeling that I was finally mature enough to take care of a sourdough starter. To leave nothing to chance, I used a recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book (by Edward Espe Brown) that called for a small amount of dried yeast. From my research I knew that eventually wild yeast would inoculate the starter and the flavour would come to represent the local microflora of the Canadian prairies, but for now I was satisfied with a generic Sourdough Baby.
Luckily, the Sourdough Baby began showing signs of life right away! The first loaves where a miracle, and so were the second and third. It has been a joy and delight to use and feed my new pet. For the past few weeks, Baby and I have been getting to know eachother: every time I make up a fresh batch of dough, I learn more about Baby’s preferences, such as warmer temperatures, a pre-ferment without any salt to get the carbon dioxide production going, which pans it likes to be baked in to give the most volume, a regular feeding schedule. I am very proud to say that I haven’t bought bread for many weeks now, as Baby and I are getting used to eachother’s rhythms.
I foresee a happy life together.