Sunday, February 14, 2010


I have mentioned before my love of bread-baking, and I feel confident that this will not be the last time I do so. I've been in the midst of beginning the process of building starters, both for a typical sourdough and for a rye sourdough. Because N. is allergic to yeast, developing sourdough starters with wild yeast has been an interesting adventure. I've found that using pineapple (or orange, or lemon) juice helps to get in some of the acidity and fermentation (about which I know very very little) and, more than anything, it helps develop the gas bubbles in the starter that are so desired:

which becomes this:

and then, if you're lucky, this (these are actually my friend A's boules; I can't help but chuckle when I see them, little buns that they are...):

I felt profoundly connected to the process of bread baking from the first loaf I made. Making sourdough, or any other bread requiring some sort of starter, however, is a test in patience. It's not a matter of hours, which is in itself a process, but a matter of days. The stater must be maintained every three days, which makes it a constant ongoing process in a way. They say that if you are thinking of having a child, it is a good idea to start with a plant, then a pet, etc. I've got many plants and two pets, and I've got to say that maintaining the starter is just as much a process!

So, why bread. Well, for me, there are so many layers. I love connecting with the process of a living organism. I took a lot of ceramics in undergrad, so there is a similar experience in relating to a lump of ingredients and working to make it into something beautiful. Making a shot of espresso is much the same; there is a mix of both precision and instinct in the process. I can measure everything out, watch the time to a T, but things generally go much better if I just follow motor memory and take my head out of the process. I love getting lost in kneading a loaf of bread, or wondering who might enjoy the second loaf in a batch. Bread is such a basic food, made of flour and water, really. Other elements come in for different breads, but it is so basic, so simple. Every loaf is different, just like every shot of espresso or every handmade mug is different. Each is an experience to be had, a possibility for a little shimmer of joy or warmth or rest in the midst of an otherwise chaotic world. It is the profound simplicity in these elements (pushing eucharistic undertones here, I know) that speaks to their power. In breaking bread together, we are enjoying a meal from one loaf, which is connected back to a starter, which will make many more loaves, given to many more people, shared over meals or toasted with jam for breakfast. I have already given part of my starter to A, who is new to bread baking. Thinking then to the connections as they extrapolate outward. All from a little flour and water and, in this case, pineapple juice.


  1. Making Sourdough need not be as complicated as all that.

    First: After you have a viable starter you can leave it for months in the fridge without doing anything with it. To use it again: pour off the alcohol on top, throw out all but a little, double it, and after a couple days of feeding it's ready to go again. My starter many years old now, and I've sometimes neglected it for months.

    You also don't *need* different starter for rye and wheat flour. Wheat flour starter will work fine in rye, and you won't notice the difference.

    Finally, I highly recommend Peter Reinhart's books for anyone getting serious about bread baking. He's changed the way I think about bread--so many bread books are based on old wives tales rather than the science that Reinhart employs. Given that he's an ex-monk, this is amusing to me. You'd also probably like his Ted talk about bread.

  2. Berck,

    That's just the thing; I am actually enjoying the process of trying out different things, seeing what works and what doesn't, what we like to eat and what we don't. I don't really like that it's complicated, but I'm loving the process. N's allergy to commercial yeast adds an interesting challenge to the mix, which I also appreciate.

    Thanks for the input on the book: I actually got "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" as a gift and am loving it, though taking it one bread at a time--not jumping in to try them all just yet...