My sister wasn’t lying when she said bread baking is a labour of love. Sometime around 15 days or so ago—could be more, certainly not less—I went over to her kitchen bubbling over with anticipation (that’s a sourdough starter pun, for y’all uninitiated). “It’s sourdough day!” I texted her first thing in the morning. Of course, I was a little disappointed when I realized our first “sourdough day” consisted of adding some flour to some water, stirring it, and then watching approximately 19
episodes of ER.
However. We persevered.
|This was days and days ago it seems|
Well rather, Bailey persevered. She dutifully fed the starter every day. She took its photo, tended to its temperature, sniffed it often, and generally cared for it with at least as much attention as one would give a newborn. After a week, it was “sourdough day” again.
Unfortunately, we picked a weeknight for baking and I made the grave error of getting the sponge going at 5:30 in the afternoon. By 9:30, after what in hindsight seems like the most grievously hasty leavening ever attempted, we thought we’d just give it a go and throw it in the oven.
If you don’t know what that is, you’re not ready to make bread. You’re probably not even ready for the starter. You need to go read Pollan’s book.
So we fed the starter again, cooed to it, coaxed it, and decided to wait until a Sunday for our next attempt so that we could truly devote an entire day to the process.
Unfortunately, we read ever so slightly too late that the sponge should sit overnight, and that even after that, there are at least six hours between making dough and turning on the oven. So we were thwarted on Sunday night, and instead let our shaped boules sit in the fridge until Monday.
Which is probably for the best. At this point, we had been working on the bread for about thirteen hours straight, not including starter cultivation of course. Every bowl Bailey owned was either filled with starter, a back-up sponge, a water float test, rising boules, or some other manner of living, breathing, goddamn finicky business. Our flour was long gone. Like addicts, we shook the last of the white powder from the crevices of the bag. “Just another gram or two is all we need,” our inner monologues hissed with the fervor of the obsessed.
And so finally, after a seemingly interminable wait, we were able to finally put the loaves into a blazing 500 degree oven and await the next bout of dejection in a long and bitter process.
It smelled like bread at the end. It had a crispy and golden exterior like bread. A noticeable crumb, and even a pleasantly toothsome texture. This, by God, was really bread. “So we will keep the starter?” We asked ourselves. “Let’s not throw it out after all.”