Skip to main content

Playing High and Dry with Sourdough

Lately I've been playing with dough. It's become a sort of compulsion.

Maybe because I'm tired of driving all the way to some bakery every time I want a sourdough loaf--which, lately, is always. Maybe because I graduated with my MFA last August and I'm still figuring new rhythms which now include bread.

Maybe because I sometimes feel like rebelling against technology, want to go back to old ways of doing things, from times when people made things by hand and they were fabulous, instead of buying assembly-line things that taste and behave as if assembled in a line. Or a line-up. Criminally bad.

When assembly-line bread began appearing in France, the French did what you'd expect them to do--made bad bread illegal. Which is why their bread is fabulous and ours is criminal. But, you know, freedom--sort of a big deal in our part of the world. However, there are costs. Freedom means suffering will necessarily be part of the world, as Dostoyevsky always said. Freedom also means if I don't like suffering with criminally crappy bread, I can learn to make good bread myself. And send out good bread into the world, thereby reducing in some small way the overall suffering of the world.

So I've been researching, experimenting with, baking, and, especially eating sourdough obsessively for the past month.

Now sourdough is taking over my kitchen.

Three sourdough starts--because I can't bear to throw the extra away and it multiplies. Please come get some.

Sourdough in three stages--starter, dough, and just-baked bread--because it's becoming a compulsion. I really can't stop. My bread box is full and I keep making more.

A finished loaf--because that's what it's all about. Still working on my scoring.
Meanwhile, I've learned some things--about myself, about sourdough.
  • All bread was once sourdough. Quick-acting yeast is a recent invention, result of the Industrial Revolution's tendency to transform all things slow into all things speedy and mass-produced.
  • Once you learn how--and work out all the glitches--sourdough is easier to make than regular bread. It just rises longer.
  • Also, it tastes better. But we already knew that.
  • Also, it's easier to digest, because the wheat has time to ferment. Some hail sourdough as the salvation of the gluten-intolerance epidemic. Some blame quick-acting yeast for the epidemic in the first place.
  • I'm a perfectionist (not that we didn't know that already, too), and bread-making is a glitchy process if you want a perfect crust, perfect crumb, perfect flavor, a beautiful-looking loaf. It's especially glitchy if you're making whole-grain sourdough at high altitude in the desert. 
  • All the best sourdough recipes originate at sea-level, in relative humidity, moderate temps. San Francisco, for example. And sea-level recipes are all wrong for baking in the dry, high (5,000 feet) cold late-spring air of the mountains where I live. It makes for fabulous snow if you like skiing, but sucks the moisture right out of your flour. And your dough. And your bread. 
  • I don't know if I can eat regular bread ever again, in spite of glitches. Sourdough just makes great bread.

More later on my experiments.


Popular posts from this blog

Writing Marathon Weekend

Hey, I'm doing a writing marathon this weekend., just this minute.

It was Carol Lynch Williams's and Ann Dee Ellis's idea, and they're throwing a dinner if you meet your goal, so consider dumping everything and joining the marathon. Here's the link that tells what you have to do. It's free, and you set your own rules/goals, so how can you lose?

I'm doing this because I need a deadline.

An excuse not to cook dinner or clean my house for three days is always nice, too.

Do I need an excuse? No. But it sounds slightly better than the usual: my mom's a writer so it always looks like this around here.

My goals for the marathon: finish my current polishing-up run-through of my novel and go back and fix all bajillion things I made notes to myself to fix, so I'll be ready by Monday to print out my WIP for yet another run-through.

Goals are good, but you don't have to do a writing marathon to have them. What are yours for this weekend?

Do y…

LeGuin in defense of fantasy

One of my favorite essays on a pet topic. Hope it's not illegal to post it here. Why do I write fantasy? For the same reason I read it: for pure delight, because it speaks true, and because I believe in the power of imagination. Here Ursula K. LeGuin argues eloquently in defense of fantasy. Love this.

Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons? "The Language of the Night" by Ursula Le Guin This was to be a talk about fantasy. But I have not been feeling very fanciful lately, and could not decide what to say; so I have been going about picking people's brains for ideas. "What about fantasy? Tell me something about fantasy." And one friend of mine said, "All right, I'll tell you something fantastic. Ten yeas ago, I went to the children's room of the library of such-and-such a city, and asked for The Hobbit; and the librarian told me, 'Oh, we keep that only in the adult collection; we don't feel that escapism is good for children."' My fr…

LargeThings: Cups and Cockroaches

I spent the weekend in New Mexico at the Great Southwest Track and Field Meet.

Albuquerque was hot. And smoky, thanks to a huge Arizona fire that filled the place the night we got in. The city was also full of fast people with large muscles and zero-percent body fat running in the heat. Luckily, a hot wind blew away most of the smoke so the runners didn't die of smoke inhalation.

My favorite part: water cups in Albuquerque are HUGE.

You know how if you go out for fast food or to a movie theater and ask for water, most places give you a leprechaun-sized styrofoam cup and if you complain they threaten to call the cops for suggesting something so outrageous as a full-sized drink of water? In Albuquerque, you get giant water cups. Humungous. With lids. And straws. And lots of ice. Which was great, because did I mention New Mexico is hot?

My least favorite part: large cockroaches. Like  the one we found in a drawer in my hotel room. Nice and healthy-looking.

We closed the drawer and ho…