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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.

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