the best reality show not on the food network
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Breadness Blog, episode 10 – The Genesis of Breadness…
“I wonder if I could make sourdough bread? And if it turns out good enough, we could give it as gifts for the holidays.”
So began my journey into the land of bread. Not just any bread, but sourdough bread. And not just any sourdough bread… artisan sourdough bread… a world unto itself! But it didn’t exactly start out that way!
Having never made bread of any kind before, but knowing I’d need a starter culture for sourdough, I went on line and found some starters at culturesforhealth.com, Notice I said “starters.” I figured I’d try to make Rye Sourdough and a San Francisco (wheat) Sourdough and there was a specific culture for each one. The cultures come in little freeze-dried packets so I ordered one of each and waited for them to arrive.
Once in hand, I proceeded to read the cryptic instructions: Add flour and water, cover with a cloth and leave out. Wait a day or two. Throw most of it out. Add more water and flour. Wait a day or two. Throw most of it out, etc. I had both of these cultures going and by the 7th day, they had come alive! They were rising and falling, depending on where they were in the feeding process.
Next step: make the Rye Sourdough according to the recipe that came with the starter. It, too, was a bit cryptic, but I followed it closely, including pouring the wet, sticky dough into a greased bread pan and then baking it. In the end, I got what you see in the photo above (and below).
As far as looks go, it wasn’t bad for my first attempt. However, it wasn’t what I envisioned sourdough rye would look like, feel like or taste like. And the final straw for this experiment was that even with the well-greased pan, it pretty much took a hammer and chisel to get the baked-on rye crust off the sides of the pan.
I bid a sad farewell to the rye starter and gave it a proper burial…
Turning my attention to the San Francisco sourdough, I followed that recipe to the letter. It involved mixing and kneading and waiting a bit and kneading some more and then dumping the dough onto a baking pan and putting in the oven. The result of this first attempt was not encouraging…
I now had something that looked like a big, gray UFO! It sort of tasted like a distant cousin to sourdough bread, but I was a galaxy away from my sourdough vision.
I figured I must be doing something wrong so I searched for the YouTube video on making this bread and found I had done it exactly as they showed, except they used a bread pan and I used a sheet pan. (I just felt that sourdough should stand on its own.) Same result…
By now it was mid-December and I needed some answers to this sourdough enigma, fast! I went on line and this time I entered “sourdough bread” in the search box, selected the Images tab, and voila… a photo of an awesome loaf of sourdough bread was right there. I clicked on it and it took me to Amazon where I could by a book with this big, beautiful sourdough bread loaf on the cover: “Tartine Bread” by Chad Robertson.
Now THAT was more like it. I wanted to make THAT sourdough!
Turns out, making THAT sourdough was not an easy process. The first 30 pages of the book were all about Chad’s travels to France as a young baker, learning the artisan way of crafting this bread. There was much to know about the starter, the smell and feel of it, the feel of the dough, and other nuances that needed to be experienced. Then Chad spent ten years running a small bakery in Point Reyes, California, testing and refining his artisan skills, before opening a bakery/café in San Francisco.
I didn’t have the luxury of spending years in Europe learning time-honored skills from the masters of this art and craft. Nor did I have time to apprentice at a micro-bakery in a small coastal town in northern California.
What was I to do?
Author’s note: I had fully intended to continue the Breadness Blog with episode 11, but our micro-bakery took off so fast it was like riding a wild mustang and hanging on for dear life! So I started the Breadness Buzz weekly e-mail newsletter which has supplanted this blog.
If you’d like to receive the Breadness Buzz via e-mail, join us here.
Randall Michael Tobin