Making sourdough bread.

As with most things, I often find I’m late to join the party. It took me forever to join ICQ, only to have most people already moving to MSN Messenger. Then there was MySpace, but I never got on that train. Facebook came out and I held out for about 4 years before finally buckling, and getting an account of my own.

I technically have profiles on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, but I rarely check them. I’m actually quite surprised I already have a TikTok account. The platform’s only been popular for a couple years, so this is a clear sign I’m keeping up with the times better.

Last year, during the height of the pandemic lockdown, it seemed like everyone and their mother were trying their hand at baking sourdough bread. I’m not sure exactly why I didn’t join that bandwagon when it was popular, seeing that my pantry hadn’t fallen prey to the Great Flour Shortage. Maybe it’s because it was popular. Maybe I don’t like to do something because everyone else is doing it. Maybe I like to give others time to make their mistakes, and then I can learn from them.

But the sourdough craze of 2020 seems like it would be one to easily sweep me up. I love bread. It takes every ounce of my will power to not eat a full loaf in one sitting. I have no trouble making challah, a nice Italian bread, or a delicious baguette. So, why oh why, is a sourdough so different?

It’s the starter. I felt the pressure of starting the starter, even though I had absolutely no idea what it entailed. Anything that requires a level of preparation, which is given a name like “starter”, already has me backing away. I think once that realization hit me, I made the decision to dig in my heels, and give it a try.

I watched a couple videos of how to make a sourdough starter. Seemed straightforward enough: add flour and water; mix; cover with a towel; let sit; repeat daily for 5 days. No fancy ingredients and very little effort. Why the heck did it take me so long to give this a try??

Well, I learned that some finesse is actually required. I made the mistake of forgetting to “feed” my starter on day 3. I woke up early the next morning and figured I could simply feed it then. After all, I’d only missed its feeding time by 8 hours. The stench emanating from that bowl was disgusting. I went to trusty Google and searched “does sourdough starter smell like vomit?”

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s failed at their attempt at their starter. I learned that day a starter that smells like barf needs to be fed more frequently. That putrid smell comes from butyric acid, which is a byproduct of the fermentation process. Ew.

That was my first attempt. I regrouped, and mentally prepared for trying this scientific experiment again. And sourdough bread is definitely a science experiment. I read at least 4 more blog posts, from people claiming to be established sourdough bakers. Each person seemed to have a different tried and true method, but I quickly learned that it really all depends on the temperature, the type of flour, the humidity, the feeding schedule.

The second time around, I was more attentive to my starter. When bubbles appeared, like they do when you make pancakes, and the smell had a sour, but sweet, smell, I assumed it was time for another feeding. I was right. I kept this starter going for 7 days, and eventually, it passed the “float test”, indicating it was ready for use.

Now I had to figure out how to bake with it. Apparently, this is also a process that isn’t set in stone, and depends on a bunch of environmental factors. The bulk rise time could range between 2-12 hours. How the heck do I plan my baking schedule around that??? I’m not setting my alarm at 3:00am because that’s when the loaf decides it will be ready to go into the oven! Apparently, for some, this process of trial and error, to find one’s sourdough baking rhythm, is enjoyable. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to that point.

Honestly, had I known how much stress making this bread would be, I don’t think I would have added it to my Memory List. This past week was a tough, emotional one. I’m getting divorced tomorrow morning, and it’s been challenging processing all that that’s bringing up. I found myself getting frustrated at the neediness of my sourdough starter. Or oddly concerned for its well-being. I don’t think I’ve ever cared about all-purpose flour that much before.

I’m glad I persevered. It was the budding scientist in me that kept me going. The result? Pretty darned delicious. As well, now that I’ve got my starter, I just need more local friends to share the future loaves that I’ll be baking.

Memory achieved. And ingested.

Follow along and make memories.


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