Words and instruction by Jessey Glibbery
Photos and completely unnecessary headings by Amanda Orlando
Raise your hand if you have Netflix. Keep it raised if you saw Cooked, the food documentary based on the book of the same name by Michael Pollan. Now if, of the four element-themed episodes “Air” was your favourite – the episode about bread-baking, then we are birds of a feather.
I must say, after having my interest in bread-baking piqued by this lovely piece of television, I’m now in the throes of a full-blown obsession. Flour: it’s a gateway drug.
After watching the episode, I was completely enthralled. It made bread look so simple! I thought: Well, it seems more nutritious and easier to digest than store-bought, so maybe I’ll just search out some naturally leavened sourdough in my community. Well, I succeeded and I didn’t succeed. I soon came to realize, that buying bread wasn’t the high I was chasing…I needed to make it myself.
I tried using the internet to help me with my new-found life-goal but I couldn’t sort out the what from the what. I would later learn and realize that there are as many ways to cook bread as there are people cooking bread. I figured I needed some hands-on coaching. In Toronto, there are a few cooking schools that offer sourdough workshops. I chose Nella Cucina, the class was taught by chef Patti Robinson. Now, the class was amazing, I loved every second of it. When complete you get to take home a few supplies and Chef Patti’s starter, but it is kind of scary too because… what’s a starter?
A starter is a combination of flour and water that cultivates wild yeast. This mixture is used instead of store-bough commercial yeast when you make sourdough. According to Emma from Kitchn, “Domesticated commercial yeast replaced wild yeast for most baking because it's easier for companies to mass produce, it's easier for bakers to store and use, and it proofs our breads and pastries in a fraction of the time.” But, the flavour and texture that’s produced from using wild yeast is so much more complex and satisfying.
Let’s do it together: Grab a mason jar or tall take-out food container, combine equal parts room-temperature to warm water and flour (try to use an unbleached or organic white). Let it sit. You’re on your way to making a starter!
Begin with optimism and mindfulness.
Acquire the necessary tools. Extra points for a $$ Japanese knife and retro paintbrush.
Here’s what One Green Planet instructs:
1. Put equal parts of four ounces of flour and water. (Some folks say go with all-purpose, others like to mix all purpose and rye flour.) Stir it into a consistent batter. Cover the jar but don’t seal it, and let it rest somewhere warm (about seventy degrees Fahrenheit) for a full day.
2. After twenty-four hours, feed the original starter with same mixture: four ounces of flour (the same type originally used) and four ounces of water. Mix it into the batter. Hopefully, the starter will have started bubbling a bit by now, which means wild yeasts are collecting in it and feeding.
3. Wait another day, and feed it the same again. By now, we are hoping for bubbles and the start of a smell, something musty and soured. If this isn’t the case, it’s okay. Temperature, climate and other variations can make it take a little longer. Just keep feeding and looking for the signs.
Take this time to contemplate deep thoughts.
4. On day four, the bubbles should be coming on quite nicely, with varying sizes and a strong aroma. Feed it the same ingredients again. Expect the mixture to feel a little looser when mixing today.
5. Optimally, day five will equate to a ready-for-use starter, something that is twice the size of what was there yesterday, the result of a sufficient amount of active yeasts. If this isn’t the case, or even if it is, simply continue with the feeding program, only now the starter is a good size, so it’s good to remove some of the old mixture before adding the new and start using it.
The only thing you should have to make bread is a scale. I bought mine for about $30 at my local kitchen supply store. The ingredients should be measured by weight and not volume.
After you use your starter to make dough, it then needs to be fed flour and water to keep the ecosystem active and balanced. The yeasts need regular feedings to convert sugars into carbon dioxide and ethanol. Gas bubbles and fruity smells signal that fermentation is under way. During fermentation (waiting and watching part) enzymes in the flour split starches into sugars and bacteria convert the sugars into lactic and acetic acid. Hence, sourdough.
I keep my starter in the refrigerator all week, take it out and feed it on Wednesday, put it back and then take it out Thursday evening or Friday morning if I want to make dough on Saturday and bake on Sunday. There is a lengthy counter fermentation process that sourdough needs and an overnight proofing.
I know this is sounding like a lot of work. But listen, it becomes completely second nature. Once you get your starter going, you’ll learn its personality, which is dictated by temperature and humidity levels in your home. Among other variables. You will maybe fail a little. You will learn and adapt and make notes and get into a rhythm.
Banneton or Babaton? I'll never get this straight
Peek at it to take a photo, even though Jessey says not to
Swaddle this baby up, + more waiting.
Treat your bread kindly. Listen to it (but really hear it), watch it grow, ensure it's resting properly.
If successful, your aerated, live-culture bread should resemble the life-giving organ of breath; the lungs.
Actual dough and bread recipes are easy to find and mostly just require some stretching and folding, along with your starter, flour, water, salt, and a bowl. So far, my favourite resources have been a few blogs, including: Kitchn and The Perfect Loaf. I’m also a member of a sourdough Facebook group, where if you post a question, members will reply immediately.
Eat the entire loaf, because you baked this and it literally took all day. You are a badass.
The venture that started as: “I think this bread seems like it would be better for me to eat” has turned into: “I need to go home and feed my starter culture and fold my bread, okay see you bye.”
Join my bread cult. You’ll love it I swear. I’m so intense about it I’ve already referred to it as an obsession, a drug, and a system of religious veneration in this post alone. I’m eating the bread, people; I’m eating the bread.
Follow @j_glib for more adventures in bread making!