I know I’m a little late coming to the sourdough party. Bread-baking got really popular during the pandemic, when most of us were locked down and looking for things to do at home. Banana bread and sourdough bread seemed to be at the top of the list.

I never got into bread-baking then, although I really like sourdough bread. I remember one time – long ago, during a vacation in San Francisco – buying a packet of sourdough starter from a little shop on Fisherman’s Wharf. I don’t, however, remember actually making the bread.

Just recently, I saw a recipe for sourdough bread in one of my health-related cookbooks, and it pointed out that sourdough bread is healthier than most other types of bread, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Before you can make the bread, however, you need a sourdough starter, which takes a number of days of feeding, weighing, measuring, and mixing before it can be used. I felt like a chemist in a lab rather than a baker in the kitchen, but without the Bunsen burner and dangerous chemicals.

In the process, I learned a whole new vocabulary, including phrases like bulk fermentation and bread lame, and new definitions for words like starter, discard, and proofing. Plus, I now know the correct way to stretch and fold, and the difference between a first and second rise – other than the obvious difference of one being first and the other one second.

Most of the recipes I found started out by explaining the science of sourdough, including why and how often feeding the starter was necessary, and why you had to throw away a lot of it before it would be ready to use. I found a number of recipes for using up this “discard,” and tried a few of them. One was a disaster, another was just okay, and only one was half-way decent. But I’ll keep working at it.

Yesterday I had my first experience of baking an actual loaf of sourdough bread. It came out of the oven looking like a loaf of bread should look, and it smelled and tasted wonderful. The crust wasn’t exactly right, so for future attempts, I’ll try other methods I read about, like steam-baking, and drizzling the top with olive oil before it goes in the oven.

Although it took a while and there were some failures and frustrations along the way, I consider the whole operation a big success. In addition to learning how to make starter and sourdough bread, I learned to be patient and precise, and to not give up or get discouraged when things don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to on the first try.

I actually learned these life lessons long ago, but I haven’t had to put them into practice lately. It was probably similar to using muscles that haven’t gotten much exercise in a while. And it felt good.

After all that, a delicious loaf of sourdough bread was just the icing on the cake.

August 8, 2022
©Betty Liedtke, 2022

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