Editor’s Note: In-house bread baking has become such an isolation/social-distancing phenomenon that Stephen Fry has added it to the 1,000,000 things he already does:
My first attempt at sourdough bread is cooling… took five days to prepare and feed the active starter. The loaf has certainly risen – we’ll have to see how it tastes… silly how exciting it all is pic.twitter.com/7oYcqbsFzx
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) April 1, 2020
and popular to the point of “bakelash,” that point at which others mock and criticize this phenomenon. As editor, let me point out that Breadder Burque is now six weeks into its run, thus a true “original bread gangsta” relative to the, for lack of a better term, viral wave of baking popularity in the weeks (that seem like decades) since. Here’s this week’s installment.
by Emily Esterson
Earlier this week I gifted 100g of starter to my friend Jenn, who helps me around the farm and rides my horses. I haven’t gifted starter before, but I have been the recipient of starter. Years and years ago, an old friend of my husband’s gave me a small ball of what I now know as stiff starter (perhaps it was actually a levain—I could go down this rabbit hole now, but I won’t) and with it came eight handwritten pages of instructions.
This was long before everybody started baking bread and flour and yeast became scarce and we all had plenty of time to put some starter in a jar and watch it rise for 12 hours, and then spend the next three days tinkering with dough.
That was my first foray into sourdough and, at the time, I didn’t completely understand (or even understand at all) the science behind bread, and was, at best, an occasional bread baker rather than an obsessive, as I am today. Back then, I found these handwritten and detailed instructions intimidating. I don’t recall how often I used that starter and those instructions—a few times at least, but I believe I forgot about it pretty quickly.
That said, I saved the handwritten notes in a binder where I keep all the recipes I’ve printed off from the internet and wanted to save; a big fat, overflowing disaster of a binder that I organize maybe once every five years. I also have a newer binder, from baking school, that now also includes handwritten notes.
I found those old instructions recently when I was searching for my go-to bagel recipe. They are now stained and worn-looking, and I should really put them in plastic sleeves because I now know that they are very, very good instructions and definitely worth saving and using. Even though he is no longer a presence in Scot’s life, I find myself appreciating the effort that went into my sourdough apprenticeship all those years ago.
So now it’s my turn to pay it forward.
When Jenn mentioned wanting to fool around with sourdough, I jumped at the chance to gift her with 100 grams of Tribble, and:
- Diligently typed out a page of instructions on how to feed her new friend;
- Scanned a pretty good recipe; and,
- Sent her some links to some great websites, including the useful “The Perfect Loaf,” a highly detailed (maybe to the point of obsession) and interesting web presence overseen by someone named Maurizio right here in Albuquerque, so we know the instructions are corrected for altitude.
Once Jenn had completed her first loaf, I demanded a photo and “crumb shot,” which is Instagram-bread-obsessive speak for a picture of the interior on your loaf so your crumb (the “meat” of your bread and the size of its holes) can be properly analyzed, ooh/aahed over, and, at-times, criticized by the bread-loving public on social media.
So yes, I’ve become that person… the one who hands you a jar of starter and then proceeds to lecture you about how to take care of it, like you’ve just adopted a dog. I’m now actually checking in on her, at 8:30 on a Friday night, via text, of course, in these isolation/social-distancing times:
“How’d it come out?”
I await her response anxiously, happy to share my newfound knowledge, a small inkling of it, anyway, with friends who might need the same comfort I find in the baking, analyzing, and of course, eating, process.