By the time you start ordering Shelter-at-Home in week eight, you’ve likely become a lot more familiar with your eat-in kitchen than you ever imagined. Even spend a few minutes on Facebook or Instagram and you’ll soon find that the ultimate quarantine home cooking badge is a towering loaf of rustic, golden crusted bread with perfect razor slashes on the top. And if hashtags like #covidcooking and #quarantinebaking are trending by the hundreds of thousands, it might be time to get into the game.
This was likely the case with many householders a few weeks ago, when baked goods like bread flour and yeast flew off grocery store shelves as fast as toilet paper and disinfectant. Without yeast (or with more of a challenge than a loaf of sandwich bread), many new bakers are fermenting their own sourdough starters.
The process takes several days and goes back to at least 3700 BC. BC back. It was a baker’s main method of leavening bread to the last couple Centuries – the ultimate relapse in times of famine or migration. It seems simple: mix almost equal parts flour and water in a glass and place it on your kitchen counter until the mixture shows signs of life and has a beer-like aroma. This takes anywhere from a day to 72 hours. Natural yeasts in the air should settle on the starter and let it foam up in the glass.
But this is where the problem often begins. Or not. Some home bakers stare into the glass for days and see nothing. Others encounter bad smells or, worse, mold. Then self-doubt sets in. Did I use organic flour? Filtered water? Did I make sure all of the flour is dissolved in the water? Is my kitchen below 70 degrees? Over 80? Does it happen “Float Test”? Or the float test produces false alarm? In the past few weeks, dozens of websites have grown with pages of information, advice, and emotional support. The most popular are those of King Arthur flour and Cook is illustratedas well as the website of local bloggers Alex and Sonja Overhiser, A couple is cooking.
If you make it this far, you still have to throw away some of the starter (even an emotionally stressful act that has spawned many lists of “toss” recipes with the drain) and “refresh” or “feed” the starter a schedule for several days. And if you’re smart, you’ll have to name your starter something like “Sir Rise-a-lot” or “Vincent Van Dough”. Sound daunting? Affected with pitfalls? You already need to take care of your children and pets. Do you really need more responsibility now? Even so, dozens of locals who never thought of making their own sourdough breads post photos of their impressive, professional-looking results.
Eddie Sahm, who learned more than just a little about fermentation in his brewpubs, Big Lug Canteen, Liter House and Half Liter, is a local restaurateur who has spent some time in quarantine to bake experiment and publish photos of his fledglings loaves. “When you hear about bread baking, you always hear that it is ‘more science than any other type of cooking’,” says Sahm. “That’s pretty much true, but sourdough feels so much. There are several stages in which you need to understand your dough. Whether it’s the starter, the right amount of kneading, the perfect rise time, whether it’s overchecked or underchecked. It really is an art. ”
Donut pop-up baker Amanda Gibson from Indy batterwho recently sold out orders for mysterious pastry boxes at Studio C., made two drops of sourdough at the beginning of the quarantine and helped the bakers by offering ripe starters. She announced her own advice regarding feeding a starter to her Instagram highlights and later another tutorial Sourdough focaccia. “I’d say my first piece of advice about sourdough is that while it’s complex, it’s super simple,” says Gibson, “and you’ll learn something every time you use it.” Gibson cautions, however, that this comes with an obligation. “My other advice is to make sure you are developing a relationship with your starter. Learn when to feed it, where in your kitchen it will thrive the most, and when it will be ready to use. Just don’t be intimidated. ”
“What people don’t know about sourdough bread is that it’s more of a process than a recipe,” says Frank Petrarca, a part-time bread instructor at Great Fermentations and home brewer for Carmel. “It’s not that easy to substitute sourdough starters for yeast in a recipe. I urge students in my classes to forget almost everything they learned about baking bread, except for the combination of water, flour, salt and appetizer / yeast. It’s a lot of science that might only fit some breadmakers. But naturally fermented sourdough bread is a feather in the cap of every home baker. “
Not into this whole baking thing for such a process? Petrarch says there is no shame in baking one of the many wonderful yeast breads. A favorite of his and many new bakers is the famous one The New York Times “Laypeople without kneading,” suggested Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery a good decade ago. His radical idea? The water in the dough as well as a 24-hour surge in the refrigerator produce as much gluten in the flour as the groundbreaking kneading for a tough, well-crumbled artisanal bread. The bakers later added vinegar, beer, or alternative flour to Lahey’s basic recipe to mimic the sour notes in the sourdough, often producing professional results with much less stress.
Whatever you do, take pride in every effort. As Milk tooth Confectioner Ilana November advises, “When I think back to my early sandwiches, they were horrible by my standards today. But I was so proud and they were so delicious. Take it easy without professional ovens and appliances. I worked in a professional sourdough bakery where they tried hard to make breads consistent. After this experience, it was important for me to bake at home Bread personally, not perfect.”
Would you like to try your hand at home-baked sourdough bread without waiting? Amelia’s bakeryThe company, which has quickly grown into a full-service roadside food source with limited choices from the adjacent bluebeard, has fully fermented sourdough starters. “We always have a lot on hand,” says co-owner Ed Battista. “Just call ahead and we can usually have some for you.” The starter still needs a few “feeds” before you can bake with it, but the process is almost complete. Amelia’s also offers all-purpose and whole wheat flour, as well as instant yeast and many other gourmet ingredients for all of your baking needs. Other local sources of roadside food that offer baking flour and yeast are Wildwood Market and Turchettis Salumeria.
Especially baking bread or making your own sourdough starter should be a pleasant distraction from the pressures of a global crisis. As Sahm says, “As with most cooking skills, it’s a fun process, and even if you screw it up, the food is still fun. But I have a new appreciation for people who do this every day. In a brewery, we spend our money on jacketed fermenters, sterile piping, and heating and cooling equipment so that the yeast is as stable as possible. But here is the fundamental change. When baking, your yeast is an expression of your region and experience. They work diligently to take care of it but also keep it wild and fun. “