Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Journey to Sourdough, part 1

It's been an embarrassingly long time since my last blog post. I actually can't even believe how long it's been. I just did the math with the King of Soup and realized my last post was just before we started packing up our house to move. We are currently camping out in a rental property while our real house is being renovated. It's a huge project and we won't be back in until the end of November.

When we were packing up we knew we were moving into a much smaller kitchen, and so we decided to pack away and store much of our cooking and baking tools, pots, pans, etc. This kitchen, although quaint, is not equipped (but there is a gas stove). All to say, cooking has not been on top of the priority list for several months as I just haven't felt inspired. Even the King hasn't made a soup in months.

I have been baking of course. I bake when I am stressed and for every day the renovation has delays, for every HVAC plan that gets rejected, for every load-bearing beam that needs replacing, I bake. I haven't bothered to post any of the recipes because I am sticking with the classics - the ones I know by heart. The tried and true. And the tried and true have already been blogged.

Source of stress, pictured above, and below (note there is no roof on my house).

Aside from the renovation and associated stress, there has been baseball both during the week and every weekend including two tournaments away from home, soccer for the other kid, a school fun fair (I am one third of the food committee), a grade 6 camping trip, a grade 6 graduation to chaperone, delivery of the grade 6 kid to sleep away camp, a few lemonade stands, a minor surgery, a tooth extraction, a bone graft in my jaw, and my Mom's 70th birthday celebration (we ate out). Oh, and did I mention the house being renovated was robbed?

The other day, as I pulled on a pair of pants and realized they were, well, snug, I came to the realization that for the past two months, I have eaten homemade challah with homemade peanut butter for at least two meals a day, every day. Sometimes the third meal is cereal and yogurt. I am shocked and appalled at myself! Yes, the world is a better place with peanut butter and bread, but you don't need to eat it All.The.Time. You just don't.

The challah. The challah. It's so good, yet so white. I tried making it with whole wheat and white 50/50 mix, but it's not the same. It's dryer and I haven't found a solution for that yet. So I have made two or three loaves in a row now that are pure white flour. Again, shocked and appalled.

I have to save myself from challah. Hmmm, let me think. SOURDOUGH.

I have been making my own bread for many, many years. I have never tried to make sourdough though. There is something about it that just seemed so daunting. It's not that I am afraid of long recipes - take a look at this one ( It's just that sourdough is the unknown. It takes days and days to make a starter! You have to make your own leaven! Oy vey.

Sometime between the last time I blogged, and now, I took a short visit to St. John's, Newfoundland, my hometown. I was lucky enough to eat dinner at Raymond's one evening, one of the top restaurants in all of Canada.

While there, I met their sommelier, Erin Turcke. I was chatting with her and the other guests at my table and commented on how amazing the sourdough bread was that I was eating. She told me that it was her recipe, and not only that, she had written a book on sourdough and I could purchase the book at Rocket Bakery on Water Street. I went in search of a copy the very next morning.

Just a month prior to my visit home, I was in San Francisco, home of the famed Tartine bakery, owned by Chad Robertson and his wife Liz.

The stories of the sourdough bread at Tartine are numerous and full of praise and wonder. This Chad Robertson is apparently a gifted baker, and runs a tight ship. They make a specific number of loaves every day and there is a line up of people waiting to gobble up the bread as soon as the doors open. This happens every single day. When I was in San Francisco, I didn't yet know about Tartine, so it wasn't on my list of places to go. On my last day there, I picked up a magazine in the hotel room and it had a full double page spread on Tartine and Chad Robertson. My interest was piqued.

Fast forward to about 4 weeks ago. My friend Beth and I had made plans to see a food-related documentary at the TIFF Bell Lightbox - it was going to be hosted by CBC's own Matt Galloway and Chad Robertson, and the movie was supposed to be about bread. Sadly, the film ended up not being ready to screen in time, so they substituted it for another food-related doc which was interesting and sad all at the same time. The two hosts were there and I was able to purchase the Tartine cookbook (and get it autographed!) after the film.

Now I was committed.

All signs were pointing to sourdough. I now owned two books just about sourdough. I was with Beth who has been making her own version of Tartine's sourdough for months. Beth's husband Darryl (owner and chief BBQer of Buster Rhino's - makes sourdough. Even Matt Galloway makes sourdough. My book was autographed. It was time.

I read Erin's book again, and then I read Chad's 37 page recipe for basic sourdough. No, that is not a typo. The recipe is indeed 37 pages. I read it again.

I laid out my materials. I purchased a dough scraper. I read the recipe again, nervous about the process.

Finally, I was ready. I made the starter.

Making the starter is not difficult. It's literally flour and water. The flour is a 50/50 blend of unbleached bread flour and whole wheat flour. The water comes from the tap (measurements to follow).

The hard part is the waiting. You wait for 24 hours til the first feed. Then another 24 hours. Then another. It takes about 9-10 days for the starter to develop (according to Erin). I am currently on day 7 and I am feeling confident that the leaven will be ready to make sometime this weekend.

I had a few panicked moments a few days ago that my starter was dead. I re-read Erin's section on starters. I considered adding the magic ingredient (rye flour) but decided to be a purist. I re-read the 37 page recipe. Then I sent Beth an email, she is my sourdough mentor at the moment. She reassured me that all was well.

Yesterday and today, my starter was smelling boozy, and rising and falling predictably. We're almost there!

Part 2 of this recipe will be posted over the next few days as I make the leaven and ultimately, the bread. I will also add some additional photos showing what the starter looks like as you feed it over several days.

Until then, I hope you have enjoyed this post. Stay tuned.

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