This is the greatest loaf of bread I have ever baked, and I bake a lot of bread. It is sourdough, made from a two-year-old starter that a baker friend gave me. The starter came in the bottom of a coffee cup – just a few tablespoons of stretchy goop that I babied for days with regular feedings of flour and water. I thought I’d killed it. I know how to handle baby people, but baby starters? Talk about intimidating. Within a week, though, I had a big 1-litre glass jar full of bubbly starter.
My first batch of sourdough was a bit of a crapshoot. Despite my best intentions, I failed to follow nearly all the directions in the Tartine Bread book, other than the ratios of flour, water, and salt. The leaven didn’t even float when I did the recommended float test in a glass of warm water. It sank to the bottom like a rock, which is usually a bad sign. I left the dough overnight with not enough turns, pulled it out in the morning and let it sit half the day, and then shaped and baked the loaves in a rush. The result was pure amazingness.
Sourdough has a distinctly sour aroma, though the sour taste is more subtle. It has the moist chewiness of the no-knead artisanal bread that I sometimes make, but the crust isn’t as thick. In my husband’s words, “You don’t have to work so hard to eat the sourdough.” And to think that it’s all made with just flour, salt, and water – and those amazing little bacteria that have been growing and developing for two years.
I’m a staunch defender of bread because we live in an era of bread-haters. Whenever I hear someone go on about how bread is awful, I want to ask them what kind of bread they eat and were raised on; because if we’re talking about store-bought sandwich bread of any kind, yes, that stuff is crap. It’s more sawdust than ‘staff of life’ quality.
But real bread, good bread, has sustained humanity for millennia. That’s the kind of bread I made yesterday – hefty loaves of slow-rise, bacteria-fed dough made from locally grown, organic, GMO-free, stone-milled hard wheat and spelt flours that came from my CSA grain share. Before bashing bread categorically, I wish people would actually take the time to learn how to make truly nourishing bread, because there’s a tremendous difference.
This is how all bread should taste.
Here is the recipe for Tartine's starter and bread.