NaBloPoMo 2021: Do Good, Kid
How do we build confidence to try new things?
Sven the sourdough starter is now 13 days old and thriving. Its texture gets silkier with each feed, the rise faster and more reliable, even from discard out of the fridge. Still, I hesitate to try making a real sourdough loaf. I think it’s the sheer labor intensity of it—seriously, it can take 12 to 24 hours start to finish—ya gotta be dedicated in ways that I just am not…yet. It’s also the measuring. Bread recipe ingredients are written in terms of weight rather than volume, and in grams. This requires a kitchen scale, which I do not have and am reticent to purchase. And that’s the last thing—equipment. While it’s possible to make good bread in an open oven, the great stuff comes out of a Dutch oven, which would require yet another investment of money and cabinet space.
So of course, over the past week, I have flouted conventional wisdom and experimented with Sven. I read various discard recipes and attempted some metric weight to English volume math conversions. Eyeballing amounts and substituting random baking pans for a Dutch oven, I made a fantastically dense sourdough brick in the toaster oven, and then a Kalamata olive Frisbee in the big box. So sad! It was really discouraging, especially since I had had such fun with successful quickbreads and onion pancakes recently.
But all I had to do was study a little more. I love the internet! I knew I had a starter:water:flour ratio problem, so found this article that explains the right proportions. The author mentioned Mark Bittman’s piece on a simple, no-knead bread recipe, which includes a handy video, yay! But that recipe used instant yeast. Being committed to using Sven instead, all I had to do was look up how to adapt or substitute yeast recipes to/with sourdough ones—easy peesy! And bonus, now I know the difference between baking soda and baking powder.
Still, I resisted following any recipe. I did not want to commit whole loaf-sized quantities of ingredients, only to make potentially inedible products. My eyeballing better approximated recommended ingredient ratios with the last experiment, and the dough expanded nicely through both proofing periods overnight and this afternoon, though much more laterally than vertically (will study more to figure that one out). I committed and purchased a Dutch oven, rationalizing that it could also be used for other purposes, and followed preheating and baking directions. And voila! I got a little loaf with a beautiful, crackling brown crust, a pleasing aroma, and an internal texture that could arguably be called bread. YAAAAAYY! We opened it while still warm, and the kids and I ate half of it inside five minutes.
Tonight I took the leap of faith and dropped 3 whole cups of flour in the mixing bowl, along with a quarter cup of Sven and the prescribed amount of water and salt in the NYT recipe. While it incubates under the kitchen sink, I will go out again tomorrow and get a digital kitchen scale. *sigh* I know now that for this project, I have to study and imitate before I can improvise. Using the scale will teach me how to eyeball 500 versus 800 grams of flour, and proportionally how much water and starter to use. With repeated practice I can overcome my aversion to getting my hands gooey (hello, spatula), and learn how dough feels, stretches, folds, laminates, etc. After a while, as in so many fields, cumulative experience will found, and then strengthen my intuition. Eventually I bet I won’t need the scale for the methods I use most often.
Then I can embark on the next fun cooking adventure that may require a scale—one never knows… Daughter and I binged the end of season 2 of The Great British Baking Show last night, which we both found quite inspiring… Choux buns, anyone?