I always feel uneasy when new bakers ask me how to bake bread. I know what they want. They want a recipe like the ones you find in any modern cookbook, exacting and thorough, a recipe that says: mix so many ounces of flour, water, salt in this way for so many minutes; ferment for so long; shape just like this and you’re guaranteed a perfect loaf. But I can't give them a recipe. A recipe for sourdough is at best a teaching story, at worst a confusion of jargon and measurements that make baking sound more like nuclear engineering than the making of your daily bread (I’ve been guilty of the latter myself). All I can give them are approximations and metaphors: add some water, wait, and then, if you’d like, add a little more; ferment till the dough pops like rice crispies when pinched between your fingers; the bread is ready to bake when it feels light and delicate under the palm of your hand, unless it’s cold from the refrigerator, and then your guess is as good as mine. All I can tell them is to try and then try again.
“When is my sourdough ready to use?” the new baker asks. “When it’s risen and just beginning to fall,” I say, and then stop to think. “But not always. That only works if it’s wet. Really, you need to taste it.” “Taste it?” says the new baker, his lip curling in mild distaste. “Yes!” Now I’m getting excited. This is a much better explanation. “Taste it! Your sourdough is ready when it’s bubbly and tastes bright sour, but not overpoweringly sour.” He stares at me in confusion. I deflate. “Well,” I say at last. “You can try dropping a spoonful in water. If it floats you know your bread will rise, eventually.”
Even after six years and so many thousands—tens of thousands?—of loaves my own bread still refuses to be confined to neat recipes. Sure, I start with formulas measured out in careful grams and a fermentation schedule laid out in quarter hour intervals so I can track all my doughs across the day. But then my sourdough is young and mild so I add a bit extra to each batch; or the kitchen is warmer this week, even with the hood on, and I’m hurrying all morning to catch up; or the wheat dough I’m mixing feels different—less elastic, maybe?—so I hold back a little water, just to be safe. Even if the weather, the flour, the temperature of the water from the tap are all exactly the same from one week to the next, the doughs change. I still depend as much on intuition and attention as on those formulas and schedules. I still try, and sometimes fail, and try again.
Owner | Baker
TODAY AT MARKET and NEXT WEEK FOR MARKET PREORDER
10am – 2pm, 1100 Railroad Ave
Red & White ($7.50 / 720g)
Mountain Rye ($7.50 / 750g)
Vollkornbrot ($8 / 750g)
Seedy Buckwheat ($8 / 420g)
Gingersnap Cookies ($5 / 2)
Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies ($5 / 2)
Oat Scone with Strawberries ($5 / ea)
Rhubarb Cardamom Snack Cake ($5 / ea)
Lemon Poppy Pound Cake ($20 / loaf)
Brown Butter Shortbread ($9 / half dz)
Hazelnut Shortbread ($9 / half dz)
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Self-serve pickups in Birchwood, Columbia, Lettered Streets, South Hill, and Fairhaven.
Address and directions with your pickup reminder email Wednesday morning.
Order by Sunday night.
Red & White
Toast: WILD & SEEDY
Sweets: BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE COOKIES + BLACK & WHITE SESAME CAKE