I started reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan a week or so ago. It’s the story of a young woman named Lois, who works for a tech company that makes robot arms in San Francisco. She’s highly skilled in coding and works to refine the movements the robot arms can make. They can’t crack eggs or peel them yet.
All the talk about sourdough starter made me want to make my own. It had been a while, but I successfully started some up.
Her coworkers are the motley group of young people, some merry and good-humored, hitting the bars when not working late and talking companionably in the cafeteria. None of them eat at home and Peter, her manager, dislikes the idea of taking time to eat so much that he advocates for a nutritional slurry that comes in single serving packs. That one isn’t good humored.
The starter bubbles when it has collected wild yeast and they are happily eating.
Lois, on the other hand, isn’t averse to good food. She just never saw much growing up. Apparently nobody in her family had cooking skills, except maybe her grandmother, whose most famous dish was ‘prison loaf’ baked, yup, for a prison. She starts ordering dinner from a storefront carryout that serves soup and bread. The bread is sourdough. The food, including the spicy soups, is made by two brothers of Mazg heritage (Okay, Sloan made this up; don’t go looking online for Mazg–you’ll find references to the book).
Sourdough is messy because it’s a sticky dough. I will refrigerate mine overnight next time, which makes it easier to work before the second rise.
When the brothers close shop and leave, they give a sample of their sourdough starter to Lois, and after a look around her kitchen, some tools, and a quick lesson in how to care for the starter and how to make the bread. They leave her a CD of Mazg songs, that sound magical and like some a cappella choir. Lois almost kills the starter, but revives it, plays the music to it, and finds that it thrives. In fact, sometimes at night it sings, glows, or rattles the lid of its crock.
The sponge, as it sometimes is called, rose overnight, I folded and worked it, and put it in a baking dish to rise.
Eventually, Lois makes a couple loaves of bread. They have a terrible unhappy face on them, but they’re delicious. She gives samples to her neighbor and takes some into work to feed colleagues. The chef of the cafeteria tries some and asks if Lois would sell her eight loaves. Since her oven will only bake two at a time, this is a problem until Lois checks out an online site and finds out how to build a simple brick oven in the back yard.
It rose all day under a damp dish towel. As Elizabeth David said, “Bread takes time, but it doesn’t take your time.”
Eventually, she’s baking bread that has happy faces on it, and Chef Kate at the cafeteria encourages her to try to sell it at farm markets. That’s where I am right now. I like this book. It’s fun and interesting so far, so I figure I can recommend it because it’s unlikely to go south.
This is what it looked like before I put it in the oven to bake.
Meanwhile, I mixed up my own sourdough starter last weekend and made my first loaf with it today. It’s a bit dense and not the most beautiful loaf, but it had the tastiest crispy crust. I’ll change a few of my techniques for the next loaf.