Sourdough Inspiration

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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49 Responses to Sourdough Inspiration

  1. Oh my heavens – trip backward in time!! 🙂 I used to make sourdough bread – and other things – back in the 70’s. I was a young mother with a hippie bent and almost everything my kids ate was grown and made by me. My starter was more than 10 years old before I gave it up for lack of time….. my life had taken one of those dramatic turns and now I was single again and in the classroom full time and a solo mother – no time for crafting sourdough goodies any more. I often think of those days though – I had an American book with really nice recipes for all kinds of meals utilising sourdough products. My youngest hated my bread though – she still makes really unkind jokes about the texture and taste – and still acts out all the various nuances of a child’s life lived with sourdough at the centre of the kitchen. In fairness to her the bread was not only strongly sourdough tasting, it was also wholewheat in the handmilled organic 70’s style (i.e HEAVY) and I was given to adding a bit too much starter if I was in a hurry and wanted the thing to rise quick…. Major mistake!! 😀 I’m betting yours is so much nicer than mine was – it certainly looks it! If I had a nice kitchen I reckon I’d be right there with you baking away!! The book sounds great, I’ve made a note 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • arlingwoman says:

      Oh, my, I did the starter and sourdough thing, too, in my 20’s, so I could just start again when I got hungry for it, but it’s difficult to get lightness and taste and all that good stuff one wants on bread. I do have a go-to recipe for a long loaf, but I haven’t been baking bread because I don’t eat enough of it! The Mazg starter smells of bananas in the book, but mine smells like…starter. 10 year old starter!!! Wow! There’s a line in the book about the Mazg starter being so old as to be almost immortal (which may explain the singing). Mine may not last that long, but we’ll see!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, it’s certainly a fun thing to be doing! I love having live cultures in my kitchen – it makes me feel like a real cook 😀 My starter had an instantly recognisable smell, a tangy, slightly yeasty but different aroma that I am sure I would instantly recognise even today. Now I only have kefer grains lurking about on my bench making me nice tangy probiotics for my morning smoothie, but emitting no smell. I think an immortal starter would be a fine thing and the singing wouldn’t go amiss either . Pity I didn’t think to keep mine alive, it would be close to immortality by now 😀 I guess I need to read this book!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • arlingwoman says:

        Well, there are no recipes in the book, but it’s an interesting read. I’m having sourdough pancakes in the morning with blueberries! Yes, it’s nice to have some cultured thing in the kitchen–I used to make yogurt, but haven’t done that for a while either…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurie Graves says:

    Oh, fun! Good luck with your bread. Hope there are updates. The book sounds like one that should go on my TBR pile. I am going to see if it is available through Maine’s interlibrary loan system.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sylvie G says:

    I am impressed by your skills with sourdough. This is something I have never been able to (never dare to)do.And the result looks soooo good.

    (And the book seems clever and a reflection of today’s reality (or some of it for some of us, maybe younger)).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderfully original review

    Like

  5. Boomdeeadda says:

    You’re such a Martha in the Kitchen! ❤ I'm always impressed. I know nothing of starters…is this one of those things you pass to a friend and they put it on the counter for 3 weeks? Or something like that. I love Rye Bread and Raisin bread. So I could attempt those perhaps. But the market is so handy…snort. xk

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  6. I really like the way you did this post,Lisa — mixing the ingredient images of your own bread-making with those of the book you read. Sounds interesting, both.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Lavinia Ross says:

    This sounds like a great book! I agree with Cybthia you have done a wonderful job interweaving your own bread-making adventures with the story in the book.

    Rick makes his own style sourdough bread here. It is very hearty and nutritious!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mary Tang says:

    “That’s where I am right now” – he he I thought you meant you were going to try and sell your bread at the market 🙂 Love the way you intertwine the two stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Eliza Waters says:

    I can almost smell it! Nothing like fresh bread right out of the oven, yum!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Maria says:

    Looks great, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. reocochran says:

    Oh, how I love freshly baked bread! I used to belong to a food co-op. I bought meat and ground it in my food processor, made breakfast out of bulghur grains, would make baby food out of punpkin I grew in my garden. . . . Lots of “work” but this was special for my children and husband. Now, I go to a community indoor farm market and in the Spring through Fall, walk to the farmer’s downtown market and buy the fruits of others’ labour! 🌻🌱

    Liked by 1 person

    • arlingwoman says:

      It is much easier now, isn’t it? I do like cooking for other people (and myself), but I’m also up for somebody else’s home made jam at the market, especially if I haven’t made that kind!

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  12. Lisa, I always admire your prowess in the kitchen. I agree, too, that making good bread is sometimes a challenge. Mike used to use a bread maker passed on by his mom, but I never liked the taste. He eventually lost interest and we passed it on. I love San Francisco sourdough bread. It’s a favorite around here.

    I agree with Cynthia: you’ve done a lovely job mixing in your thoughts on the book with your own starter dough and baking. Are you enjoying your newly minted kitchen?

    Liked by 1 person

    • arlingwoman says:

      I have’t messed with sourdough for decades. It was the book and the magical starter that made me think of trying again. It takes different techniques than regular yeast bread, though and I’m only slowly remembering! The kitchen is fabulous. The other rooms of the house may feel lonely.

      Like

  13. lenam1985 says:

    I love sourdough! I really want to start my own starter but I’m unsure of how to do it and dont want to mess it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Robbie says:

    I have to find that book! I just started making our own yogurt. I used Belgium starter and now I have made a dozen batches. It is the right consistancy:-) It tastes so good can’t even imagine ever buying yogurt again at the store. My next job to learn is sour dough bread! Your post hit home today:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. KerryCan says:

    I’ve done this, too–read a book about something and become so enthralled that I had to jump right into the subject matter. I haven’t, however, ever made sourdough starter and I’m very intrigued by your bread! It looks really good!

    Liked by 1 person

    • arlingwoman says:

      Thanks, Kerry. My starter will not be magical, although I am considering playing some music for it. Sourdough starter is easy, but the bread is a bit more difficult, at least to me, than regular bread. The loaf is tasty and fresh from the oven the crust was amazing. It’s a bit dense, though. I shall try again!

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  16. Brenda says:

    As with others here, this post brought me back in time. In the 70s, I usually had sourdough and yogurt growing their goodness in my kitchen. I’m ordering the book from the library–any other recommendations from your winter reading list? I just finished Penelope Lively’s newest book of short stories. Reading her is like visiting an old friend to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • arlingwoman says:

      I love Penelope Lively!! I didn’t know there were short stories out. I will have to look for it. I am casting about for something new. Celine, by Peter Heller was good, and I have a hard copy of John Banville’s Mrs. Osmond, which adds to Isabel Archer’s story in Portrait of a Lady…

      Like

  17. Aman Thakur says:

    Nice…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. The book seems to have an unusual premise. Love that the book inspired you to begin your own sourdough adventure. The result looks delicious.

    Like

  19. Thanks for sharing…this looks delicious…definitely gonna try it out…following you for more. This is my blog if you are interested https://creativehues01.wordpress.com/

    Like

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