When a friend gave me a sourdough starter a year or so ago, I didn’t know it would alter my life in a small but lasting way. I’ve always enjoyed homemade bread (on one ill-advised occasion, after a three-course dinner, I ate most of a loaf at another friend’s house) but somehow it never occurred to me that I could make it myself, not having much experience in that realm. (Other than one surreal attempt at making the New York Times‘s no-knead bread for a college seminar. I mostly remember yet a third breadly friend telling me to turn the bread, toss it, take it out in the moonlight and sing to it, or some such similarly mysterious tiny adjustments over many hours; I also remember, upon seeing the result, declaring with astonishment, This looks like bread! What did you expect, my friend asked. I don’t know, surely not that, though.) And even if I could manage to make bread once or twice, could I manage not to kill the starter, which needs to be fed, every week, like an undemanding yet persistent pet?
Happily, the bread is a success. I make a loaf on average every couple of weeks. It’s a process–typically I start feeding the starter on Thursday or Friday night, prep the dough the next day (this takes a couple of hours though not a lot of active work on my part), and tear into a loaf with fancy butter and/or cheese the following afternoon. The bread is certainly best when it’s freshest; luckily, it doesn’t really last long enough to get stale. In fact, in my humble opinion, freshness is really the determining factor for how good bread is. I’d just as soon eat my own bread hot out of the oven than trust the professionals. (Though I love you, L’Imprimerie!)
Man, isn’t it great to have a fun, unique activity? Except that here, too, as with so many other things, I am a millennial cliche. Bread is so hot right now that the New Yorker is talking about it. There are think pieces about how we are turning to anxiety baking in these stressful times. And, of course, tech bros are trying to optimize bread.
While I don’t think my bread is optimized (I haven’t tried too many variations, and am mostly just pleased that the dough is pretty forgiving of the vagaries of kitchen scale and timing) I do recognize myself in these pieces. It’s satisfying to be able to make my own food (my significant other does so much more of the cooking, generally). l appreciate having a routine in the midst of political and personal stress–the bread is a nice backdrop to board gaming, knee stretching, internetting, and other cool things one does around the house on a Friday night, plus I like going to the library and the food co-op on Saturday morning to pick up reading material and bread fixins. (As for politics, my starter has good vibes; he came to life when Doug Jones was elected.) And it’s nice to share my creations with friends, assuming they last that long: bread is a good centerpiece for a gaming afternoon, and, maybe even better, giving starter to friends so they can make their own bread or pancakes is its own reward.