A confession: My inner bread baker is a sourdough snob. I hesitate to use the term “inner bread baker,” since that implies the baker aspect of my persona is somehow cut off from the rest of me, or that it’s like a rarely worn shirt hanging in the back of my closet, that, when I want to wear it again, I have to pull out of a protective plastic cover and let it air out for a bit to get rid of the smell of mothballs.
Only I think mothballs are used in drawers and not the closet so much. I don’t know. I have never had to employ the use of mothballs. But that’s a tangent, anyhow.
So “inner bread baker” isn’t quite accurate, but nor would the more plebeian “amateur,” which I mean not as some naif of the bread-baking world, entirely ignorant of rising times and shaping and slashing loaves, but as an initiate studying the craft, as it were. That sort of amateur wants to become a master. Don’t get me wrong; I want to be a decent bread baker, and on the whole I think I am, but there are thousands if not millions of people better at it than I am. I enjoy baking, but I only do it as I need it, whether for the end product of the loaf or for the therapy/relaxation inherent with working with the dough. A serious amateur, I think, would bake to get better. Regularly.
So I’m not a true amateur and I don’t like the term “inner bread baker.” But I am definitely a sourdough snob. I do use dry yeast, but I get a greater sense of satisfaction from using my sourdough starter. I baked a loaf of sourdough bread today that was my best riser that I recall. It’s going to become a bread bowl for an artichoke cheese dip so I haven’t tasted it yet. But the rise was impressive enough to make me consider an activity more suited to an amateur bread baker than whatever I am: take pictures. Hey, it would be more interesting than taking pictures of myself writing. I mean, people like food. It has universal appeal. The creative process, however, not so much. Particularly since a great deal of it involves me staring at a blinking cursor.
Anyway. Why I’m a sourdough snob. There are those who argue that the flavor profile of a sourdough loaf is superior to that of an active yeast loaf, due to the slower rise and slower development of the wild yeast of the sourdough. Also, some have extolled the variety of sourdough. My sourdough should have a different taste to it than my mom’s sourdough, or a San Francisco sourdough, since the yeast spores in my kitchen differ from those in my mom’s kitchen and those in San Francisco. So yeah, there’s the flavor thing.
Aside from that, though, I just like the concept of sourdough. It’s almost like alchemy: I mix together water and flour and set it on my counter for a few days. I forget about it, and all on its own it starts getting bubbly and frothy and develop a pleasant, yeasty aroma.*
But it’s not alchemy, of course; it’s nature. Or science, if you start getting technical about the “how” of it. Both/and. But still, in this world where, were technology to be somehow stripped from my life, I would likely die** that making a loaf of bread is so simple does almost feel like magic.
The ingredients of my sourdough loaf are bread flour, water, whey (which could account for the nice rise), and salt. Since the yeast spores are from my kitchen and not a little packet, it’s about as close to “homemade” as you can get. And people have been making bread like this for thousands of years. It is, well, neat. Yes, I am aware of how inadequate that sounds.
Still. That’s why I’m a sourdough snob.
*Well, pleasant to me. Some people don’t like the smell of fermentation.
**I’m not being facetious; it’s currently 10ºF and feels like 0º according to weather.com. Plus, I’m not sure how long I could gather foodstuffs before eating a poisonous berry or mushroom. I’m botanically ignorant.