Everything That Rises Must Converge

SourdoughJuneJob-hunting takes time. So does writing. But you cannot write, or job-hunt, all the time. And I’ve been experiencing a real need to create tangible things. Beaded jewelry. Knitted things. But what I’ve really been doing a lot of is playing with yeast.

When I was a teenager I baked a lot. It was a form of rebellion (my mother was a fabulous cook, but did not care for baking) and I made croissants and herb bread and sourdough and rolls and pies–and one summer my summer job was to bake things and sell them. Since then, I’ve done some bread-making, but not as much as in those halcyon summer days when I rose at 5 am to make sure the first batch of bread was rising by 6.

So why this sudden investment in yeast-based amusement? It started with a slow-rise-no-knead bread recipe I got from…somewhere? (these things seem to find their way to me and attach themselves, limpet like). And then my daughter said “let’s take some cooking classes together!” and the first one we signed up for was a sourdough starter class. We came home with our own pots of wild-yeast starter from a decades-old pot named Dulce. I named my starter Magda. My daughter named hers Trust-Fund Baby. And with starter in the house, I started to bake bread again.

I’ve tried several good recipes. BVC’s own Chaz Brenchley gave me his favorite recipe (I have to re-try it with SourdoughMaya little less whole wheat flour and a little more rye. I love rye. Especially with caraway seeds) which yielded a very tasty bread indeed, if a loaf somewhat eccentric in shape. And you can wander the halls and byways of the internet, picking up loose baking tips and drooling over other people’s photographs. I broke a pizza stone by attempting to improvise a bread cloche (earthenware bowl on pizza stone=fabulous bread and a broken stone). I invested in rising baskets and a food-grade bucket for the dough to rise in. I’m eyeing dutch ovens and bread cloches at Goodwill (I am not going to buy a brand new cloche for $130; or a LeCreuset dutch oven, brand new for $400) so that I can have a dedicated vessel for bread baking (and so that my everyday workhorse dutch oven doesn’t develop permanent cornmeal pocking on its base).

SourdoughJulyAt the moment my favored recipe comes from a website named Clever Carrot, which is not only a good recipe, but contains many useful tips for even a veteran bread-person. I really love how the texture of the kitchen towel that the bread rose in appears in the crust. I couldn’t have done that if I’d thought about it. Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking that I have to customize this recipe so that I can do a jelly-roll-style risen bread with herbs, but so far it’s yielding very satisfactory bread, and exactly the sort of crisp, bite-able crust that I love beyond sense or logic. I went so far as to buy French butter to put on my sourdough, because why do things half-way? And fresh sourdough bread goes very nicely with the bacon jam I made last week…. (yeah, the making of things is becoming a bit of a mania).



And when bread palls…well, a friend gave us a hard-cider-brewing-kit for Christmas, and I finally got around to making cider in May. I rejoice to note that the first batch was not at all bad for a maiden effort. Tastes of apple, not too sweet, decent carbonation without being up-your-snout obnoxious about it. Clearly, once we’ve drunk this lot, there will be more adventures in yeast.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Everything That Rises Must Converge — 8 Comments

  1. Oh, lovely. I was seriously into making beer and mead until I became so ill and had to give up gluten. But I worship Boudin sourdough bread, and there’s a gluten-free sourdough web site out there calling my name. Just as soon as the chaos dies down.

    Cider. Most of the apples our ancestors grew were cider apples…

    • Cider bread? What a very cool notion. Must investigate.

      My husband confessed, diffidently, that he doesn’t love sourdough. So I’m going to try out some artisan white bread recipes and see how that goes…

    • Make that two!

      I’m a terrible cheat with the bread: I use a machine. Full life is full. But there is nothing prettier than a fresh-baked loaf of handmade bread.

      I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that one can make bread in a Dutch Oven. (Eyes the local version speculatively)

      • The Dutch oven is what finally gave my bread that nice sheen that we associate with good bread (note the difference between the first and third photos and photo number two. The Dutch oven holds in moisture–you can even spray the inside of the lid before you close it. The only hazard to the Dutch oven is if you’re decanting the loaf from a proofing (rising basket) into a pre-heated Dutch oven you can burn the hell out of your wrists…

        Life is full of hard choices.

      • And it’s not a cheat if it gives you the result you want. Me, I just love the process of mucking about with dough. It’s playing with your food and it’s licit!