It Lives

With sour­dough comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity

SAVEUR - - Master Class - By Kevin Pang

The worst present I ever re­ceived was a gold­fish, when I was 10. I don’t think I even gave it a name. I’d never be­fore had the re­spon­si­bil­ity of keep­ing any­thing alive, but my par­ents thought a 1-inch fish was a no-fail starter project. On day two, I sprin­kled five times the food rec­om­mended—i picked that move up from din­ners at my grandma’s—and on day three, we bid the gold­fish farewell.

Af­ter that, I never en­ter­tained the thought of own­ing a pet, or re­ally any­thing that grows at all. So when my wife an­nounced she was preg­nant two years ago, my re­ac­tion was to stand frozen in mor­tal fear. But fa­ther­hood ar­rived, ready or not, and the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties came fast and fu­ri­ous. So far, so good.

Of the many ways fa­ther­hood has changed me, the most en­joy­able has been my trans­for­ma­tion into a to­tal home­body. And no hobby il­lus­trates la vie in­doors more than my new­found ob­ses­sion with bak­ing bread. I now own ev­ery book there is to read on the sub­ject, and many Satur­day nights have been spent study­ing dough-fold­ing and boule­scor­ing. Here’s the thing: I like bread more than I love bread. I taste a few slices of what I bake and jot down notes in my bread jour­nal, and the rest gets turned into crou­tons. How did I fall for bak­ing so hard? I tried re­trac­ing my steps. Is it the mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy? The pri­mor­dial nov­elty of cook­ing a food made 25,000 years ago? No ex­pla­na­tion fully sat­is­fied un­til I birthed my own sour­dough starter.

As it has been for so many new bread­mak­ers, Jim La­hey’s no-knead method was the gate­way drug. That four in­gre­di­ents and 20 hours could yield such a crusty, pil­lowy, won­drous loaf at home felt like some kind of spell. Us­ing La­hey’s recipe as my base­line, the next step was to tackle sour­dough. Here was Mother Na­ture at her most beau­ti­ful and giv­ing: With a mix­ture of wa­ter and flour kept in a prop­erly warm set­ting, enough nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring yeast—in the flour, on our fin­ger­tips, float­ing in the air— would prop­a­gate, leav­en­ing the dough on its way to be­com­ing bread.

For the first few weeks, it felt like an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity. I mea­sured out flour and wa­ter to the gram, feed­ing it at the same time be­fore bed­time. I’d ex­cit­edly check in the morn­ing to see if sci­ence had worked. All it did was pro­duce a few flat bub­bles and re­main a life­less, wet pile of dough. At the end of the sec­ond week, I threw my jar of fail­ure in the fridge and picked up a book on pick­ling.

Then: the mir­a­cle of life. While re­ar­rang­ing the con­tents of my fridge a few days later, I took the jar out and for­got about it on the counter. When I re­turned sev­eral hours later, the soggy mix­ture had trans­formed, blooming and crawl­ing half­way up the jar! The mix­ture smelled like beer and stretched like melted moz­zarella. I fed it again that night and the next morn­ing, won­der of won­ders, the sour­dough starter came alive, dou­bling in size. What the bread gods were try­ing to tell me was be pa­tient. Lis­ten to what it needs. Give it love and care. Now, feed­ing this liv­ing dough and mak­ing bread with it has be­come

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