A while back, I was browsing the “Explore” tab of Instagram and happened upon a bunch of gorgeous loaves of bread. I followed the account and started swooning over the beautiful slashing and enticing crumb shots I saw. Turns out that IG account is by a woman who wrote a James Beard-award winning book on sourdough. She lives in Brooklyn and in April mentioned workshops, so I took a look to see if I should try it out. Well, the 3-day intensive was $950 without lodging, and I thought, hmm, I could try it myself first, invest in a few $5 bags of flour instead, and see what happens.
I mentioned this to Caro, who has baked a lot of Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. I said, “I think I’m going to try starting my own sourdough starter this week.” I included a link to the King Arthur Flour guide. She replied, “If you start one, I will too”; turned out she’d been reading up on this on her own. And so the #breadalong was born. Once we posted our initial shots, a friend revealed she, too, had started a sourdough starter that day!
And then we waited.
I went through at least 2 whole bags of KAF All-Purpose Flour. I named my starter Constance Stein, after a woman who continues to get mail here even though I’ve lived in this apartment for 9 years. After 3+ weeks I broke down and called the King Arthur Flour hotline. I felt sheepish, and it was certainly one of the sillier things I’ve ever done, but I figured, they’re there for this, they’re the experts. (Cut to Jed Bartlet calling the Butterball Hotline.) Constance wasn’t doubling at all, and they’d indicated it would happen after 1 week. My apartment is generally warm, but it was April and the temp outside was fluctuating quite a bit. The mildly amused woman on the KAF hotline suggested I put the starter in the fridge and feed every 3 days, and promised doubling would happen in due time. I followed her advice.
I continued to feed Constance, and I continued to experiment with sourdough english muffins, sourdough waffles, sourdough sandwich bread (that also uses commercial yeast), sourdough pretzels, sourdough pizzas, and sourdough crackers. I put the discard to many delicious uses.
And then one day in early June I left Constance on the counter all day as a test, and she doubled, or nearly did. I had my suspicions that she was not ready but I forged ahead. I made a mess. The loaf stuck in the banneton and was just so, so ugly. It will not be shown; I do not count this loaf as an actual loaf in my bread-making journey. I continued to babble to Caro about the starter’s progress. On June 14 I declared, “Constance doubled in 7 hours today!” and then there is silence until on June 18 I follow up with, “Constance doubled in 6 hours today!!!”
I spent all my time not making bread watching bread videos on YouTube, reading blogs, and scrolling hashtags on Instagram. And on June 19, one month and 5 days after I mixed up the first portion of flour and water, I started the process, having picked for no discernable reason to follow the Hobbs House Bakery No-Knead Recipe. The recipe uses a large amount of starter, which seemed odd, but I figured, let’s give it all the help it can get for rising. It turned out a beaut, though perhaps a bit lumpy.
I followed the recipe with the exception of leaving out the sesame seeds and placing the proofed loaf on a piece of parchment to make slashing as well as putting into the Dutch oven easier. I was using my Le Creuset oval 6-quart. I don’t recall now the timing, but I used the video as my guide. The parchment paper bunched up in the DO and that’s why there’s those large indentations along the bottom edge.
Next up, more loaves.