Sometimes, we fail.

We’re into February, as I’m sure you’ve heard, but I still can’t let go of the magnificent January issue. Also, and more on this later, February’s issue, “Chocolate-covered everything,” doesn’t really ring my bell. So I might still be stuck in the past for a bit.

Early last month, the part of me that loves a challenge and the other part of me that likes saying “wild yeast” was thrilled to read the artisanal bread article (Life of a Loaf, pg. 112).

I was determined to make my own sourdough started from the yeast floating all around us. I’d be one with the resulting loaf and one with the universe and one with the guy who runs the bakery that the article is all about (he bakes during the afternoon so he can go surfing in the morning! Swoon!). The first step involves mixing a ton of whole wheat flour and bread flour, then scooping part of that into a bowl with water and waiting for a couple of days for various bubbles and stuff to form. Then you feed the starter every day for a few weeks until it looks a certain way, then you make leaven, then you make dough, then the dough rises, then you do more stuff with the dough, then you bake it, then finally you eat it. For a week.

Looking good, although the fact that the required bubbles didn't form until two days after they were supposed to should have raised a flag.

It sounds like an extremely complicated process, and it is, but the results are supposed to be out of this world.

Unfortunately, I neglected to measure the temperature of the water I was adding. The recipe is very specific about the water’s temp for each stage of the process. Like, specific in that each stage has a different water temp by about two degrees.

Well, confidence became hubris, and hubris took me down. I arrogantly “eyeballed” (which doesn’t even make sense) the water. I have zero idea what 78 degrees is supposed to feel like, and I certainly can’t tell the difference between 78 and 80. So the starter wasn’t really doing too much after awhile. Each day it became more and more like a rough, lifeless lump and less and less like a thriving, breathing alien, which I think is supposed to be the goal.

Then, worse and worse, I got even lazier and kept forgetting to feed the starter. Dudes, it’s EVERY DAY! That includes Saturday nights! I’m not so elderly that I don’t still fill my weekends with awesomeness now and again, and I just couldn’t be bothered to take care of this starter, especially when I really began to suspect that the water situation would cause it to fail.

So, I chucked it, with a promise to myself that I would kick that sourdough’s ass in February.

I now know the depressingly low (and accurate) temp of my house.

To make sure that will be the case, I am now the very, very proud owner of the coveted Thermapen Splash-Proof Instant Read Thermometer! That’s right! It is obscenely expensive but I cashed in a gift card and purchased the legendary weapon against overcooked meat, undercooked bread, and lazy sourdough starters. I’m ready to do battle.

I hear those “If she can’t mix a thing with water every day, how does she take care of a dog?” comments over there. It’s like this: my dog showers me with love and affection and is beside herself with gratefulness whenever I feed her/play with her/look in her direction. It’s hard to muster the same motivation to coddle something that just looks at you like this:

"You made me this way :("

Eesh. Let’s just forget about this entire thing.

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5 comments

  1. jessica maria · February 7, 2011

    Hahaha fantastic post to start my Monday with laughs!

  2. kate · February 9, 2011

    Excellent post, even if your dough is heartbreaking. Hope February’s bread is comelier!

  3. Phil · February 9, 2011

    Another amazing post! Amazing!!

  4. Alicia · February 9, 2011

    ORANGE JULIUS!

  5. Mom · February 19, 2011

    I’m glad you got a great thermometer. Mine is older than me. I’m in line to taste the bread next time you try it.

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