I sit with my afternoon coffee on the front porch on another slow April Sunday. Will rides his bike through the neighborhood while the children watch Clifford the Big Red Dog on television. A car door slams shut, birds chirp everywhere, and I smile to myself as I imagine Will chuckling quietly upon reading more of my predictable anecdotes. They are predictable, and they are comfortable. When I come out to the porch and open myself to listening, to feeling, I trade in the stresses of the day for a bit of quiet magic — for a bit of calm, and a bit of inspiration.
Speaking of quiet magic, on Thursday I took my sourdough starter out of the fridge and began to perk it up by feeding it once around 10 AM, and then again around 10 PM. I love to watch the little yeasties at work. The starter rises within its jar, doubling or tripling over the course of the day. Piper and I like to lift the lid and draw in a long smell of the sweet stuff. Rowan has even learned the word sourdough. Sometimes, I sit him on the counter and he helps me to stir during feedings. Piper takes on the more advanced task of measuring out flour or water. We have named our starter Selly Pineapple Konopka. Piper picked the name Selly, which I think is genius because I am sure we haven’t spoken in any great detail about yeast being single-celled microorganisms yet. Pineapple is for a silly song that Will made up and has been singing around the house all month, “It’s a Pineapple Day, It’s a Pineapple Daaaay”. We sing it on good days or bad days, and the hilarity builds with the more nonsense it takes on. Konopka is a nod toward my dad’s genealogical research. Konopka was a discovery he made into Will’s family line; it is a variation of the last name of some of Will’s ancestors. It’s such a silly and fun name to say. After a quick Google I see it is actually also a nickname for an active person, which is fitting for our little Selly.
Learning how to bake sourdough bread has been such a process. At times I have been willing to give up, but I am thankful for the support of a few women online who have been able to give me long distance tips and tricks. Our interactions are not lengthy, but recognition from one home baker to another is a small act of kindness during these isolating and uncertain times.
Baking bread has been teaching me so much. Mainly, it is an exercise in patience. I wait while the starter perks back up after a time in the fridge, I wait while the dough ferments, I wait while it proves a final time in its banneton. It is also an exercise in flexibility. Those who know me, know how much I love rules and clear deadlines. Baking is so dependent on the weather, the temperament of my starter and definitely the temperature of my kitchen. I’m slowing learning to trust my intuition and take on the next steps as I see fit, not necessarily when a recipe says. Perhaps most importantly, baking bread is teaching me grace and gratitude. I have had some outright failures, but I have learned to make something of the failed loaves, rest for a time, and try baking again the following week. Here’s a secret: it’s not easy for a perfectionist. I have even had to come to terms with the fact that I need to use a pinch of yeast in my recipes to even out any issues with my starter, which is still maturing (Selly was born on April 1st).
So, on Friday evening I mixed my dough as per the recipe found here. Early Saturday morning, after about an 11 hour ferment on the kitchen counter, I folded and shaped the loaf and let it prove a final time in the banneton. Amanda’s step by step video (check the above link) really helped me this time around. When shaping dough, it is critical to build surface tension by moving it around gently on an unfloured surface. In my past attempts, I was so nervous to work with sticky dough that I continued to shape the bread on my floured tabletop. Take the science to heart, because it is so exciting to see a shapeless bit of dough transform into a taut, round ball.
As it went into the oven, I told Will that if it turned out well I would be giving it to our neighbors, the ones who kindly gifted us a large sack of flour in the beginning of the month. After about 30 minutes at 505 degrees, I lifted the lid off the dutch oven to see the beginnings of a beautiful boule. The S slash had opened (my previous attempts had resulted in a slash that had closed back over). After another 30 minutes of baking with the lid off, I was pleased with its toasty color and took it out to rest for a couple of hours on the kitchen table. When the time came, we walked it over and dropped it off in front of our neighbor’s house. They were delighted! If my lucky baking streak continues, I would love to give the gift of homemade bread again to more of our friends and family. Don’t worry, Will, you can still try the next one.