Sincerely Sour

I have a weird confession to make: I don’t eat bread and haven’t in eleven years. Not traditional bread, anyway, and still not often. I’ve found that people don’t handle this well, like saying out loud that you don’t like pizza. You can feel the room collectively stop breathing. Then I’m in the unfortunate situation of defending myself around food–people demand an explanation. I’m a baker who doesn’t really eat grains.

I try the things I make to ensure they are tasty and the texture is as it should be, but I don’t eat most of the muffins, breads, scones, cakes, and cookies I make. I have special paleo recipes I follow for myself, but I understand it’s stuff that most people are not interested in or have to eat. Baking for one brings me little joy, so it’s a rare occurrence.

Despite not eating bread, I undertook making gluten-free sourdough towards the end of 2023. I was bored, and it sounded very intense. My husband has shared several times that it’s his favorite. As I’ve mentioned before, I like making people happy with food, and I realize fresh bread is one of the ultimate comfort foods that bring warmth and happiness to just about any human. It just felt like a perfect match. Plus, now I’ve realized it’s my apocalypse plan: the tangible thing I can contribute when things get even worse around here. I like to add lots of weird, unfounded pressure to any new undertaking.

To prepare, I started following along with online sourdough communities to understand what I was in for. It seemed like a lot could go tragically wrong, but also preferences for a coveted, ideal loaf around crust thickness and ears. You can even make art on top when you’re feeling overly confident. The gluten-free aspect is an additional challenge since it’s notorious for never really getting the rise that gluten starters get. It’s also more expense to maintain and tricker to find trusted recipes for.

I bought a Dutch oven, circular Banneton baskets to get those cute lines, a scoring lame, and cotton tea towels based on what I was seeing other people using. I was overly excited and have since realized most of this stuff is not required to make great bread. I’d say the requirements are: a heating mat if attempting a start in winter (I used one for reptiles), thermometer stickers for jars, small silicon spatula, and a kitchen scale. If you really want to treat yourself, grab some Weck 1 liter tulip jars, but I’d say a wide-mouth opening is needed at minimum.

Glinda the Good Sourdough Starter has been thriving for months, even trying to escape her jar while in the fridge. I use a 1:1:1 ratio of starter, flour, and water when leaving her on the counter and a 1:2:2 ratio when tucking her into the fridge for a nap. On the counter, she needs to eat two to three times a day; in the fridge, I am feeding weekly, though some people claim they can last months. Others suggest maintaining just 20 grams of starter to prevent successive waste, but I’ve been maintaining two 100 gram starters out of fear and curiosity.

I am anxiously awaiting to hand some fresh starter to a friend and have just begun drying portions this week to keep for emergencies and mail to people I like. I will never start a sourdough starter from scratch again since this is truly senseless suffering. So far, I’ve only made several focaccias and pancakes, getting a feel for the dough and timing and working up the nerve to make a proper sourdough loaf today. I’ll let you know about everything I get wrong and right with this recipealways use gluten-free specific recipes instead of swapping 1-to-1 with regular recipes!

My starter is now solely based on brown rice and sorghum flours, though sorghum is becoming more challenging to find these days. It was initially slower-going (and smellier) than I even expected. After four weeks, I was forced to make some changes that really turned things around. I boosted it with someone else’s well-established starter powder, monitored temperature like a hawk to maintain 75-78°F by wrapping it in the heating pad, and began using gluten-free whole grain flour blends over a single flour source.

If you’d like some dried sourdough powder along with instructions in the mail, just reach out on Mastodon, LinkedIn, or via a Wiggle Work DM–I’d sincerely love to send you some and cut your starter journey time drastically. No one should go through this journey alone.

In the meantime, I’ll be basking in what I’ve taken as a full-on compliment each time I hear it: It smells sour in here.”

See you tomorrow over breakfast.

February 11, 2024

A tiny project byJoni Trythall inspired by friends at Wiggle Work.