Sourdough: How To Piss Yourself Off

So about 8 months ago I stupidly asked my buddy Tyler if he could teach me how to bake bread. I didn’t even know or care what kind of bread we’d be baking, so in many ways the suffering I later endured was completely Tyler’s fault.

Tyler bakes sourdough. The most challenging fucking bread in the world to master.

Why Sourdough is so Fucking Difficult to Bake

This isn’t baking a cake. There’s no middle-ground. Either your bread is world-class or it fucking sucks. And when it sucks and you’re just starting out, you just want to scream at the ceiling and rip all of the hair off your body because it took you DAYS to get that bread made.

You don’t get to use commercial yeast. No. You get those fuckers out of the motherfucking AIR and from the flour itself. And that takes a long god damn time to happen. Days in the summer, weeks in the winter. Then only hours when you’re a Bread God and have a little colony of yeast domesticated in a jar in your kitchen, ready to bake with when you god damn well feel like it.

sourdough starter
Sourdough “starter” – fermentation using wild yeast that you fucking captured out of thin air.

For something with such simple ingredients (only flour and water, with some optional salt) – sourdough technique is next fucking level. If you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, you’re completely fucked. You stand exactly a 0% chance of getting it right. Luck can’t help you. You stand no chance. It’s that hard.

However, if you know someone who can teach you how to create sourdough bread, you’re marginally less fucked. I’m only saying marginally less fucked because during that first bake with a sourdough master, there’s going to be so much going on that you simply don’t have the ability to see – yet. The master has spent months developing a refined sense for each step of the process – from how “strong” the dough should feel after folding it, to how “alive” the dough seems after fermentation (all jiggly and full of air). The beginner only sees a ball of dough in a bowl.

The subtleties of fermentation are pretty much impossible to get a sense for by reading a blog or watching videos. Though you still have to spend many hours reading this blog if you want to stand a chance. Even with all that reading, you’ll likely have to fuck up dozens of god damn times before the table starts to turn in your favour.

Here’s a photo of a shitty loaf I baked:

shitty sourdough loaf

Every time one of these came out of the oven, I was very sad.

There were so many more depressing loaves like these. These things had the texture of hockey pucks. I threw some of this “bread” to a squirrel during the winter and it jumped over it. I baked some for my relatives and they made fun of both me and the bread. I would have laughed at me too, the bread was fucking terrible.

dense sourdough

Even near the end, when I was getting some success by using some angry-ass rye flour to power-punch my fermentation in the face, I still had to resort to using a pull saw to get through the bread:

pull saw through sourdough

It turns out that after months of fucking around and failing over and over and over and over and fucking over, I’d developed reasonably acceptable sourdough technique. Through repetition alone, I had gained a pretty obsessive understanding of the timing for fermentation and the development of strength, flavour, and how temperature retards or accelerates everything. I learned how to shape these shits with a drywall blade. It seemed like I was doing everything right.

But after half a year of failure, my bread still fucking sucked, and I was very sad. I had tried everything and nothing was working. Lia thought it was the flour that was causing the repeat failures. So I texted Tyler.

The TSN Turning Point

The next day I went down to the most reputable bakery in town and ordered 25kg of their no-fucking-around STRONG BAKER’S FLOUR.

PH Flour

And then I started dominating the absolute shit out of sourdough.

The bread was so soft and beautiful a normal bread knife couldn’t cut it without totally squishing it and ripping it apart. So I ordered the bread-equivalent of a god damn Japanese samurai sword.

And now I’m happy.

Final Thoughts

I wanted to give up so badly. And to tell you to truth, I did twice. In my head I’d quit. Fuck this, it’s way to fucking hard, I’m done.

But then I’d read something new like how you’re not supposed to cut into the bread until 1 full hour after you’ve removed it from the oven because it’s still baking and if you cut into it too early it will be all dense and shitty and the crust will be really thick and hard.

So I’d be like, “Well, I have to try that.”

And then through brute stubbornness, I stumbled into the solution, which was to switch up the god damn fucking shitty flour I was using.

And the final triumph felt amazing, made all the more blissful from all the struggling and failure.

Here’s how those beauties turned out:

Huge oven spring sourdough

 

blistery sourdough loaf

epic sourdough

Sourdough sandwich

 

The Broken Shovel

Unkie Gomie and I broke a shovel transplanting a tree a few weeks ago, and I was going to throw the shovel out and buy a new one.

Then I changed my mind, manned up, and decided I’d fix it instead.

This involved doing a bunch of things I love doing, like cutting and carving:

And burning (to get the old handle out of the shovel blade):

And drilling and fitting and hammering (had to drill a narrow pilot hole to make sure the nail hit the pre-existing hole on the other side of the shovel collar):

And grinding and filing (so I didn’t have a nail sticking out, which looked awesome but would have posed a serious hand-stabbing problem):

Result: a badass fucking shovel that escaped the landfill and is ready for another decade of abuse! Same blade, same handle (6in shorter) + a nail to hold the blade in place. The nail was pulled out of the floor joists in my basement where the previous homeowner had been hanging tools (I hope).

Fixing this shovel was one of the funnest projects I’ve had in a long while. There’s something wrong with me because I don’t get an appetite for this type of work. I don’t know I miss it. Then I do it, and it’s like I’m a crack addict, totally focused and inspired. Fully in the zone. Hours melt away and I don’t notice. Then I’m finished and I feel like all is well with the world, and my life couldn’t get any better. Just from fixing a shovel.

I don’t get it. But I like it.