How to make fluffy, high-rising loaves of sourdough bread

  1. Your uncle dies and you make a quick trip to the United States for his funeral.
  2. While there, your sister gives you sourdough starter your cousin gave her to give you.
  3. The starter is basically an empty plastic bottle with a little scum stuck to the walls.
  4. Which you refrigerate, and worry you were too late in refrigerating it and it will already be dead, or it will die on the trip home because you can’t refrigerate it nor take it in your hand luggage and in your checked luggage the extremes of temperature will do it in or something, or you will forget it.
  5. Everyone laughs at you because you’re so jetlagged.
  6. And you are more susceptible to jetlag than most people. All someone has to say is “airplane” and you get tired and disoriented.
  7. OTOH you are happy you let the lady at the car rental place talk you into the upgrade. In fact, you practically talked her into talking you into it. The midsize SUV is so much more fun to drive around in a state of extreme fatigue than the ultracompact thing you reserved.
  8. By now your shoulders and upper back are burning from tension and your lower back is painfully close to throwing in the towel from sitting in airplanes and cars and sleeping on unfamiliar beds, and your tailbone hurts from all the sitting.
  9. So on the flight home, the long leg from Washington, D.C. (where, upon your arrival, a woman in uniform pulled you out of a long line and gave you to a man in uniform with the words, “Got one for you,” and he swabbed your hand and stuck the swab into a machine where nothing happened and you are secretly happy because normally it’s your brother who gets searched and interrogated and it’s nice to fit into a profile too, or even share one with him, and the man asks you, “How long have you been out of the country?” and you say, “26 years, just back for a few days for a funeral,” and he says, “my condolences” and lets you go because the swab didn’t set off alarms or anything, and, WTF a swab?) to Vienna, with your sore tailbone and 10 hours of stupid movies ahead of you, on tiny screens that are burning out and only show the colors brown, white and black, which is okay due to the jelly-like nature of your brain, although it ameliorates nothing, you find yourself moved to a (marginally) better seat so a family can sit together, and you find yourself sitting beside a pretty, young, dark-haired, pale woman, early 20s if that, and her baby, which was apparently drawn by Edward Gorey and cries a lot, like the sixty other babies on the plane.
  10. The woman is apologetic and you smile and try to reassure her, saying that your kid cried all the way between Tokyo and Vienna once, in first class, but the woman’s English is not so good, or maybe your pain and confusion makes you creepy, or you smile too much at her baby (at least you didn’t offer it a peanut, which briefly crossed your mind, Here baby, like a peanut? Would that shut you up, huh? How bout one of these pretzels, as they don’t actually serve peanuts on board aircraft anymore, due I guess to the allergy thing and people giving them to crying babies too much) or she is just polite or wants to sit with relatives, and she moves during the flight, trading places with her 15 year old girl cousin.
  11. The 15 year old girl cousin has a friendly, tough-guy persona and informs you that all the crying babies are Albanian, going home to Pristina for summer vacation, from Dallas where her father remains because he couldn’t come along because he has to run the restaurant and she’s going to Pristina for 5 weeks because her grandmother’s paralyzed and maybe her father will go next year and she’ll run the restaurant while he’s gone.
  12. The Albanians are all from Dallas, which is for her not such a great place to live because there are only two things to do namely 1) go to school and 2) go straight to the restaurant to work after school.
  13. Meanwhile, your sourdough starter is cooling its heels in your suitcase somewhere in the plane’s cargo section.
  14. The woman beside you talks and talks and you say you’re sorry about her grandmother and you think, although you don’t understand the thought, entirely:
  15. Take care of this girl, America, because she is your soul.
  16. Mainly because she is working and not consuming or otherwise out of control. Because she thinks of herself but also of others and glows with intelligence.
  17. Remember, America, back when you worked?
  18. Remember those days? When Walt Whitman wrote his poems going on and on about the working man and grass and so on?
  19. Before you went out of control?
  20. This girl still embodies that. It’s not dead. She carries it with her. You just have to feed it.
  21. So watch out for her.
  22. At home, pop the sourdough starter into the fridge and google instructions.
  23. is good.
  24. Follow the directions inexactly. Here is a fact about bread making: if it were such an exact science, wheat-based societies would have died out thousands of years ago.
  25. Result: two flat loaves no one in the family wants to eat because the crust would stop a .22 and the bread is extra, extra tangy.
  26. Sour dough bread baking is a slow process which you can’t hurry. There is something exhilarating about this. Those bacteria there can’t be rushed. It takes the time that it takes.
  27. We need more of this sort of thing.
  28. Follow instructions more exactly next time (and reduce refrigeration time because that turns out- refrigeration – to be connected to tang, and maybe your family will be more likely to eat the bread if it’s not so tangy) and get less-tangy, higher loaves. A little higher, anyway. People you communicate with during this process tell you they have never gotten high sourdough loaves without adding a little extra yeast, which you consider cheating.
  29. Letting them rise longer must be the key, you think.
  30. You resolve to follow instructions to the letter next time, to try to get nice, high loaves. And also to use just white flour, not whole-wheat.
  31. Apparently bread making is an art not a science, but at the same time pretty forgiving and not rocket-science type art see #24.
  32. Unfortunately, on your third try (you let the starter rest during the week and bake on weekends) you get off to a late start and in order to bake before you go to bed on Sunday you have to rush things along a little.
  33. So the loaves are still flat.
  34. This coming weekend you’re going to Paris for a week so you’ll skip it and try again when you get back. You plan to start on Thursday evening, not Saturday morning, so the loaves will have time to rise and rise and rise. Maybe that will help.

3 responses to “How to make fluffy, high-rising loaves of sourdough bread

  1. In Step #18, you can substitute a painting by Remington for Walt Whitman if you like a crustier loaf.

  2. k

    15. through 21. Beautiful. Yes.

    A good loaf of bread is another beautiful & true thing. Worth working for.

  3. Jetlag *yawn*, yes, got it too.
    I actually expected the American Homeland Security to give us some trouble with us being a triple national patchwork family. But no problem at all. Friendly, polite, helpful.