Wednesday 20 May 2020

Sweet and sour

The first time I ever sampled sourdough, I was at a business lunch with a contact in New York during the late 1990s. Mid-conversation, sitting in the chichi restaurant, I remember picking up my diamond-shaped bread roll and taking a nibble. My goodness, I thought to myself, that bread has gone off! 

A loaf of sourdough bread on a table in a garden
Sourdough: 'bread with an old soul'
Picture credit: Will Lam
Perhaps I didn't hide my grimace well enough because my companion smiled and told me that 'sourdough' was a New York speciality. I felt a pang for the French-style bread I might have been given in a London restaurant back home...

Over the years, however, my tastes have travelled beyond the cottony baguette - now I have quite a weakness for the fermented tang of a sourdough, as does my teenage daughter. So when my Californian friend and baking doyenne Susanna Scott asked whether I'd like a sourdough starter kit, I said yes (somewhat nervously). There's no time like a lockdown for experimenting with temperamental, time-consuming bread recipes.

Anyway, three days later... it actually took me that long to work through a thirteen-step recipe provided by Susanna from the Tartine Bakery in San Francisco (SF, being the true home of sourdough). To be honest, I got a bit confused with all the folding of the dough and my 'seams' were nothing to write home about, leaving me convinced my sourdough was destined to be a flop. As it turned out, the loaves were delicious! Warm from the oven, the dough on the inside was springy and aerated but encased in a crackly crust, and begging for a smattering of butter... yum.

The bread got a definite thumbs-up from the family, while I felt a little rush of self-satisfaction - this was proper, hardcore baking (without an electronic breadmaker in sight). Suddenly, all the hard work seemed worth it. 

From bread to books...

Talking yesterday with my creative writing group via our WhatsApp group, it occurred to me that the business of baking sourdough was also a nice metaphor for cooking up a book. All those laborious steps in pursuit of a satisfying outcome were eerily familiar. The creation of both bread and books requires patience, faffing, hanging about, potential setbacks, rigour and reflection (proving), not to mention losing faith in the process, at times. 

Rarely do we achieve anything significant without a bit of hard graft. What's the expression? One percent genius, 99% perspiration. I'm a long, long way off producing a perfect loaf, or a brilliant book for that matter, but it's nice to celebrate a few minor milestones along the way. 

As I get older, I also recognise that there is no such thing as overnight success. Most accomplishments demand a foundation of hard work, time, commitment and that little spark of inspiration - or in the case of my sourdough, 200 grammes of leaven.

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Food, glorious food!


A Modern Mother said...

Here’s to bread, books and friendship!

Emma Clark Lam said...

Thanks Susanna / A Modern Mother! Absolutely. Nice to feel we are connected by fermented dough ��

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