Tuesday, July 25, 2006

all i knead is loaf

I know why it's called sourdough. It's not so much the taste or the method, but the feeling it invokes in you when you wake in the morning and check the tin and find your loaf is still only about an inch high.
I've been taking lessons from my mother, the master. She's been baking sourdough for forty years. I'm onto my fourth loaf.
"Any idiot can make sourdough," my mother always says, though it must be noted that she guards her secret recipe with her life lest any said idiots get their hands on it. And it was a big moment some years ago when she finally allowed me to put her recipe down in writing. (Don't tell her I keep it on the side of the fridge.)
I thought I had nailed it with the very first one. It emerged from the oven late at night, and I promptly polished off half the loaf while it was still warm, smothered in butter and honey. I marvelled at my incredible natural talent. I nearly wrote home about it, but then when I tasted a slice cold the next morning, I realised with irritation that it had a faint, raw, doughy flavor. I consulted my teacher and she advised me to bake it hotter and longer.
The second loaf did not rise at all. I baked it anyway, hotter and longer, and despite the fact that it was only about three millimetres high, the taste was almost perfect. I mixed up the third loaf with renewed hope. It deigned to rise to halfway up the pan.
"My mother made bread every day of my life," I complained (sourly) to friends. "Shouldn't I have picked this up by osmosis or something?"
The fourth loaf was mixed with extreme care, taking instructions down the phone line from the parental advisory centre. That evening, as I walked past the tin and glanced over, I thought how oddly familiar the dough looked today. How it reminded me of...my mother's dough!
This is the one, I thought. This. Is. The. One.
Well, I hate to spoil the tension, but it's still in the oven even as we speak, so we'll have to wait and see. But it sure looks promising.