The Illusion of the Perfect Loaf

While learning to develop and bake with a sourdough starter, I am mindful of a zen story about two monks:
Night approached while the two monks were traveling in the mountain. Needing a place to stay and remembering that a revered hermit was reputed to live in a shack nearby, they proceeded up a mountain stream to where they thought he lived. But then they noticed a lettuce leaf floating down the stream. Well, they thought, how wasteful to lose such a precious leaf. They were about to go on their way, avoiding the obviously overrated hermit, when the hermit himself, with a net in hand, came running down the bank of the stream intent on catching the leaf.

Most sourdough starter recipes suggest that you throw out part of the starter so you have room to feed it more flour and water. I can’t stand it. Some kind of teaching from my mother about waste that she learned during the depression. So I make pancakes using my wet starter. This is my recipe derived from the recipe from Wild Yeast (note that my starter is a pourable one, made from equal parts flour and water by volume, please excuse my terrible habit of mixing weights and measures but I just bought a new scale and will shortly convert everything to grams. Until then):

500 grams of starter
2 eggs
2 T sweetening, sometimes I use maple syrup, sometimes honey or sugar
2 T oil (try melted butter)
½ t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1-1/2 t baking powder
whip the starter, eggs, sweet and oil together into a suitable bowl
sift the leavening into the batter

grill in two large frying pans or griddle (heat = kind of low to middle).
Makes 7 – 8” round pancakes or there about.
Serve with yogurt, fresh fruit salad and maple syrup.

No waste.

Oh ya, the two loaves from the last post? I pulled them from the oven. Oh, what a disappointment. Busted open on the bottom, and the slashes I’d cut on the top were hardly superficial scars, unnoticeable. Cut the loaves open and there were no bubbles, just a wet heavy cake crumb. A little later when J was making lunch she mentioned how she liked this bread, not dry at all. Good for sandwiches. What am I to make of that?

Illusions are endless, I vow to put an end to them.

So was the illusion the wanting a perfect loaf (life, relationship, bank account) and not seeing what was there for the miracle that it was? After all, I had two perfectly edible loaves. Tasted okay, not really sour yet (see comment from Peter on last post) but I can work on all these things, n’est pas? Practice, Arnie. Practice.

Liberation and Bread Baking

ww and millet, score the top and pop into the oven

The very first post on this blog was just short of four months ago in April. It concerned the four Bodhisattva vows. Since then I have done an initial survey of the Bodhisattva vows, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Now I am starting at the beginning again and bring the ideas contained in these fundamental Buddhist texts to bear on my daily life. Right now my daily life consists primarily of making objects of art and baking bread. In art I am not exactly a beginner; but in bread baking I really am, least ways in terms of sourdough and steamed-oven baking using baking stones. My Iaido teacher always insisted on the cultivation of the beginner’s mind. So, today I will attempt to talk about my latest bread making experiences from the point of view of beginner’s mind and the first line of the Bodhisattva vows.

Beings are numberless I vow to liberate them.

I received a sourdough starter from my friend, Peter. I don’t know the starter’s provenance (was it started from the wild, or from a bought innoculant, or with the help of commercial yeast?), but my bread doesn’t seem to want to become sour for me. I suspect that to get a starter that is as sour as I want, I might have to start from the beginning, not that I am trying to insult Peter’s starter, but starters, as I surmise from internet research, do not travel well from one flour-environment to another. Yeasts get themselves sorted out for particular micro environments and have to adjust, evolve, to fit into new ones. It is also possible, after years of my store-bought bakers yeast bread baking and wine and beer home brewing, that these blander yeasts have leapt the fence so to speak and caused the yeast in my garden to become creamy and uniform instead of sour. And my bread now does taste sort of creamy, rather than sour. In which case even starting from scratch any new starter I might begin, using my own local yeast, will not produce that desired sour taste. On the other hand, maybe I just don’t yet know what I am doing.

What to do? What to do?

All the numberless yeasty beings floating around in the atmosphere, coating the apples on the trees, the grapes on the vines, or just floating in the air, waiting for a suitably wet environment and enough starches and sugars to act as a delectable food source to encourage their reproductive exuberance. Maybe I should just continue baking bread with the yeast I have and not worry (definitely do not worry) about how sour, or not, my bread might be. I will make the best bread I can.

Beginner’s luck for me began with a recipe for a sourdough sweet potato bread with pumpkin seeds. Everyone raved. However…. although the bread was a delight, after paying full attention to some basic critical benchmarks (as gleaned from the sourdough internet community) I must say that I screwed up the crust by not making it smooth enough and scoring it properly before baking, and what is it with all my bread that I never get that looked for large, holey crumb. I get a cake-like crumb. So what does the beginner’s mind do? Make more loaves of bread, of course, content in the realization that I may never solve the crumb problem but glad the bread tastes great. I feed it to who ever is around and thereby liberate them from the pangs of hunger.

Question of the day: quite often I have heard people say that they are on a yeast free diet and so only eat bread made with sourdough. Sour dough is, of course, yeast. So do I say anything to liberate these deluded people from their ignorance of the nature of sourdough, or do I leave them alone and let them get on with the delightful pleasure of eating yeasted bread by any other name.

For now I will go check on my loaves and maybe pop them in the oven.