I’m not a baker (especially when it comes to baking sourdough bread) by any means, not even a little bit. I’ve started my quest to bake bread, cook food, and generally hone my skills in the kitchen a few years past. I grew up in a house where my dad started a restaurant from nothing, and it has been in operation for the past 30-some-odd years — a success I’d say. He had formal training in cooking through school and mentorship. I have not had either, only the vague memories of my parents and grandmother cooking as I grew up. I guess it was this childhood — being around constant cooking for the family, and being at the restaurant cooking for strangers — that has given me an interest in food and led me to want to improve my skills.
Back to baking sourdough. My interest in baking, aside from the occasionally failed loaf of bread, mediocre cookies, and biscotti, really started with a gift. My aunt got me Tartine‘s book on everything sourdough a few years ago for Christmas. I cracked open the book soon after that and read it cover to cover probably ten times, each time producing a few more pages of notes, and then a few more, and then a few more… Until I had thought I knew how to bake bread just like they do at the bakery. As it happens, baking bread requires intuition, feeling, and the ability to observe changes in the environment, and translate all of this into your bread.
Chad Robertson’s explanations in Tartine are excellent, but they are more of a set of guidelines rather than a specific formula for churning out fantastic sourdough. After about a year and a half of experimenting with all sorts of flours, fermentation times, starters, and just about everything else, I can safely say that there is no way to read a book, or even write one, that will instantly transform a person into a baker.
I remember something a friend of mine once told me:
You’re either a good baker, or a good cook. You can’t be both.
I think back on that from time to time, and I understand the premise. With cooking, your measurements are imprecise, they change with each taste, and these slight changes may not have a significant impact on your outcome. Cooking seems to rely more on last-minute sparks of creativity, unplanned surprises, and a knack for ingredient pairings. Not to say baking doesn’t have some of these as well, but it requires more precise formulas and bake times, in which even small changes can drastically impact your results.
My goal here is to journal my baking and cooking experiments, formulas, successes (and failures), and the little tips I’ve unearthed on along the way. It will most likely start with bread but will sway to cooking other foods and even include some meals on my travels.