The Jew And The Carrot

Something from Almost Nothing

By Elizabeth Traison

  • Print
  • Share Share
liz traison

My new year’s resolution was not to eat bread that I didn’t make. Between December 31st and January 1st, this already proved too difficult, so I scaled it back to not purchasing bread. In other words, if I wanted bread, I’d have to make it.

I’ve already mastered my classic challah recipe (which is actually not classic because it’s vegan). What used to take me hours and hours of anxious waiting and careful kneading, I have now turned into a quick and easy Thursday night dough making, and a pre-Shabbat braiding that takes less than an hour including 30 minutes in the oven. And every time, people can’t believe that I actually made my own bread.

With a solid challah recipe under my belt, I set out for my next challenge and got my heart set on making sourdough. When I get my heart set on something, I don’t give up easily (just ask my mom about the teddy bear she didn’t buy me when I was two), I will continue to work on it until I’ve perfected it. Maybe it’s because I’m an eldest child.

For those who are unfamiliar, sourdough is simultaneously the easiest and most plebian bread and also the fanciest and most complex. In order to make the bread you need to make or obtain a sourdough starter – a simple mix of equal parts flour and water, allowed to ferment for a few days a room temperature capturing the natural yeasts in the air. A new starter needs to be fed daily, while a mature starter needs only to be fed once a week or so. I was ecstatic when a friend of a friend brought me some of her starter.

I started by purchasing the book she recommended to me, The Bread Bakers Apprentice, which is filled with gorgeous, glossy pictures of crusty-on-the-outside, airy-on-the-inside breads that will undeniably make you think “I cannot do this” and put it back on the shelf. Fatefully, I accidentally shipped the book to my parent’s house and was eager to try my hand at the bread before they could ship it back to me.

So I started the same way I start most other recipes I’ve never tried before, by reading a bunch of recipes, deducing the most necessary and cheapest ingredients, and hoping for the best. But with sourdough there are already only 3 ingredients already (flour, water, and salt), so I moved onto phase 2 of my research: watching bread-baking Youtube videos. There are a surprising number of internet videos about making sourdough, none of which I found particularly helpful - mostly because they all claim how easy it is to make sourdough and how hard it is to mess up. Of course, this only made me feel even more strongly that not only would I create dense, mushy bread, but that I would probably also burn my apartment down too. Feeling defeated, I fed my starter and left it out to see just how close I could come to doing the so-called impossible (killing the starter).

When I came back in the morning, I couldn’t believe what I saw: a bubbly, pasty, gooey mixture that was literally growing inside the container! It smelled tangy and sour, just like a freshly baked loaf would (note: don’t let this fool you, it doesn’t taste good). I scooped out a bit of the fed starter and put the rest back in the fridge. I added more flour and water to the starter, which after the additions is now called a barm – and hit the books again to see exactly how long I had to wait. Here was my first, and maybe my only mistake; contrary to popular belief, baking is not exact. This is particularly true with “slow breads”, the longer you leave them out, the more time they have to develop rich, complex flavors.

If you are a type-A personality like me, I highly recommend taking up baking sourdough as a hobby precisely because you cannot follow a single recipe. The variables brought out by humidity and temperature and air quality are so significant in the process, that it seems almost crazy to think you could have a recipe in the first place. You also don’t need a bread hook or a bread maker or a temperature controlled proofing box or even a banneton (thought this will probably make the final product look really pretty). I kneaded the dough until it felt ready, what was once sticky like paste had become smooth and soft. I let the bread rise in accordance with my schedule, rather than spending my nights and weekends waiting around for it (consequently, this also seems like good dating advice) Using my hands, a bowl, and a baking sheet I made 2 amazing loaves of bread. When the loaves came out, steaming from the oven I felt in a way like a parent. The process is absolutely amazing and mind-boggling; you take basically nothing, a little flour and water, give it time to rest and develop, and you create a miraculous product. Something from nothing, almost.

Liz Traison is a Program Associate at Hazon and a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is a graduate of The University of Michigan where she received a BA in History and Judaic Studies. She also studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum and Hebrew University. She is thrilled to be a member of the 2014 PresenTense fellowship. She likes being outside, particularly on Skeleton Lake. And also being inside, specifically doing creative workshops in prison.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: yeast, sourdough, challah, bread, baking

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.