The Grounding Ritual of Sourdough
Sarah Reynolds North is marking time with bread. She starts each night around 10pm.
It’s a late night feeding of special sourdough. Her kids are asleep and she’s alone in the kitchen. It's just one little step before bed for her daily bread.
Sarah’s formerly from Woods Hole, and is a professional baker in Boston. But right now, like many of us, she’s out of work and stuck at home. Still, she has her sourdough starter. She feeds it with equal parts water and flour, and while she sleeps, the lactobacteria and yeast that keep it alive bubble and ferment. The next morning at 8am, her family’s in the kitchen.
The dough smells nutty and yogurty. Sarah explains what she does next.
"So we’re going to make our big family loaf, which fills a Dutch oven when it’s baking. Ok so let’s do water, we’re going to do 613 grahams of water which is kind of warm but kind of not warm. If you use cold water it will take longer for your bread to rise, and if you use warm water it will be quicker. Do you want to help me pour this? Now we’re going to do flour. 800 grahams of this. 806! And salt, 18 grahams of salt, and that is all that we need for this bread.”
Flour, water, salt. The days are hectic. 8 hours later, by four pm, Sarah and her kids are back in the kitchen.
“So we mixed our dough this morning, and we gave it two folds, one at a half hour one at around an hour. And now it is jiggly and bubbly, not bubbly that’s not the right word. Kind of airy. And so now we’re going to do a pre-shape. So we put it onto the counter with some flour, you know a healthy shaking of flour. And we’re going to shape it. So basically this means just rolling it into a ball.”
While Sarah and her wife and their three kids eat dinner, the dough proofs—or rises—for a second time. Before they do the dishes Sarah preheats the oven with a Dutch oven inside—when it’s time to bake she wants to pot to be really hot. Finally, at seven, it’s time to cook the bread.
“Kids are heading to bed. And then just going to scoop the bread in and flip it over into the pot. You can hear it sizzling in there it’s so hot. And then you close it up! And put this back into the oven. For 25 minutes. And the ovens at 490 degrees. And then, that’s that.”
The bread will be ready to eat in about forty minutes. While she waits, Sarah says she’s heard from a lot of people recently who are finding a daily rhythm in baking.
“It feels like we’re stuck in this weird place where we don’t really know how long this is going to last and what’s next and I think that baking bread is such a good antitode to all that. Because it’s a routine, it’s steady, and you’re building the beginning and the end and the middle of all of it, and then you get to share it.”
The bread comes out of the oven, the kids are asleep, and it’s time for the grown ups to eat a late night snack.
“ Everyone says you’re not supposed to open the bread when it’s hot, but it’s so good when it’s hot that we do.”
It’s the close of another day. Time to feed the starter again let it ferment and rise while the baker sleeps.
Sarah's recipe for a big family sourdough can be found here on Elspeth's blog. For more fresh tips check out Sarah's instagram feed @foundbread. You can learn more about Breadboard, where she bakes professionally, here.