The Sourdough Murder

While I was staying at the monastery, I made sourdough bread. My friend Rachel had recently learned how to bake with a sourdough and sent me beautiful pictures of her golden brown artisan style loaves, of the kind seen in a fancy bakery. I was inspired.

My first task was to make a sourdough starter. My first two tries were unsuccessful and produced a raunchy smelling mass that couldn’t possibly make a fragrant loaf of bread. Fortunately, to my rescue, came a woman who had some starter and was willing to share. Poof! That was easy.

I followed her instructions about how to feed it and eagerly anticipated my first loaf of sourdough bread. Watching it transform from sleeping beauty to this frothy and bubbly thing was very exciting. It looked like a living being as it bubbled away to twice its size. I photographed it like it was a new baby and sent the image to a few friends. I then proceeded to make my first loaf, using rye flour. The bread turned out surprisingly well for a first try and it was difficult to refrain from devouring the whole loaf all at once. The irresistible aroma of hot baked bread had definitely whetted my appetite.

The next day, I set about to make another loaf, this time with whole wheat flour. The sourdough starter, once fed takes 4-5 hours to become active enough to make a good loaf of bread. However, when I calculated the amount of time required from start to finish, it couldn’t happen that day due to time constraints.

The solution! Coax the starter to hurry up. The warmer the temperature, the faster the starter will activate. The monastery had a “proofing box”, an appliance that heats air from 72⁰ to 120⁰ so a person can accelerate the speed of the rise. I cranked it up to 120⁰, fed the starter, and went on to do other things.

I checked it about an hour later. Nothing happened. Not one bubble, not even a little tiny one. After that, I peered at the starter with increasing frequency, each time issuing a powerful command “Hurry up! Can’t you see I’m pressed for time?” But noooo, it just wasn’t having it, no matter how much I demanded performance. Judging it for not accommodating my schedule didn’t work either. I finally gave up after six hours. I bombed it. Then I nonchalantly washed the starter down the drain after giving it a good scolding. Oh well.

Impatience and forcing my will on the starter killed it. Sometimes things have to be given the freedom and space to gently unfold on their own sweet time, especially sourdough bread.