Breaking up with sourdough

Back in the early days of the pandemic (I’m sad that I even have to type that phrase), when yeast was nowhere to be found on store shelves, intrepid bakers rolled up their sleeves and went to work making bread the old-fashioned way: creating their own sourdough starter. I was one of those intrepid bakers, fastidiously weighing rye flour on a digital scale, setting a reminder on my phone to make sure I didn’t miss a feeding, waiting patiently for the first bubbles to indicate that the wild yeasts were greedily devouring the flour.

It was fascinating and lovely and lasted about two weeks, after which the starter developed a funky aroma similar to what a sports mom might find in her kid’s duffel bag that sat in the car under the hot sun for a week. Sighing heavily, I started anew, with results that were better than the previous effort, but by this time my heart was no longer in it and I ignored the reminders, and the starter, until it finally got tossed into the compost bin. I did not tell anyone of my sourdough failure until now, inspired by Esther Mobley’s own tale of how she broke up with sourdough bread.

Mobley had a good long talk with her starter to ease the breakup, clearing the air about why they had to sever their relationship. “At this point, sourdough, you have left me crying alone in my kitchen one too many late nights, my sweatpants caked in flour, and I can’t justify putting myself through the agony any longer,” she patiently explained. While viewing images of other people’s sourdough success, Mobley watched as leaden loaf after leaden loaf come out of her oven. This was not, as she hoped, a match made in heaven.

I wish I had been able to calmly discuss why I was breaking up with my sourdough starter, but I didn’t have the guts like Mobley did. She even admitted to having an affair, something I was too ashamed to do. “I have to come clean: I baked bread with yeast back in May,” she confessed. “Only once, I swear. OK, a couple of times. And you know what, sourdough? It was great. That yeasted bread respected my time. It was so easy to get along with. The conversation just flowed. And I went to sleep that night without feeling consumed by guilt and failure.” I’m back with yeast as well, and the relationship has blossomed. We are a much better match.

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  • KarinaFrancis  on  July 23, 2020

    I tried but after too many heartbreaking failures with sourdough, I’ve started a healthy relationship with focaccia and yeast. I’m much happier

  • readingtragic  on  July 23, 2020

    Sounds like a fun article – pity you need to subscribe to the SF Chronicle to read it…

  • willowtownkitchen  on  July 23, 2020

    Thank you for the levity. 😉

  • vickster  on  July 23, 2020

    I was with sourdough before the pandemic and will stay with it. I also enjoy baking with yeast. But sourdough is my favorite.

  • BookWorm53  on  July 23, 2020

    Monogamy is overrated. 😉

  • averythingcooks  on  July 23, 2020

    This was a great laugh this morning. I was very lucky to have yeast for the duration of the pandemic (even though our stores were empty) and so I never went down the sourdough starter rabbit hole. But I know lots who tried and I laughed out loud at “….I baked with yeast…and it was great!” And when the author of the original SF article (which I could read even as a nonsubscriber) said that her relationship with her starter reminded her of the climbing ropes in elementary gym class, I yelled “flexed arm hang!!” which Canadians from my generation will certainly remember.

  • goodfruit  on  July 24, 2020

    I’ve always used Sourdough in addition to yeast, to add flavor. Who wants to spend days making bread? Not me.

  • MarciK  on  July 25, 2020

    I’m terrible about keeping up with my starter. On a good run, I feed it every couple of weeks or monthly. Normally, it sits in the fridge until it’s on its last breath. I’ve revived a starter that sat in my fridge for probably a good couple years. That smelly liquid that sits on top, that gets stirred in the starter. It gives it that extra tanginess associated with a good sourdough bread. My dad pours the smelly liquid out and saves it in a separate container. He uses it to replace the water in the bread recipe. If you don’t like that strong sourdough flavor, you wouldn’t want to do this, but some of us strive for it as a mark of a good sourdough. The smelly liquid is the key.

  • Sigmax  on  July 26, 2020

    A friend gave me (left it in her porch and I collected it a few hours later), some stater in March and a recipe for a no kneed dough and I’ve not looked back!

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