When I was making an Ancient Roman feast a few months ago, I started thinking about yeast. In particular: how did people culture it before the days stores started selling it in cakes and packets? At this point, I really should be thinking more about Trusts, Estates, Torts, and the bar exam, but it’s so easy to fit a bit of kneading and some yeast thoughts into the day for study breaks. The result: sourdough.
First, on a random note, my internet yeast research led me to stumble across an awesome new Google effort: Timelines. My search for “bread yeast history” yielded a page of results organized on a chart and in a list by date reference. For example: “1849 – The history of sourdough bread is closely related to the men who came to San Francisco in 1849 in pursuit of gold.” I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to be doing with my Google Plus account, but I’m all over this Timeline business.
Who cares about the twenty-first century, though, when we can talk about…Ancient Egypt! Egypt has the distinction of being one of the first civilizations for which we have a really well-documented relationship with yeast, used in both bread and beer. Evidence of leavened bread dates back to prehistoric times (to about 4000 BC) on the Nile. And you know how this bread was made? Sourdough method! Yeast was harvested from old leaven or beer makings to make new bread.
Now, I might not have access to the exact same yeast varieties that were floating around Egypt thousands of years ago, but I do currently have a library copy of Tartine Bread, by history-hunting, wild yeast-obsessive baker Chad Robertson. I got this book out for a particular yeast experiment (which will show up here in August when I have more time). I was about to jump in and set up my own starter according to Robertson’s instructions, when…I cheated.
Deus ex machina: I mentioned the above Secret Bread Project to a friend who’s been monkeying around with Tartine techniques, and he offered me some of his starter! I’d been hearing for a while about the progress of this starter (from over-sour to mellow) and was curious how it had come along, so I took him up on his offer. I was also lazy and impatient. If only it were this easy to shortcut the bar exam.
Here’s my starter. I never had pets growing up, so I decided to name it. I started out thinking of “doughy” names – like Puffernutter; I wound up going with the “sour” theme, though. So, meet Lavinia – totally inspired by A Little Princess. I might still set up my own – compare the wild yeasts of Boston suburbs and Bed-Stuy – but Lavinia is rising and falling nicely, and yielded beautifully flavored loaves; the bread above has a mild but layered taste with a pleasingly sour followup.
It’s evident from Chad Robertson’s discussion of recipe development that he’s pretty obsessed with tradition himself; the motivation in the development of the Tartine bread recipe was a “search for a certain loaf with an old soul.” Modern techniques (like use of a Dutch oven in baking loaves) and methodical experimentation mark Tartine bread, but the recipe basics – wild yeast, whole wheat flour, and patience – are purely rustic.
You can call it artisan. I’m dubbing it historical: Bake Like An Egyptian. Now, here’s the bread porn you’ve been waiting for…
Hope you’ve enjoyed! I’d love to hear others’ Tartine tips and stories in comments…
That is the most I have ever learned about sourdough, and I thank you for that. I have wanted to attempt making it for years but this makes it seem simple and far less daunting than I think I’ve made it. lol! Looks fantastic!
This post is full of information..I love your step by step instruction, photo with you studying and waiting for your dough :)) and finally your bread looks fantastic, perfectly crunchy, golden and delicious!
I love sourdough but have always been intimidated by it. Thanks for breaking it down and making it seem doable. Buzzed you!
I love the whole breadmaking process, but I still haven’t worked up the guts to do a sourdough… it just seems so scary and time-consuming, even though I’m usually the first to talk about how easy commercial-yeast-leavened breads normally are. Guess it’s all a matter of perspective. 🙂
BTW, your loaves may not look very tall, but they are absolutely gorgeous nonetheless. Lovely crust!
This bread looks incredible! What a great recipe! 🙂
Great pics! I like the one of you studying and the bread rising! LOL. Who knew sourdough went through such a long process. This looks so good- please send a toasted piece with butter.
I’d loooove to bite into that loaf! I can imagine just breaking it off and inhaling it… nom nom nom!
Wow…. I loved your step-by-step today. I know it’s hard to take pics while your hands have flour…but it was so much fun reading the process. I like your little baby (dough) waiting on the table while you study – so calm….I sometimes miss the silence during the day as my house is so noisy with 2 kids! Your bread is perfect… I am a little embarrassed to say (because it’s true) but I really can eat that whole bread if that came out of the oven. What a fantastic post Celia!
I love it when you get distracted from studying. I mean, seriously. From your sexy starter, Lavinia, to your scandalous bread porn. Incredible bread. If I wasn’t a threat to humanity when it came to baking, I’d absolutely give it a try. I’m happy to drool over your bread in the meantime.
PS. I often have yeasty thoughts.
Who can refuse the gift of a sourdough starter? I was recently given some starter myself and I sense that my sourdough experiments have only just begun.
I’m in Tartine’s city so I suppose I should really own the cookbook. Your loaf is so gorgeous and you did a great job laying out the steps. I feel empowered!
This bread looks beautiful. This is my first time hearing about that water test, and I’ll have to look into it!
I was at first really impressed that you made your own starter! But I’m still impressed even if it was borrowed 🙂 I bought a La Brea cook book recently and the whole starter thing seems really daunting!
It’s a great looking loaf, totally bakery-worthy, especially considering for your first time!
Buzzed and Bookmarked what a great step by step.
At my job we had a tartine spot for a time and believe it or not imported bread from Polaine bakery in Paris on a daily basis. I could have been a hero with this LOL
This sounds so, so, so wonderful! I love your step-by-step photos!
I’m so impressed that you can do so much cooking and study for the bar! Hope it’s going well, you’re in the home stretch now!
Great tips on the sour dough! Love the pic with you studying and waiting on the dough to rise =)
Celia, lovely post (and congrats on Top 9). I love getting the background on your recipes, and you really went to town on this one, taking us back 6000 years! It looks really fantastic. Thanks for introducing us to the fabulous Lavinia – doubtless we shall be meeting her over the next few months with more wonderful bread recipes. Definitely making this one!
I’m back to congratulate you on Top 9!! 🙂 soooooo well deserved!! I love this loaf!
The art of bread making is so interesting to me. But I’m always sticking with my simple easy to make breads. You are inspiring me to try sourdough bread. Thanks for sharing.
The bread looks amazing. Great job! And good luck on your bar exam!
Gorgeous bread! And excellent history lesson! I was just saying this morning that I need to try my hand at a sourdough starter…I think this might be fate.
Your bread turned out great!! I have been thinking about making some more fresh bread recently, and I think I will definitely plan on it soon! I love Tartine’s original cookbook, but haven’t tried their bread book. I usually go to Amy’s Bread cookbook for my bread baking, and am looking forward to experimenting more as you have been. Love fresh baked bread!!
That is one awesome sourdough!!! And inspiring too 🙂 Lavinia is a lovely name for a starter!
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