Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bread for May 10, and some long winded chit-chat

Every time the seasons change things get a little wacky with the sourdough. I like to pretend that the sourdough itself, which is after all alive, is causing me the problems as it adjusts to the new environment. But the truth is I am still not quite experienced enough to handle the ebb and flow of the seasons and temperature changes. I have very little temperature control in my bakery -- it doesn't get any higher tech over here than the wood stove in my living room and the ability to open and shut windows and doors, or move bins of dough to warmer or colder parts of my house -- so I rely on time and feel to decide when to divide the dough, when to shape it, when (or whether) to put it into the fridge for a cold ferment, and when to bake. Sometimes I nail it, sometimes I don't. But I'm more likely to nail it when the weather has been consistently warm or consistently cold for a month or more.

Nowadays people want total consistency and predictability in their bread, and factories can provide that, but I cannot. Instead, I do my best and rely on my customers to look on the bright side, which is: if your bread always looks the same, you don't get an understanding of the difference between the truly excellent and the merely good. Is that enough consolation? Here in Etna it seems to be, because people keep buying my bread!

I've been spending a little time over the past few weeks playing around with commercial yeast. I can see the appeal, believe me. Compared to sourdough, it is astonishingly predictable, and so fast! With sourdough, you can take a moment to make and enjoy a cup of coffee and it won't even make a dent. But with commercial yeast, you have to be on your game at all times, because that stuff really packs a punch! You can see why it was so quickly adopted by commercial bakers when it first came on the market in the late 19th Century. If you are making a lot of bread commercial yeast really streamlines things. But there is a cost in the complexity of the flavor and the nutritional value of the end product. Also, the baker comes to rely on a corporate product that cannot be produced in house, as sourdough is.

All of this is a long way of saying how grateful I am that my customers keep showing up, and allow me a chance to keep doing this and, I hope, keep getting better at it. On Monday I spoke with Andrew Stapley, one of the new owners of South Fork Baking Company, and we talked about how much we are still learning, even after many years of baking. Sometimes you don't even realize the things you know from the touch, the smell, the taste, and the look of the dough. I even use my ears, if you can believe it, to know when the bread is done baking -- fully baked sourdough makes a certain kind of sound when you thump it on its bottom. A very particular sound.

So enough chit-chat. This week I will have the organic buckwheat sourdough rounds along with possibly some organic Country French. I'll have the standard Country French rounds of course, a small number of semolina in the sandwich-loaf style, and most likely some of the seeded sourdough. I should be getting some rosemary in the morning, and if I do I will have some of the rosemary-polenta with roasted pumpkin seeds. I'm out of raisins but I might be able to come up with some kind of sweeter bread as well, but I'm scratching my head right now as to how I might do that.

Fabien and I have been messing around with sourdough baguettes lately and we are getting better at it, so I may try to bring a few of those. By the way, if you knew the challenge of the sourdough baguette, you would be raising an eyebrow right about now.

See you on Main Street from 5-7 PM!

--Erik Ryberg


  1. Nice to know other people talk to their baked goods :)
    I'd like a semolina and seeded sourdough, please and a regular country French for the parents.

  2. rosemary-polenta with roasted pumpkin seeds if that doesn't work out then seeded sourdough. 2 chocolate chip cookies if you have them