Respect the Dough, Respect It


Ever since my brother was diagnosed with a gluten disorder, bread has taken a backseat in my family’s culinary life. But with the dull rhythm of quarantine and lack of access to my favorite Saint Louis sandwich shops, I decided to spice up my loaf life and bake some homemade sourdough. 

Three ingredients—flour, water, and salt—easy right? No.

To begin making sourdough, you need a starter. Unlike other baking recipes, sourdough does not use dry yeast. Instead, a starter is created, using just water and flour. The wild bacteria in the flour kickstart the fermentation process, and after a week or so of feeding, the starter is ready for use. 

I got a pre-fermented starter from a family friend who also was beginning his sourdough journey and fed it daily. As I fed the starter, I began to realize the commitment I had just made. For two weeks, that bubbly jar of dough on the counter became my child, and I protected it from curious siblings and angry parents at all costs.

Once the starter was nice and active, it was time to make some bread. To begin, I mixed the flour and water together and let it sit for a bit. Next, I added the starter to the water/flour combination and let that rest a few more hours. Then came the fun part: kneading.

Aftermath of the first slap and fold.

As soon as I took the gooey dough ball out of the bowl, I knew I was in trouble. For the next ten minutes, I stretched, slapped, folded, and cursed the dough glob, forming it into a rough shape before putting it back to rest. By the end of the first kneading session, I had successfully coated myself, the kitchen, and the floor with strings of sticky dough, getting myself grounded in the process. But it would soon be worth it. 

After some more stretching and resting, I placed the dough in the fridge to continue fermenting overnight. The next day, I woke up early to preheat the oven to a screaming 500 degrees, then placed the dough balls in the cast iron. An hour later, they were finished.

Picking up my steaming, perfectly crusted loaves and placing them on a cooling tray, I could not stop smiling. Weeks of nurturing my starter plus two days of mixing, slapping, and shouting at my dough ball had finally paid off. My entire family gravitated towards the steamy scent of fresh bread permeating the kitchen, and within ten minutes, one loaf was gone (and I was un-grounded). Who knew two crispy loaves of bread could create so much joy?

Look at that fluffiness.

It didn’t take long for my celebrity status to wear off—the second loaf only lasted through the next morning. But I didn’t mind. Sharing my bread loaves with my family was the highlight of my quarantine so far. I have yet to make another loaf, but I plan to soon. Next time, I will be more prepared, physically and mentally, to make it through without making a mess (and getting grounded).

If you are looking for something to do this quarantine, need to get out of trouble, or just want to push yourself to your culinary limits, sourdough is an excellent option to try. Few foods are so incredibly simple, yet so incredibly demanding. I guarantee that if you make it through to the end, you and your loved ones will be well-rewarded.