My Dirty Little Secret

If I could point to one positive thing about this pandemic lockdown it has to be that it has given me time to master a few different styles of bread. I’ve reached heights of quality and consistency in my baking that I didn’t think possible just six months ago. Though I no longer use a Dutch oven and bake on a stone, all my loaves basically come out the same in appearance and taste and texture. And I’ve also gotten to the point where I know exactly what to tweak to get a particular result.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to brag on myself. But the plain fact of the matter is that I bake bread at least 6 days a week, ranging in quantity from 2 to 12 loaves. So naturally I get a lot of practice; not nearly as much as I would in an actual commercial artisan bread bakery, but enough practice to where I’ve developed a comparatively high degree of skill.

So one would assume that with all the bread that I bake that I have this super starter that I keep alive and have grown from scratch to give me my signature taste. But I don’t have one, and as I admitted to a close friend of mine last night, I really don’t have any intention of getting one started very soon. I know that I have mentioned in the past that I will eventually get around to making a levain, but the truth is, I’m having too much fun and too much success with my bread to even consider it.

So here’s my dirty little secret: None of my bread is made with a sourdough starter, nor do I in the immediate future intend to start and grow one. So there! 🙂

I used to think that not going down the whole sourdough starter route made my bread less “artisanal,” so I didn’t openly admit that I didn’t use one. I’d say that I have a culture in my fridge that I was intending to use. But truth be told, it has been sitting in my fridge for months now, and though it’s not dead (yeast and microbes go dormant, not dead), it’ll take at least a week to revive it. That’s a week I don’t want waste.

Furthermore, as I’ve dived deeper and deeper into the artisan bread making rabbit hole, I’ve realized that there’s really no formal definition for “artisan bread.” The only common factors are that it is made up of only flour, water, salt, and a leavening agent (with no chemical additives) and that it is handmade; well, at least the shaping part. Hell! Even commercial artisan bakeries use mixers for at least part of their process. 🙂 So I figured that if I’m meeting those informal criteria, my sourdough starter-less bread is no less artisanal than one made with a levain.

People have debated with me that a sourdough starter makes their bread more complex and nutritious. But as I’ve mentioned previously, I have spent a lot of time introducing complexity and nutrition through other factors such as flour mixtures and varying my pre-ferment fermentation times, among other things.

I think what “ruined” it for me using a sourdough starter was my focus on developing my poolish technique. Once I figured out that if I vary the fermentation times of the poolish, I could affect different flavor profiles in my bread and also introduce other by-products like amino acids and enzymes that make the bread more digestible, on top of adding flavor, so the whole sourdough being more nutritious argument kind of went out the window.

After that, I kind of lost my aspiration to make a sourdough starter. BUT, I’m excited to say that I also recently started using a Pâte Fermentée, or old dough technique with my baguettes where I reserve some of the dough from the previous day’s bake to kickstart the current day’s dough. I have to do write-up on it once I’ve worked out the process, but so far, it works marvelously!

So… Sourdough starter? We don’t need no stickin’ sourdough starter. And there’s my dirty little secret! Nee-nee nee-nee neeeee-neeeeee!


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