Trilogy part I: The Sourdough Identity

June 20th, 2011 | Posted by greg in Daily life...

I figured it would take me at least 3 extended blog post to explain my complicated relationship with sourdough.

As a quick introduction and as a fan of the Bourne trilogy blockbuster, I thought appropriate to call this series as:

I. The Sourdough Identity

II. The Sourdough Supremacy

III. The Sourdough Ultimatum

National Geographic, Discovery Chanel or BBC are all missing one incredible topic on micro-organism living on earth: WILD YEAST!

My relationship with sourdough started at age 12 when my parents dragged me to a communal bread making session at our village’s wood fire oven. Our village is in the Swiss Alps, at an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level. When my parents told me about it, I was anything but excited and was dreaming about a new bicycle… When we arrived at the communal baking’s place, my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw that monstrous oven with a gigantic fire burning inside! I had to let go a lengthy ooohhhhhhhh…. There was an experienced elderly seating on the side of the oven, which was periodically touching a round stone placed in front of the oven. “Trop Chaud” (too hot!) he would say… or Trop Froid! (too cold!) at other times… It is only much later that I realized the depth of knowledge this man had. Sadly, I think there are no one left at the village with that knowledge anymore. Forget about percentage, hydration, homogenization and so on…

The neighbour's restored 'Four Banale' in the Swiss Alps

In the middle of the room was about 10 to 12 persons kneading a very liquid rye dough, made from very rough stone milled mountain rye. The dough was being kneaded in a massive wooden cradle where we could all knead the same dough at the same time. We had 24 arms kneading the dough, rubbing it against the angled side of the giant wooden container. In my young boy’s head, that authentic dough seemed to me like a huge pile of dung! Of course, I was a thousand miles away from knowing what was going on!

The dough had very little salt (… I thought the sweat from the kneading people would make up for it!) but no… it was meant to be. The flour was very coarse, thus very little gluten and the hydration level had to be above 80%. No industrial yeast there: the dough was fermented from a sourdough being raised by the elderly of the village.

Proofing time was accompanied with a few bottle of white wine from the local vineyards, and then the baking was happening.The bread looked like huge round loaves, some cracked, some not. Once cooled a little, I honestly couldn’t wait to try: …and I thought it was awful! It was so different than my usual supermarket bread… I didn’t know I just had a bite of my first love!

The coarse rye flour used for the Pain de Seigle

Years and years later, I embarked into an apprenticeship for bakery and pastry and sourdough was lurking, yet, the teachers themselves had very little ideas about it and were focusing on “today’s” speedy techniques, lousy invention of the industrial revolution from the 50’s. But hey, I don’t blame them… they were all born in the period and it was normal practice for them. For me too, it was taken for granted that a piece of bread took 3 to 4 hours from mixing to baking.

Perhaps my childhood memories etched my brain and perhaps that wild instinct brought me trying to make sourdough at work, by myself, and try discovering what it was all about. I failed countless times despite all my trials… I was desperate, really.

I had all my papers with me, where I scribed my notes ( no iPad back then… and no Internet!) and I carried them with me during my travels around the world. Somewhere between the US and Asia, I tried again, and again to finally develop a beautiful sourdough.

It all started from water and raisins...

I am certain that what took me ages to develop was done by my ancestors with tied arms behind their back – as I am equally sure if I had taken the time to actually read a book about it, I would have had half the trouble, mais voila! I did it on my own.

The mother dough we maintain at the hotel today is 6 years old. Our baby had a few ups and down when fed the wrong time and wrong quantities, but survived it all and is healthy as a bull!

Stay tunned for The Sourdough Supremacy coming soon, with all the details on my sourdough…

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12 Responses

  • My daughter’s sourdough story took place when she was 10 month old when we went to LA to visit the grandparents. She wouldn’t touch any food (not even steamed egg custard) and was on a banana, sourdough & yogurt diet for 10 days. She still likes sourdough for her sandwiches and she’s 4 now

  • Wow, how fit! banana, sourdough and yogurt is awesome for a kid…ok maybe not 10 month old, but wow!

  • It’s amazing to have tastebuds developed around sourdough… it gives a sense of what real bread should be for the future. Awesome!!

  • I surely hope she can tell good food from bad food and be able to cook :)

  • This is a late comment but having had a personal first time disaster with a home raised sourdough starter I have to say I can’t wait for part 2 and 3 of this story. Perhaps after that I’ll have the courage to face up to another starter challenge, now that I have your book on my shelf. 

    • Anonymous says:

      There is no such thing as a late comment :)
      Succeeding with sourdough is an awesome satisfaction, yet, it can be very frustrating as there are many little things that can make it a failure…
      I think beside trying countless times, understanding why it happened in a certain way is key for the next try… Good luck and happy baking! ;)

    • Anonymous says:

      There is no such thing as a late comment :)
      Succeeding with sourdough is an awesome satisfaction, yet, it can be very frustrating as there are many little things that can make it a failure…
      I think beside trying countless times, understanding why it happened in a certain way is key for the next try… Good luck and happy baking! ;)

    • Anonymous says:

      There is no such thing as a late comment :)
      Succeeding with sourdough is an awesome satisfaction, yet, it can be very frustrating as there are many little things that can make it a failure…
      I think beside trying countless times, understanding why it happened in a certain way is key for the next try… Good luck and happy baking! ;)

    • Anonymous says:

      There is no such thing as a late comment :)
      Succeeding with sourdough is an awesome satisfaction, yet, it can be very frustrating as there are many little things that can make it a failure…
      I think beside trying countless times, understanding why it happened in a certain way is key for the next try… Good luck and happy baking! ;)

  • Thomas Weber says:

    I’m quite sure your first experience with sourdough was “en Valais”. Was it by any chance in Toerbel, they still do this every year around Christmas. They also restored their mill and of course drink wine!

    Happy Baking

    Thomas

    http://tssaweber.com/WP 

    • Spot on Thomas! :) My first experience was indeed “en Valais”, but in Verbier where they restaured their “four banal” but sadly not the village’s mill. One thing is for sure, they do drink wine like in Toerbel! ;)

      By the way, I visited your blog and I find your travel so impressive! A great lesson of life for me!

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