Have we lost our way?
And before the heckles start let me clarify. I'm using the plural "we" - meaning really me. But I suspect I'm not alone.. but not sure.
Recently (ok last night) I started watching Apollonia Poilane's Master class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6XVAUZJ3QI It's a bakery I've long heard about, read about and hope to visit one day. It seems almost mythical to me when I read and hear that people have ordered Poilane bread to be shipped overseas. I'm sure the bread is probably memorable and remarkable. But that clearly seems a bit much. I've always had a fascination with trying her bread because of the story behind the bakery, family and bread. It's like a love story for bread bakers. In the way people (me included) dream about going to Chad's Tartine to try his bread, to me Poilane is on the same bucket list.
She starts the class right off the top by showing how a home baker could make her signature boule. She shows how to make, maintain and in this first lesson use a starter in her classic loaf. She talked lovingly about feeding it regularly etc. And it made me reflect on how lazy I've become with my starter. I neglect both Charlie my regular 100% hydration starter and Brown my NFNM stiff rye starter named after Dabrownman (where ever you are these days buddy, miss your posts). Other than replenishing them weeks or at times months apart I otherwise never feed them. They're indestructible. And yet, for all my neglect after about two feedings they still faithfully and without complaint come roaring back to active duty when called upon without missing a step. They're great starters. But are they living up to their full potential. Is my neglectful way affecting my breads. I don't think so as I've made some really great bread this way. But I suspect so as it just seems like it would be much better for the starter to be fed regularly.
As I watched Apollonia cradle her freshly made starter and talk how to take care of it with reverence for the life force she held within her hands I wondered where I lost my way. She reminds me why I love both bread and the process of making bread, and of the women in my family that have passed on the baton to me. Of how hard it was to learn to get a good starter going long before you could "google", of learning how to manipulate it's flavor to that sweet tangy spot I love, of being proud of those first ordinary and yet amazing loaves I learned to make all those years ago. She reminds me more of where I come from than where I am today.
Today I think more about creating structure and open crumb. About cutting it down the middle to take the perfect picture to post. About experimenting with different flour combinations and additions - many names of which I've never heard about until I started baking and posting on places like this site. And in contrast there she is making this beautifully simple and unremarkable humble loaf that my mother or grandmother would be so proud to bake or be given.
She also made me think of the utility of bread. However much I love bread I admit I bake it ''for sport'' rather than to survive. Like Apollonia's grandmother mine kept her starter under her bed as the warm spot in the house. It was a weekly task to make bread to last and feed a large hard working, struggling family. Apollonia talked not of thin crusted open lacy crumb loaves like so many of today's great bakers strive towards (me included) but of wanting a well baked thick crusted very uniform small hole crumb structure as that will all help the sourdough loaf last longer before drying out and going stale. Because in 1932 when the bakery began just as the great depression was taking hold, wasting bread wasn't an option and it needed to last.
In many ways she made me stop and rethink my baking and reminded me of my own family roots and why this craft means so much to me. Of what it represents to me. I've not thought about it this way for a while and perhaps needed a reminder. Everyone posting their bread bakes on this board in whatever form, style, combination of flours or ingredients, shape or level of ability are craft men and women honing their skills. Each making progress on bread as an expression of themselves, as an art form, as an introspective therapy or as a simple pleasure. It's what attracts me to the board, posts and friendships that have formed here. And also part of what this represents to me. But I think I need to step back and get back to basics for a while and find my way again - if that makes any sense. And no time like a pandemic to refocus on the heart of what this craft means to me.
But what of the fridge and neglect? I hate waste and keeping a starter on a counter will ultimately lead to a lot of waste through feedings. But I think I'm going to try and revisit that path for a while to find a middle ground. It's not practical to keep my starter out of the fridge full-time. But maybe it's time I took Charlie out on a field trip to the counter-top. At least for a while.