It’s because of cookbook author Sarah Owens that this baker has started to travel with her dough. I put it in a big plastic tub in the trunk of my car or strap it into my bike carrier, ready to drive off to meetings or Pilates classes with living, bubbling yeast. I pack water and a cloth so I can stretch and fold the dough with wet hands every half hour and clean up my doughy fingertips afterwards.
My life goes on and so does the ferment. It’s got to! Sarah’s technique requires half a day of fermentation.
If you think that’s crazy, you’re unlikely to want to bake from SOURDOUGH: Recipes for rustic fermented breads, sweets, savories, and more.
But then again, you’d never have the pleasure of taking the lid off a Lodgepan combo cooker in a 500F oven and seeing cheddar cheese ooze out of a hot, chili-spiked bread. Your palate would never notice the delightful zing and bite of both fresh and candied ginger folded into a sweet, buttery cake or enjoy the crunch of poppy seeds in a turmeric-tinged artisanal levain loaded with leeks.
This cookbook has opened a new world of baking for me. Never before had I used sourdough starter to make anything other than bread, but now I’ve tried it in cakes, cookies, popovers, even crackers. The wild yeast adds a depth of flavour to these baked goods and a bubbly crumb. (Besides, I refresh my sourdough starter weekly, if not every few days, and I’d much rather add it to an innovative recipe than throw it away.)
Sourdough bakers believe that good bread needs a very slow rise. Often, that’s a three-day process that requires more waiting than action. Sarah’s bread recipes are no-knead and include a range of flours, from buckwheat to kamut to emmer.
Beet Bread (found on my copy’s stained page 55) asks you to plunge into a slurry of roasted beet puree, levain and three different flours and “mix with your hands until completely hydrated and no lumps remain.”
I was game. My fingers emerged a bright, gooey pink and my banneton might be stained for life but every cakey, sweet bite of this levain was worth it. Think velvet cake without the sugar.
Sarah really understands flavours and how to pair them. A former rose horticulturist with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, this woman knows and loves blossoms, buds, roots, seeds and fruits. She bakes like a true artist and luckily for us, she’s written down all of her highly novel, well-tested creations. Who would have thought to make popovers with spring chives and dandelions? Or pair cocoa-spiced pork with rhubarb in a pot pie?
Admittedly, I have had a little trouble with a couple of her recipes. Brooklyn Sourdough is minimalist in terms of ingredients but calls for a five to six minute “slap and fold” method that I was unable to master. My boule-shaped loaves looked like pancakes when I pulled them out of the oven. Ditto for the Friendship Loaf.
But neither of these disappointments will stop me from raving about the feathery-light, wide open crumb of Honeyed Spelt and Oat Levain. Or from trying more of Sarah’s out-there ideas.
Sourdough was her first cookbook yet it won la crème de la crème of cookbook awards in 2016: the James Beard. No wonder she has 26,000 people following her on Instagram.
Last Christmas, my son gave me Sarah’s second cookbook Toast and Jam: Modern recipes for rustic baked goods and sweet and savoury spreads. This beauty of a book contains as equally a novel approach to preserves, as it does to sourdough baking. I’ve got a sumac tree outside my window that I’ve been eying for her jelly recipe not to mention some gnarly organic carrots from my garden, bound to dazzle in her Spiced Carrot Levain.
If it weren’t for this cookbook author’s mighty contribution to baking, neither me nor my dough would be travelling together in such a delicious way.