A year of bread

5 lessons learned after making my first 300 loaves of sourdough bread

It was exactly one year ago that I began the craft of sourdough bread making. Developing this creative skill has truly been a balm for my soul. This ritual has been particularly valuable in the midst of a year that was extraordinarily tough for all of us. Reflecting on all of the progress that I made as a baker this year, today I want to share with you five of my biggest lessons.  

But first… for the second week in a row I’m seeing a lot of new people on this email list. Thank you all for your interest in real bread & real justice. As always… for those looking to buy bread… instructions are at the bottom of this email. 

5 LESSONS LEARNED AFTER MY FIRST YEAR AND FIRST~300 LOAVES OF SOURDOUGH BREAD MAKING

1. Relax… It’ll be bread.

Long before we invented digital scales and used them to follow precise and complicated recipes from award winning bakers… people were still just mixing flour, water, and salt to make breads. I recognize that some sourdough tutorials can seem intimidating… but I always tell new sourdough bakers to take comfort in knowing that bread making actually has a surprisingly large acceptable margin of error. You can “mess up” a lot of things in the process, and yet if you put it in the oven you’ll still have bread.

2. A healthy starter is key.

Like bread itself, your sourdough starter is a rather anti-fragile thing. Whether you feed your starter daily, or weekly, or every-so-often… most starters tend to bounce back and can be effective as a yeast for your bread. But the first step to taking your bread making to the next level is getting your starter to be healthy. A healthy starter produces consistent results, and this comes once you begin to feed it on a consistent schedule. Trust me, you’ll notice a difference.

3. Lean into your community.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how bread is communal. I can say confidently that I couldn’t have developed nearly this much skill and confidence as a bread maker without my community encouraging me, inspiring me, and answering questions along the way. You should share your bread with friends and family often. You need to capture regular feedback from people who will be candid with you. You’ll know who those people are once you find them. For me, the people in Madison who were most integral to my learning process were Gracie & Andrew. I’m so grateful to these two family friends who were cheerful taste testers well before I was confident in my bread.

4. Approach roadblocks with curiosity.

As you keep making loaves of bread, you’ll get into a routine where your bread is doing approximately what you want it to do on a regular basis. Then inevitably something will go wrong. Maybe your bread won’t rise, or your starter is smelling funny, or your dough is tearing, or your scoring isn’t turning out… or something else will be off. Baking with sourdough, is a delicate balance between art and science. I’m shocked that I can say this honestly - but I approach these bumps in the road with a sense of curiosity rather than frustration. My wife would tell you that I’m historically impatient with myself when I do something “wrong”. I’ve come to realize that sourdough can have a mind of its own and the easiest way to handle unexpected predicaments is to see what you can learn about what “went wrong”. If you take this approach it is easier to keep in mind the first principle – “Relax, it’ll be bread.”

5. Have fun.

I can’t stress enough how unusual it is for me to have a creative outlet like bread making. For a long time I had a no hobbies to speak of outside of my second job that took up a great deal of my evenings and weekends. In high school and college I thought of myself as a creative person. As an adult I somehow repurposed that creative part of my brain to be used to for problem solving & planning. In late November, I had a conversation with an old friend about Bread & Justice. He pointed out to me that during my ramblings I had used the word “fun” more than any other word to describe what I was doing. I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t fun, and I really want to encourage you to pursue sourdough if you find it fun. If you don’t find it fun… you owe it to yourself to find something else that will make you this happy :)

Cheers,
Mo

For those ordering bread this week, the process is: 

1. 📧 Just reply to this email to let me know how many loaves you’d like to request. I suspect we may sell out rather quickly after the recent press for what we’re doing together. Again, this week we’re selling large sourdough loaves for $8/each made with a blend of Hard Red Spring Wheat and Hard Red Winter Wheat from Meadowlark Organics of Ridgeway, WI and a spring wheat flour from Guisto’s of San Francisco.

2. 💰Then to finalize your pre-order, you’ll need to send payment for your bread. At this time payment is only accepted via Venmo to @BakingMo. 100% of our profits for January will be donated to Second Harvest & Feeding America

3. 🥖 Pickup only on Thursdays from 2pm-7pm on Madison’s near west side. (I’ll email you my address) 

P.S. I started a book yesterday that shares an in-depth accounting of the nine days that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent in jail after being arrested (for the first time) during sit-ins in Atlanta in 1960. This all happened days before the Presidential election between Richard Nixon & John F. Kennedy. The book is called Nine Days, and so far I would recommend reading it. This article - How Martin Luther King Jr.’s Imprisonment Changed American Politics Forever - will probably provide a reasonable indication of whether or not this is your thing. Let me know if you decide to read this book though. I’d love the opportunity to chat about it.