There’s a guy I work with who has been experimenting with making sourdough bread at home. I have always loved the idea of baking sourdough. It has something to do with my background in microbiology and keeping a living culture of wild yeast growing on my kitchen counter. So I asked the guy at work if I could have some of his starter the next time he had to split his. A week before Thanksgiving, he handed me a recycled jelly jar of sourdough starter. I fed the starter and stuck it in the fridge and then we left for California. When we returned from California, I decided to make my first loaf of sourdough bread. I planned our whole Sunday night diner around this loaf of bread and I was going to bake that bread in my enamel Dutch oven and it was going to be the best loaf of bread I’ve ever made.
It was the worst loaf of bread I’ve ever made.
That loaf of bread came out as a heavy round brick of sourdough. It would have made an excellent bowling ball if it had been perfectly spherical. It didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t taste like anything special either. I know what went wrong, or at least I think I know. We have a kitchen scale that is not very reliable and I had weighed out my ingredients. There was probably too much flour, my starter was not wet enough (sounds gross) and I was impatient. I didn’t give the dough enough time to rise properly. I rushed it so we could have it for dinner that night when I should have made the dough the day before so it would have plenty of rise time. You cannot rush sourdough. Sourdough is a practice of patience.
I continued to feed my starter once week and bought a new container with a breathable lid to store it in. I’d feed it and then shove it back into the far corner of the fridge, uncertain of when or what my next sourdough experiment would be. Then a recipe for sourdough donuts floated into my email. Then I pulled the starter from the fridge and started feeding it. That was Thursday. I fed the starter for two days, leaving it out on the counter until using it on Saturday when I made up the donut dough. The recipe I used said to leave the dough out at room temperature for four to five hours and every hour or so, go in and stretch and punch the dough before placing it in the fridge overnight. In between dinner and wrapping Christmas presents and sips of gin and tonic, I would go and stretch and punch the dough.
The next day, I rolled out the dough and Michael helped me cut out donuts. We placed them on sheet pans to rise for another hour and a half before frying them in hot canola oil. Michael and I tag teamed the frying and sugar coating. He manned the fryer while I dusted finished donuts with confectioners sugar. And it was the most fun we’ve had in the kitchen in a really long time. We were amazed that we were making donuts. Michael kept saying “We’re making donuts!” and then he’d start running through lists of names for our future donut shop. We were both mesmerized by the dough floating in the hot oil. They would puff up with a bubble of air stretching the dough, like making bubbles out of bubblegum. The best part? They were delicious! Crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.
We made a complete mess of the kitchen. The dog had spots of confectioners sugar all over the top of her head and back (she stood under us the entire time). Michael got inspired by all the frying to slice up and batter zucchini to dunk in the hot oil when we had finished with the donuts. The whole house smelled like hot grease and donuts. It was worth it. I can easily ignore the fact that it took two days to make these donuts and that there’s powdered sugar everywhere simply because we had such a fun time making them.
And no one was burned with hot grease.