James teaches Margaret about sourdough bread. He provides specific instructions on how to start a sourdough starter, keep it alive, and how to then turn the starter into tasty bread. Margaret and James also discuss the intricacies of British vs American English and Margaret learns about a magical Belgian spoon.
James Stout (He/Him) can be found on Twitter @JamesStout or on the podcast It Could Happen Here. James has a book out called “The Popular Front and the Barcelona 1936 Popular Olympics.” You can find it here.
Margaret can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy.
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Live Like the World is Dying: James on Sourdough
Hello and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host Margaret killjoy, and this week we’re talking about that thing you’re supposed to conquer: bread. We’re talking about bread. Specifically, we’re talking about sourdough. And we’re talking with James Stout about sourdough. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. It’s gonna be really exciting. I didn’t make that sound exciting, but it is. Bread, and baking, and all that shit, something we haven’t really covered on here before. And, it’s something that I’m really curious about. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchists podcasts, and here’s a jingle from another show on the network. [Hums a nondescript “jingle” melody]
And we’re back. So James, if you would be so kind as to introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then kind of a little bit of your background with I guess, in this case, like bread or preparedness or stuff like that?
Yeah, totally. So I’m James. He/him for me. I have my background for this….let me think…I grew up in the countryside. So, I grew up like with animals around, with growing a lot of our own food too, just because that’s the way we did stuff. And I think I moved to America in 2008. And without condescending too much, your bread is shit. And so, I was appalled by it. And I’ve been making my own on and off when I’ve been home long enough to do it ever since, I guess. And now I still live in the United States in San Diego. And I try and have a little bit of the, like the that sort of, I guess, like preparedness/countryside kind of life. Like, we have we have backyard chickens, and we bake our own bread, and we grow a lot of food too. So, I still try and keep up with all that stuff.
And that’s inside the city?
Yeah, we’re not like…I don’t want to make it out like we’re in a high rise. I have a tiny yard. And then we’ve, I guess we’ve liberated the area in between the pavement and the road. I don’t know what that area is called.
A median. Yeah, it’s been…because that’s, that’s like…
Well a medians in the middle of the road. [Sounds unsure] Huh?
I don’t know. I should know.
Yeah, you know what I mean, that area that’s like liminally public/private. And public, in the sense of owned by the city council, and you can do fuck all with it. Which, you know, isn’t great. So, I obtained some lumber and I’ve tried to put planters out there as well.
Oh, nice. What do you grow up?
Yeah, So I grow a number of things. I get them from…We actually had a very nice older guy…the other day and an older couple had left their keys in their car. And so I took the keys and put them in the house and left them a note saying, you know, “Come get them.” And then they did, and they gave us a voucher when they came and got them, they gave us a voucher for a garden center. So, I’m going to restock my vegetables. But right now I think I’ve got kale. I like to go…so I do a lot of work in Tucson with a group of indigenous people there, and I like to buy indigenous plants. So there are a couple of nurseries in Tucson and go to. So, I think we have wolfberry. We have agave. We have golden currants. We have carrots. We have kale, Thai chilies, and beetroot.
So this is a terrible…I haven’t eaten dinner yet. This all sounds very good.
Yeah, this is…You’re gonna be ruined when I bust out my bread from the oven.
I mean, honestly, like bread is…I love bread. I understand that everyone has different body types and different diets. I’m so grateful. I’m not gluten free.
I love gluten
Gluten is my guide star. If someone…I have diabetes, right? And it’s like, I think there’s a 10% coincidence of autoimmune diabetes and celiac, and I spent some time volunteering with diabetes education and various kinds of places and just…I remember like staying with some folks–and we all have diabetes, so it’s fine–I was like, “Fuck, you have celiac as well? That sucks.” Like, yeah, it must be profoundly difficult for people, and I’m sorry for them. There are ways to make your own–I think Bob’s Red Mill has a pretty good celiac or gluten free blend that you could probably use with a sourdough starter. Certainly, if you fed that starter that flour over time and sort of messed around with your recipe you could probably get something going there. But it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time with. Fortunately, I’m blessed to be able to digest gluten.
So, what is sourdough? Okay, I mean, I sort of know, but I feel like this is a good starting point, right?
Yeah. So, it’s spontaneous fermentation bread, right? I guess…Like these days, people might be more familiar with like spontaneous fermentation beer like lambics and stuff.
No, I don’t actually know what spontaneous fermentation means.
Okay, so it’s when you’re capturing wild yeast–and capturing as a strong word–you’re encouraging wild yeast from the atmosphere to come and live in a certain place. And then you’re using them to ferment you’re bread, or your beer, or what have you.
Okay, so rather than going and getting yeast you’re counting on…This is the way that you make alcohol in prison, right?
Yes, yeah. So I’m told. I’m sure. I mean I don’t have firsthand experience with it. But yes, it is. And it’s a way like ancient Belgian monks would make their beer, right? Like and you hear about back in the day, when people were making beer or making bread they had like a ‘magic spoon’ that they would stir it with, not knowing that the spoon was like, in fact, what carried the yeast growth from one batch to the next.
Oh, that’s cool!
Yeah. Yeah, it’s fun, like a wooden spoon soaking in that yeasty mixture. So yeah, it’s basically, your only ingredients for sourdough bread are salt, water, and flour.
And so, and also a sourdough starter? But I guess you’re saying that you don’t start with that.
Well, yeah. The only things that you have to purchase or obtain, I guess. Yeah. So you need to get the sourdough starter, which we can get into, like, how do you encourage this bacteria to come and live with you. But you need to obtain it. And then, if you don’t make it a favorable atmosphere for them to live, they will just die, right? So you have to keep them alive. And then once you’ve got those, then you can keep them in your fridge and feed them every week or two. And you can feed them less than that, actually. And yeah, then you’ve got everything you need, really. You want a big Dutch oven as well. That makes it a lot easier. But yeah, it’s you could…
Which is a big iron cooking pot with a lid.
Exactly. Like a casserole with a lid. Yeah. It’s got to have a lid, but you can get those so cheaply now. Like I think I have a large one that is like 35 bucks a Target if you live near a target. I also kind of like to go to thrift stores and buy stuff like that. If I’m out and about I have a special one that I got that I use in like fires and cooking outside.
So, why do people make sourdough bread instead of…what is regular [bread]? Because regular bread has yeast in it too, right?
Yeah, so it uses…what’s the process called…there’s a process through which it ferments more rapidly. It’s like hyphenated. It’s like two names, which…So like my bread–I’m making a batch of bread now, actually–and I started feeding the sourdough [starter] yesterday around around noon, and I build up my starter by adding flour and then I add that to my bulk ferment and then that bulk ferments and it will probably go in the oven tonight.
Bog ferment? [Misunderstanding how James says “Bulk”]
Bulk. [Emphasizing the word.]
Yeah, like when you’re bulking, you know? Yeah, so that…like it’ll be the yeast, and the water, and the flour will be in contact for like 24 hours, right? So it’s a much slower fermentation. And some people find this more digestively beneficial to them. Chorelywood process is what it’s called when you speed ferment the bread. So, if you get your cheap bed, like Bimbo bread or whatever, and you sort of like…
Yeah, you don’t have Bimbo bread?
No, what’s Bimbo bread?
You’re from the east coast aren’t you. Pan Bimbo? It’s a type of bread. It’s a little bear thing. I think maybe it’s Mexican in origin and it’s more in Latino communities or Latinx communities. But yeah. That…if you get your crappy bread.. See I don’t know the American brands because I don’t buy them, but Bimbo won. It just this sticks out. It sticks out in my mind.
Okay, the cliche crappy bread that I don’t know anyone who eats is Wonder Bread.
Yeah, Wonder Bread. Yeah. They sponsored a cycling team once. It was was very funny.
Yeah, it’s probably…That kind of bread is great to eat when you’re like doing intense exercise because it just…[incomprehensible retort]
I guess okay…Yeah, it just becomes sugar right away.
When I was racing in France, we had these things called quioche de posh, which is like pocket brioche, like the shittiest tier of brioche imaginable.
I don’t know what brioche is.
Okay, brioche like an enriched bread…ah, pretending it’s a like anarchist’s poor [undecipherable], which like I’m not judging anyone, but it’s a like enriched bread. It’s a milk bread. Like a sweet bread.
Okay, I can’t imagine this object.
it’s just like this big, which is very useful in an audio medium. Yeah, I want to say it’s the size of like half a cell phone or mobile phone and…Or a pocket knife, a pocket knife is a good analogy. It’s about as big as a pocket knife. And then it’s like injection filled with Nutella. It takes like to chews and it just it just goes to a goo.
Oh, that sounds really nice actually.
Yeah, it’s great. You need that while you’re riding over mountain France or whatever. So like, cheap bread kind of does that, right? Or like sort of mass produce bread very quickly revert to this kind of pasty thing. Whereas, sourdough bread has a much better structure. And at least like I found it to be it doesn’t cause any digestion issues for me. Because it ferments for longer, maybe it breaks down some that stuff a bit more easily. Some people will tell you it’s more nutritious. I think that largely depends on the flour use and the ingredients you put in it. You can put other stuff in it like fruit or nuts, right. But, I like it because it’s a lot more like…I can’t imagine in any like…if you’re looking at living more sustainably living more independently from capitalism, like, it’s possible that you could grow your own grains and grind your own grains. People have done that for a while. Water would be an issue where I live in Southern California. But you know, if you have access…if you don’t have access to water you’re fucked anyway.
Yeah, you have bigger problems than lack of bread.
Yeah. So, it’s very sustainable in that sense, right. And I think it just tastes better. And I like making my own stuff like. I have all kinds of things that are…Literally before we spoke, I found a knife on the road, and I was regrinding so I can use it. You know, I like to grow stuff. I like to make stuff. So, it appeals to that side of me too. Yeah.
Well, that’s good too. Because I feel like there’s often this weird gender division within DIY.
Yeah, it’s strange.
Yeah. Like grinding your own knife is allowed to one class of people. But, then gardening is allowed to a different one. You know? That’s it.
Yeah. I think that’s kind of bullshit. Like, you had a tweet today about how like trans ladies are becoming associated with firearms ownership now. Yeah, which I think it’s great. Maybe cis men could be associated with doing some domestic labor as well.
That would be…you know, the world would work a little better if people were like, “Oh, I don’t know. He’s just gonna go into the kitchen and do all the dishes.” It’s like, not even…It’s like, I’d make sure I do that before he comes over. Because otherwise he’s going to spend the whole party doing the dishes.
Yeah, ‘cause he’s naturally inclined. Yeah.
It’s the upper body strength. It really helps get into the….
Yeah. The broad pecs really help get into the lasagna dish. Yeah, they were just made that way. Why are the hands so big? So they can cover a whole dinner plate.
Yeah. You can’t argue with science.
Okay, so let’s say I want to make sourdough, which I do. And I don’t know anything about it. Which I don’t. How do I make sourdough? I get flour.
I get water. Did you say sugar? Did I make that up?
No, no, you don’t need sugar.
Yeah, you do need a bit of salt. So, let’s say you’re about starting.
Oh, and dutch oven.
Yeah, yeah. You’re one of the 500 people who texted me this in like March 20th, 2020. It caused me to have a “copy-paste-er” on my phone. So what you would do is you would go out…and I’d say like, if you have all the flours…like say you have a good Co-op or nice supermarket available to you. I would suggest buying to start off with, some rye flour, whole grain rye flour, some bread flour. King Arthur is a good brand. Bob’s Red Mill is a good brand. Some supermarkets have their own bread flour. It’s just gonna have a little more protein, which is a little more gluten, which will give the bread better structure. And I like to have some all purpose flour as well because it’s cheaper. So, like for when I’m just feeding my starter and I’m gonna dump it. If I’m gonna dump it I don’t need it to be anything fancy, right? But rye flour is great. Yeasts love rye flour. So, what I start out with is like a jar, a glass jar, preferably you don’t want a plastic one.
Okay, like a mason jar.
Yeah. So a mason jar is great. And you want to be able to….flies, like all the little buggy insects love a sourdough starter. Like, I’ll use it to catch them when they’re becoming a problem that. But, you don’t want them in it. So, you’re want to be able to put like a little cheese cloth or something over the top of it. Okay, so mason jar is great, because you can use that sealing ring.
Yeah, without anything in the middle. Yeah.
Yeah. But you do want to let it breathe. You don’t want to close the lid, because then you’ll get anaerobic fermentation. So, we’re going to express everything that we do in terms of percentages of the weight of the flour. So, we’re going to start out with 100% hydration. So that means equal amounts of water and flour. And sometimes I read that you shouldn’t use tap water, but I think those people are just kind of getting a bit too namby pamby about things. Like it’s fine. It’s always been fine for me. If you want to use bottled water, if you have a well, more power to you, but I’ve used tap water and like our tap water is dogshit in San Diego, and it’s been fine.
Well, I have a well, so….although, I soften the water. So I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.
Probably better. Ours very hard. It’s certainly better a for your other domestic appliances.
Yeah, that’s why. Most complicated plumbing job I’ve set up.
Yeah, and it’s worth it, though. If you live in a hard water area, and you want an espresso machine, you can normally find one that people think is broken and if you decalcify it it’s normally fine. That’s a little pro tip. Used to want to have no money. I’d buy them yard sales and fix them and sell them on espresso boards.
You’ve had a lot of jobs.
Yeah, a great side hustle. Yeah, didn’t have a lot of money so had to have a lot of jobs. So yeah, what we’re going to start out doing is we’re going to do 100% hydration, right?
Okay, 1:1 water and flour.
Yes, one to one water and flour. So let’s say we’re going to do 100 grams of each. It’s…you can work in American Standards units, if you really must, but it’s so much easier to do percentages, etc, in grams. So, I would just just start there. And then after a day, we’re going to dump half of that, and feed it again. Now the stuff that you dump, you can either use to start another starter and give that to a friend or have a backup starter. Or I like to keep it and there are recipes for like making crackers out of it and that kind of thing. And you can do other stuff with it.
Wait. So I’m just putting…I’m putting some some flour and some water in a jar with some cheese cloth over it, leaving it, and then throwing half of it out?
And then feeding it again.
By adding more of everything?
More of the flour and the water. So another 100 grams flour, 100 grams of water, and then you’re going to dump half and feed again the next day. And the reason you’re doing that is to get rid of some of the like metabolites and some of the flour that’s been digested. And, you want to keep giving it fresh food and that will encourage the yeast to grow. And so once that starts to fizz and bubble, and you’ll kind of see little bubbles and you’ll…first it’ll smell pretty bad, and then after four or five days normally it starts to smell pretty good. It’s kind of got a sweet kind of…people say a green apple smells sometimes.
This just seems like magic. You’re not adding anything but flour and water to this jar and it’s bubbling.
Yes, it is. I think…I forget…One of the places that used to say like that yeast was proof of God or something that like….Belgian monks used to make beer this way, right? And they convinced themselves it was either their magic spoon or like God’s benevolent love. It’s not.
I mean, both of those things seem just as realistic as the little tiny things in the air that you can’t see are eating the food.
Yes, yeah, yeah. Invisible flour eaters. Another way to do it is if you can get nonsulfated dried fruits…so you can…You know when you get the dried apricot and they’re brown not orange and they taste better? Those are unsulfated. You can also leave those in a jar. Just close the jar. Leave them in a jar with water and close the jar and after a few days it will start fizzing.
Close the jar like cheese cloth? Or like ‘close it’ close it?
Lid it. Lid on. Like screw on the lid. And then after a few days, you’ll see that water start fizzing. And that’s what’s happening there. That’s the yeast coming off the skin of the fruit. And then you can use that water to make your starter, right. So mix that with flour and then feed it just like you would before. You can kind of combine these two processes, right. You can do the fruit one first and then do that 100% feed it up. And then after a while that starch is going to start bubbling. This is why you want to use a clear glass jar because you’ll see it growing, right. You’ll see the bubbles all the way up and you’ll see that like oh yeah, this is this is fermenting now. That’s what’s happening. You can even if you want to you can like Sharpie on the side of the jar, you know, when you feed it and then see if it goes up. And the speed at which it will double in size depends on the temperature where you live, right, and the temperature of the starter itself. So, your that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for it to double in size about every eight hours. And that’s when you know you’ve got a good fast smoothing starter.
Okay, this totally real thing that happens. I know you’re explaining this to me, but in my head this is not…when I go try this later nothing’s gonna happen that’s how I feel.
It will blow your mind. It is it’s so cool
I’m gonna come back and tell you that I believe in a Belgian God.
Yeah, you just become a monk in like West Flanders. Yeah, yeah.
Okay. Is this the same yeast that is making that…Is this also alcohol?
Yes, it’s the same. What? Lactobacillus? Fuck, I used to know what they were called in Latin but I don’t anymore, but yes Saccharomyces, I think.
Magic sky yeast.
Yeah, magic sky yeast. Yes, it is. Yeah, it’s the same stuff. Brewers yeast, right when you buy it…So it’s just…
When I buy it it I can see it. But in the air is just exists?
Yeah, it’s just floating around.
Okay, so the yeast have come to live with you in this jar, right? And they are thriving, and you’re feeding them. So now we want to take that to where we can bake from it. So, what we do is we take from us starter and we grab half of it, right? So half of…
Half a mason jar?
Whatever…400 grams. Yeah, it would be the whole mason jar. But we let’s say because we’re dumping half and feeding every day, right? So we have that amount that we have, we’re gonna split it in half.
How many days before it’s ready.
It kind of depends on the temperature. It will ferment faster in a high temperature. It depends on the yeasts that are available in your area, right. So, if I gave you a sourdough starter today and you took it to where you live, right. I sent it to you in the mail, and you started feeding it, it will become different over time because of the yeast in your area as opposed my area.
But, I don’t need to start from one that you sent to me.
No, you can start from from one that you made yourself. you captured yourself. Right? So, that will probably take five or six days, maybe maybe a week. Some people like to feed it was fruit juice instead of water? I don’t know if that helps. Some people put apple peels in the water because there’s yeast on the skin. Right. So, let’s say you spend the better part of a week…and it’s very minimal effort, right, it’s about five minutes of your day. And you do that, and you start to see it bubbling up, right, you start seeing in the jar it’s bubbling up, okay. Now you could. So you’re going to take half of that, dump it in a bowl, and you’re going to add 100 grams of flour and 80 grams of water, right? So you’re at 80% hydration now. And then the other half that’s still in the mason jar, you’re going to feed that as you normally would, right, 100, 100.
Just to keep it going?
To keep it going. Yeah. And then you’ll let that sit…I don’t know, sometimes I let it sit for four hours. You don’t want to let it sit for the full eight hours, because then it would have consumed all the food and it will want feeding again. So let it sit for an hour or two and then I seal it in the mason jar or with a jam jar and I pop that in the fridge. So, that slows down the fermentation. So that now…that doesn’t need that….That’s what we call your storage starter. And that doesn’t need feeding for about a week or two. So basically, if you feed it every time you bake you’re going to be okay. Okay, so now we’ve got this other bowl, right, which has got 100 grams of flour and 80 grams of water in your starter. We’re going to mix that up, leave it for eight hours. And at this point, we can transition from using the rye flour to using our all purpose flour.
Okay, so the rye flour is just to make the starter? We’re not making rye bread.
No, well, you can, or if your stater ever gets a bit sluggish, and it’s not really fermenting the rye flour will spruce…because rye flour is lower protein, right, lower gluten, it doesn’t make as good of bread because gluten is what gives the bread the structure. But the protein is not really digested by the yeast, right? That’s why it remains in the bread. So, if we’re giving it a flour which is lower protein, there’s more of the other stuff that yeast want, and that’s where they like the rye flour. But that’s also why you can’t make your whole bread out of rye flour, or it won’t be too good if you do. So. Yeah, at this point, once we’ve captured our starter, I would start transitioning to the AP for the two feedings that we’re going to do to build up…
AP is all purpose?
All purpose. Yeah, sorry, I’m used to using baker slang. It’s how you can tell I’m like down with the kids. So you’ve moved to your like–what we’re doing now is called building a levain. It’s a French word. And we’re going to do two feedings of that, right? So, we’re going to do eight hours spaced apart more or less. We’re going to do 100 grams of water, 80 grams all purpose…Sorry, 100 grams of all purpose flour, 80 grams of water. And again, what we’re looking for is bubbling up, right. So, you can also do this in glass if you want and you’re looking for it to double in size and then you feed it again. But like, it doesn’t have to exactly double in size, right? Like I don’t really like measure shit. I do weigh stuff, but other than that I kind of…so it’s March here. It’s pretty cold for San Diego. Like, it’ll be in the 40s at night and the 50s in a day. And so it takes a lot longer for my bread to bake now. In the summer, it’s just like whipping ass. Like the whole thing is done in like, you know, from getting out the fridge to being done in less than 12 hours. But, it’s double that in the winter.
Is this making dough?
What we’re now doing is making a large kind of yeast inoculated…a large yeast culture that we’re about to put into the dough. So, the reason we’re using AP here is because the yeast will consume more of it, right? And it’s…So, then we do that twice, right, we do that feeding twice, which is…so 80% hydration feeding twice. Then, we’re going to make the dough itself. I’ve tried to like refine my process to make it as low stress as possible. And it makes really good bread and it takes not very much time. So, I like to bake with 1500 grams of flour, right? So that’s…500 grams of flour is is a good sized loaf, right?
So you make three loaves at a time? Okay,
Yeah, I make three loaves. I have tried to make one giant choad loaf, but it just sort of…What happens is it will blow the top off your Dutch oven. You’ll get like a mushroom. What I do is, I measure up my water first. And if it’s cold, I’ll use hot water, and if it’s hot, I use room temperature water, right. So, right now I run the hot tap a little bit. And then I’m doing the same thing I’m doing 80% hydration, right. So for that, because I’m doing 1500 grams of flour. I want 1200 grams of water.
It’s so interesting because I usually think of things not in terms of…I don’t usually think…I’m not much of a baker, but I don’t think of things in terms of the weight of them. I think in terms of the volume of them
Weight is so much preferable to volume, like
Yeah, no, I believe you. I’m not much of a baker.
Yeah, people say that cooking is an art and baking in science. But, I think sourdough was like a vibe…Like once you…once you get it down and you’re vibing on the same level as your sourdough starter…
Okay, because the other cliche there is, is if you can…if you can bake a cake, you can make a bomb. It’s the other cliche.
I would not trust this method for bomb making.
Yeah, don’t vibe with that.
Yeah, I’m reminded of…my colleague Robert Evans and I were doing an interview with some some folks who are part of the resistance in Myanmar. They will bomb makers, and one of them’s like, “Yeah, man, unfortunately, my friend lost his hand.” And we’re all sitting around and I know what’s coming next, and Robert knows what’s coming next, and the guy knows he’s gonna have to say it next, and he was like, “We really shouldn’t have been smoking, dude.”
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