When the world began to feel heavy it seems as though many of us turned to bread making as a means of literal and figurative nourishment for bodies and souls. An awakening of wild yeasts from the culmination of water, flour, time, and warmth is the skill I never knew I needed in my life. As my family’s self-proclaimed bread boss, I’ve learned a few lessons from making carby deliciousness over the past few months that eerily mirror motherhood.
The environment inside your home is super important.
The temperature, draftiness, and light in your house are extremely important to whether or not you are going to get a proper proof during your bulk rise. If your house is too hot the yeast will activate faster than if your house is cooler leading to over-proofing. A draft in the house doesn’t make for very happy yeast. Putting your starter in direct sunlight can cause mold growth.
Monitoring the environment within your home from season to season will affect the rise and bake of your bread. The same strategies you use in cooler months may not work in warmer months. Perhaps you need more starter, or a shift in location, or more or less time for your dough to proof; all these variables differ depending on the environment.
Like yeast, kids are super attuned to stress and moving variables within a household and will tell you with their behavior if they need a shift in environment to thrive. In children and in yeast, the variables that crave a shift are often time, attention, warmth, and patience.
When you feel lost in the wilderness, keep going.
Starting your levain from scratch is tricky. There is this period between days 7-14 that you think for sure you completely messed everything up. A recipe I followed by Andrew Janjigan of Cook’s Illustrated deemed this time period “Lost in the Wilderness”.
Fellow sourdough newbies would write in with concerns that their starter had no bubbles, smelled weird, had no smell at all, or turned weird colors fearing that the last week of their lives tending to their baby cultures was all for nothing. Andrew always advised to just keep going, trust the process, it may look like nothing is going on but, at a microscopic level things were definitely picking up. Keep giving the baby levain flour and water, and everything will work out, guaranteed.
As a mom of 3, I basically always feel lost in the wilderness. I often feel like I’ve messed everything up, particularly right now while managing quarantine, early postpartum, and three kids. In speaking with my friends and clients, I’m not alone in feeling this way. When all feels lost, just keep feeding and hydrating everyone (including yourself), and everything will work out, guaranteed.
When all else fails, consult a professional.
Through a stroke of sheer luck, all of the bread I’ve baked has come out edible; I’d even go so far as qualifying it as good. However, when I walked my cousin through my process she did not have the same results.
We FaceTimed several nights as I described my methods in as much detail as I could, with full disclosure that I don’t really know what I’m doing and my success has been probably 80% luck. After her 3rd attempt resulting in bread that resembled a blobfish and a frustrated baker, we had exhausted my limited knowledge and advice. Determined not to let sourdough beat her, she took to the DMs and consulted Crust Bakery to help troubleshoot why she was having so much trouble. Crust graciously gave her a few ideas on where she may be going wrong and on try number 4 she finally baked a loaf worthy of gracing her IG stories.
As moms, we can troubleshoot a lot on our own. However, in times of peaking frustration, there is much value in consulting a professional. The very essence of motherhood relies on community, support, and wisdom passed down from generations. Leaning on a professional in the form of a sleep consultant, doctor, lactation consultant, coach, advocate, or a seasoned mom is immeasurable in value.
You don’t need fancy gear.
COVID panic-buying may have started with disinfectants, masks, paper towels, and toilet paper, but, as the pandemic continued these shortages trickled down into the baking world. I didn’t realize how far spread the sourdough craze had become until I went online to try to purchase some fancy proofing baskets. You see, as a legit baker, you want your bread to have its final proof in a special basket lined with fabric and dusted with flour. This creates the perfect tension on the surface of the loaf to score in pretty designs and maintain its shape while baking.
Well, proofing baskets were back-ordered for months. So, I just used a glass bowl covered with a regular clean dish towel. Guess what, it worked out just perfectly!
Particularly as first-time moms, we want all the best, prettiest, fanciest gear; special handmade burp cloths and developmentally appropriate, specifically curated toy collections. Then, three months in, you’re grabbing literally anything within reach to wipe spit-up including but not limited to paper towels, dishcloths, clean laundry, moderately dirty laundry, the dog, etc.; and your baby’s favorite toy is an empty package of wipes.
The fancy stuff doesn’t matter. What matters is what works.
Everything is better slathered in butter.
This actually has nothing to do with parenting but I’ll just end with this. There is nothing in the world quite like a warm slice of sourdough toast slathered in butter. Toast and butter is a form of self-care.