So you've decided to make a sourdough starter.

With great flour comes great responsibility.

Sourdough starter recipe - BBC Food

Hello! Good morning. Or afternoon. I have no idea when you’re reading this, but fortunately, I also have no idea when I’m writing this. Is it Wednesday? August? 1978? A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away? It’s hard to say.

The important thing is that you’ve still got an internet connection, it would seem, which means you’ve got access to the whole and extremely limited range of human experience available at the current moment. We’re in the [mumble]th week of semi-voluntary somewhat-quarantine here, and if you’re like me, you’ve finished watching Schitt’s Creek and now there are only two options left for how to spend your increasingly unfilled time:

You can create a groundbreaking and timeless piece of art, something that will stand long after our current crisis has passed as an enduring reminder of the human creative spirit’s ability to thrive amidst incredible adversity.

Or, you can make bread.

Your choice.

[takes quick head count]

Bread… bread… bread… okay Brian over there’s going to write the great American novel, good look with that, Brian… and, uhhhhh…. bread. Great. We’ll talk about the bread.

Now, first thing you’ll want to do is grab your yeast.

Go ahead. Grab your yeast. I’ll wait.

But I don’t have yea—

I know you don’t have yeast. You see, that would have required careful planning of your quarantine stockpile, and not just buying a bunch of canned green beans, cake frosting and toilet paper the night you found out Tom Hanks was sick. Now, the stores have been completely picked over, and there’s no yeast to be found anywhere.

Well, I guess I’ll just make some timeless art then. I had this idea about a seven part operatic cycl—

No! There’s still a way.

There is?

Oh, my dear reader, you’re about to take a culinary journey. You’re going to discover the secrets of a time-tested traditional baking method, one that dates back through time immemorial to the last time this was a trend, a couple decades ago. You’re going to capture your own yeast out of the air.

You’re going to make your own sourdough starter.

Wow, me? But I’m just a humble narrative device!

Yes, you. Now, the first thing you’ll want to do is mix together some flour and water in a jar. See? That’s easy. Kinda makes a sludge. Leave it for 18-24 hours. You’ll be tempted to take a peek, but don’t. Give it time. Come back tomorrow, whenever that is.

Okay, ready?

Yep.

Throw it out. This one was just a warning. The other yeast is on notice now.

Oh. Okay.

Great. Stir together more flour and water in a jar.

But I threw out the jar.

You weren’t supposed to throw out the jar.

Okay but your instructions were more emphatic than they were precise, and I just—

Take the jar out of the trash.

Should I wash it off?

No. It’ll actually be better for the process this way. So, make another sludge, wait another day. Did you know it takes days to make sourdough bread? Weeks, actually. But you’ve got time now. Remember that theme song to Orange Is The New Black? You’ve got tiiiiiiiiiiime. That song was way too long and Netflix didn’t have the “skip intro” button then. Am I just killing time now? Yes. We’re waiting for your sludge to ferment. [checks watch, which has not worked in weeks] Great. I think it’s ready.

It looks gross.

Awesome. It’s ready. Throw most of it out.

Was this another warning sludge? Are you just messing with me now?

No. To achieve proper fermentation, we’ll need to feed it. But first, we need to make it hungry. By taking away a large portion of its very self and running it down the garbage disposal, you’ll fill the sludge with a burning hunger for vengeance. It’ll be great for depth of flavor.

You know, I actually read that you can bake with the stuff you pull out.

Why are you reading other tutorials? This one’s got everything you need. Now, run it down the disposal, and then we can feed the angry remainder.

What does it like to eat? I have some canned green beans and cake frosting.

Nope. Just more flour and water.

Isn’t that what I just threw out?

Yes.

Am I just going to throw it out again?

Yes.

How many times do I have to do this?

For at least a week. Remember weeks? They’re a unit of time that used to matter. Now we only measure time in bread. Anyways, you’ll keep feeding the starter, then mortally wounding it, then nursing it back to recovery. It will grow stronger each time. The agony of the process will become encoded in its genes, and it will develop a deep hatred of humanity. Killing will be all it knows, and it will become a perfect machine for that task, and for providing a springy crumb to your Dutch oven boule. It’s exactly the same process Kryptonian scientists used to create the horrible monster Doomsday in the Death of Superman comic book saga, except that it’s taking place in a mason jar on your kitchen counter.

Superman punches Doomsday

Are we done yet?

Almost. Take a picture of the jar. Post it to all of your social media channels to let people know you’re handling this crisis with breezy aplomb. Sure, the economy is cratering, your personal relationships are strained, and a sense of dread permeates everything you do, but look at you! You’re making a sourdough starter. That’ll show them. Even Brian. How’s that novel coming, Brian? Win the Man Booker Prize yet? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Okay I posted it. My friends hate me already.

Perfect. Now it’s time to make bread.

Finally.

Portion out a couple tablespoons of your starter, and two cups of flour.

I’m out of flour.

What?

I used it all to feed the killing machine.

Hmm. Well, you’re going to have to go to the store. I bet they have yeast back in by now. It’s been weeks since we started.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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