Quarantine baking continues to rise in Nevada County
Trapped inside their homes for the last two months, many local residents turned to deep-cleaning their houses, wrapping up long-delayed home projects, starting vegetable gardens — and producing their own bread.
Quarantine baking became so much a thing, in fact, that a backlash occurred with complaints that too many people were buying up all the flour and yeast. Sourdough has been particularly appealing to would-be bakers, as yeast continues to be in short supply.
“As a health care worker, I am still working but it’s been a great reminder of how wonderful and nourishing fresh baked bread is,” Lizary Jones said. “And it doesn’t have to be an all-day process like bread baking was for me in the past, or a sterile process like when I used a bread machine.”
DON’T BE INTIMIDATED
Karen Gobert said she has “definitely” taken things to a new level.
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“I’ve always done a lot of baking,” Gobert said. “My mom made bread all the time when I was a kid. She taught me. Usually, at Christmas, I make stollen, and every once in a while I would make bread for fun.”
Once she began staying home with her kids, she said, she decided to start a sourdough starter.
“It made some amazing loaves — then I left it too close to the fireplace and it died,” she said.
Undeterred, Gobert started over.
Once she started posting photos of her efforts, she said, her friends started texting and asking, “Am I doing this right?” and “Should I keep feeding this?”
Her advice to novice bakers? Don’t be intimidated.
“I watched a bunch of YouTube videos that first week,” Gobert said. “When you watch a video (about) no-knead, it’s complicated, it takes a bunch of steps and five days. I told my husband I’m just going to wing it. … It’s overwhelming but it’s really not complicated. Once you do a few times, you know what the texture is supposed to be..”
One misconception Gobert is happy to dispel is the need for specialized equipment.
“One friend thought she had to order $100 in tools,” she said. “You don’t need that, you don’t need a wicker basket. It’s going to be fine. It’s flour and water, it’s going to come out.”
All you really need, Gobert said, is your hands and a bowl.
“I have to have my hands in it, I have to feel it to know if it’s right,” she said.
Once you have a mature starter, you can use it every day, Gobert said.
“You can make sourdough pancakes or biscuits, to make with the discards,” she said. “You can just pull off a half-cup. There’s lots of stuff you can do with that. Last night, I made pizza. Today I’m making bread.”
A local, private sourdough Facebook group 40-some members strong has been online since early April. Members trade recipes, ask questions and offer tips.
Many of the members say they haven’t gotten tired of the adventure.
“I’ve really enjoyed having more time to bake and cook without a ‘deadline,’” said Alexandra AcMoody. “Now I can bake and mess up … If it turns out terrible, who cares? I just toss it and make another one. The mess is also less stressful because I’m not doing anything the next day so I don’t have that sense of urgency to clean up before bed if it gets out of hand. My love of baking and cooking has come back as my life isn’t quite as busy as it once was.”
Kathy Dotson, another member of the group, agreed.
“I’m also enjoying having more time to plan my cooking and baking,” Dotson said. “My kids asked a couple of weeks ago, ‘When this is over, will we still have such amazing meals?’ The baking has been super fun and my youngest daughter is really into it. I love having the sourdough starter and we have tried everything: multiple bread recipes, pancakes, waffles, pizza, hot dog and hamburger buns, English muffins and even brownies!”
The biggest problem, Dotson says: “When I make something, it doesn’t last long.”
GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
Another option for those eager to explore the mysteries of sourdough are the online classes now being offered by veteran breadmaker Rick Silberman.
Silberman — who has taught for five years, first at BriarPatch Food Co-op and then in his home — said he initially was “gobsmacked” at the huge jump in interest, then realized it made “perfect sense.”
“Sourdough bread baking is exploding with good reason,” he said. “Warm bread is the ultimate comfort food.”
Silberman said sourdough baking is pretty simple once you get the process down. He teaches a method based on Tartine Bakery’s no-knead recipe, which he continues to refine. While the entire process takes 20 hours, it’s actually only 15 minutes of hands-on work, he said, adding, “It practically bakes itself.”
Not only is this dough more forgiving, Silberman said, the slow ferment and retarded rise in the refrigerator results in a much more subtle flavor.
Participants in Silberman’s class get the chance to ask questions as he demonstrates the process, as well as a link to a real-time video — and some of Silberman’s sourdough starter.
Silberman does miss the in-person interaction, but said the online classes have worked out well so far. In fact, he said, he has a higher percentage of online students bake a loaf of bread after the class.
Silberman, who likes to say he is helping his students wage a “war against mediocre bread,” is currently taking registrants for his next class, scheduled for Saturday. For more information, go to his website — http://www.sourdoughclasses.com — or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at email@example.com.
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