science /ˈsiəns/, n.

Today, my post will be about baking sourdough bread, but you will see photos of “The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies” because no food blog, amateur or not, shares photos of failed food. I wouldn’t even know how to photograph that. Do you pretend the food is still amazing and plate it well in the proper lighting? Or do you intentionally take a bad photo?

Regardless — I tried to make sourdough bread with my hooman yesterday and it was an adventure after which we ate Tcho chocolate because there was no bread to eat.

Starter problems

This makes it sound like we had car problems rather than bread problems, but thankfully there was no rain when we were driving yesterday. (Everyone, please be careful.)

When making sourdough bread, you have to use starter dough, a small bit of dough specifically used to make sourdough bread, in which you cultivate wild yeast. In the past, I shied away from making bread because I knew the baking process would require you to let the dough sit in the kitchen for several hours for the yeast to activate. Starter is similar in that it should be kept at room temperature — and fed like a pet on the regular.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

Because of these hassles and responsibilities, our starter went into the fridge where it could sit safely without needing to be fed as often. We suspect that the cold made our starter a little upset because it was hungry and its yeast was not very active before we demanded it to make bread for us. Our bread turned out not very poofy and bread-like.

Water problems

Unlike when I added 2⅓ cups of water into a pumpkin quick bread several years back, the accidental extra water in our sourdough batter couldn’t be ignored. Sourdough is meant to have a large crumb (holes in the dough when you’re finished baking), but ours had a texture closer to sliced bread and was even denser.

There’s more math involved in the sourdough making process. From feeding the starter to actually mixing together ratios of ingredients to have your dough rise before baking, everything involves some form of calculation. And for a former English major, doing math was never much a hobby to begin with.

Kneading problems

I may or may not have a habit of overworking my batter, and in recent months, I’ve paid for it more often than I ever had before. Several batches of cookies, and this bread, all suffered from my hands. For the former, the warmth of my hands made the cookie dough too soft and runny. For the latter, the bread lost all of its air bubbles.

Lesson learned: Do not work the batter/dough more than the instructions say to.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

Baking problems

Don’t “college student” hack the bread baking process. Arm yourself with the right equipment to avoid scorching parchment paper until it crumbles under the slightest breath and over-baking your bread so it comes with a nice crust of carcinogens on top of the carbs.

These problems came undoubtedly second to our dough struggles, but because baking is a very careful, scientific procedure, I have no doubt that mismatched kitchen supplies did not make our jobs any easier.

So yes, this weekend my hooman and I tried to bake sourdough bread and we failed, but I still ate a good portion of it because that’s just what you do (and because I like carbs and carcinogens, it actually wasn’t that bad). It was a little disappointing, but it was an experience that came with a lot of learning and laughs — and a reminder that I, after all these years, am still not a fan of doing math in my leisure time.

And now, please enjoy my Not-Quite-The-Best-But-Still-Pretty-Good Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

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