Baking for Bookworms: Making Sourdough from Sourdough by Robin Sloan

“I needed a more interesting life.

I could start by learning something.

I could start with the starter.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

Sourdough bread has become something of a fad these days, so much so that there have been flour shortages as everyone else has discovered the benefits of baking on the soul, if not the waistline. I’m not going to lie to you, what I’m about to share with you is a process. But it’s also rewarding, and the end result is worth the effort. When you buy sourdough bread from the store, it’s often a little dry, but when you make it yourself it’s chewy and stays fresh so much longer.

I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon a little late. In fact, I decided to create my own starter after reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan.

Sourdough is central to understanding this book. I mean, it’s the title. But it’s also very much alive in the book, and not just with microorganisms. It acts and has agency, which is a product of the book’s magical realism, and this agency lets an inexperienced baker create some of the best bread she’s ever had. The bread is so alive that when it’s baked where normally you would see the bread’s marks, she sees faces in the bread instead.

The book’s protagonist is an electrical engineer in San Francisco who is getting burnt out. Her stress translates to her stomach and everything she eats is upsetting her system until she finds a little takeout place that makes a spicy soup and sourdough bread combo. The relationship she develops with the brothers that run this underground restaurant leads to a gift of the starter, which she uses to transform her life.

“Baking, by contrast, was solving the same problem over and over again, because every time, the solution was consumed. I mean, really: chewed and digested. Thus, the problem was ongoing. Thus, the problem was perhaps the point.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

Making bread becomes a therapeutic process for her and allows her to find more fulfillment by repeating and refining processes. This book definitely emphasizes craftsmanship, but it doesn’t totally reject technology either, which I found really refreshing. There is a call for reason and moderation, and there are consequences when this idea is violated. And this moderation must be constantly managed because the starter wants to eat; it’s hungry and wants more. Entire civilizations are living and dying within the flour and water mixture. The book explores this way of viewing cultures as a drama taking place on an extremely different scale.

Sourdough also provides a connection to San Francisco, a city that is known for its bread. Thus the newly arrived protagonist is able to connect with the new city she lives in and with herself through the medium of baking bread.

“I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice-and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

So how do you achieve a magical, life-sustaining, delicious loaf of sourdough bread? It’s as simple as mixing flour and water. And waiting. And feeding. And waiting. And feeding. And waiting…

This is the guide I used to make my starter, but there are many more on YouTube.

I’m not going to walk through the entire process of making a starter when Joshua Weissman can do it for me, but it’s super simple. You just need flour (I’ve used all purpose, bread flour, and rye flour. You can use whatever you prefer, but unbleached bread flour will work just fine) along with tepid water (85 degrees F), a glass jar, a scale, and some sort of mixing implement. You can also buy a starter online and have it shipped to you, then you only need to maintain it.

Sourdough is comprised of:

“yeast, which is a fungus, and lactobacillus, a bacteria. They eat flour—its sugars—and poop out acid—thus, sour—”
― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

The yeasts that are in your starter come mostly from the flour you use, which is why so many people use rye flour to make starters because they have a lot of natural yeasts in the flour. This is not essential though. I didn’t use rye flour in my starter until it was already quite active. It does like high quality flours more though… but don’t worry. You’ll get good results with unbleached bread flour of any brand or variety.

Once you have your starter going, you might wonder, what can you do with the starter you have to discard every day while feeding it?

These are my three favorite recipes:

Honestly, there are so many things you can do with sourdough besides make sourdough bread… it is astounding.

But say you actually want to make bread with your starter. That’s perfect. That’s what we’re here for. Here’s how to do it. You know that scale that you purchased for your starter? That’s going to be really helpful here. You may also want to learn about other things like DDT (desired dough temperature), but that’s optional. Also, I won’t lie to you, you’ll get decent results if you bake on a baking steel/stone, but the best sourdough bread at home is going to come from a Dutch oven which helps trap steam and delivers that delicious crust…

This recipe is from Thomas Charles Mathiassen’s Skillshare course on Sourdough bread.

Note: This is not exactly the same recipe as I’m using, but the process is super similar, and I think the visual really helps.

Ingredients for two small loaves

  • 200 g starter (also, you should name your starter! Mine is named Bernadette)
  • 400 ml water
  • 600 g bread flour (unbleached!)
  • 12 g salt

Step 1: Autolyse. Mix the starter with the room temperature water. Add flour and mix with your hand until combined. Let rest covered with a clean tea towel for 45 min.

Step 2: Bulk Fermentation. Add salt and mix thoroughly. Clean the sides of the bowl with a spatula and cover with a towel for 30-45 min.

Step 3: Lift and fold. Since we’re not kneading the bread, this is what helps develop the gluten structures in the bread. Lift and fold, firmly but without ripping the bread, lifting the dough towards the center. Turn and do about 8 folds. Cover and rest 30 min. Do this whole process 3 more times.

Step 4: Preshape. Using a dough scraper or your hand turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter. This recipe makes two small loaves, so divide into two. Now pull and turn the dough so that it folds under itself and creates a bubble shape (see video). You’re trying to create tension in the bread. Cover loaves with a towel and let rest 30 min.

Step 5: Shape. Turn the dough balls over. Lift the corners towards each other top to bottom, side to side, and then diagonal to diagonal. Lift into prepared banneton if you have one or use glass bowls lined with tea towels (this is what I use). Sprinkle flour into your chosen mold. Then plop the dough in (so that the folded side is face up). Now cover with a towel and put in the fridge for 6-12 hours.

Step 6: Bake! Preheat the oven to 475 F with the baking vessel in the oven. I use a deep cast iron skillet with a lid, but a Dutch oven is perfect or you can use a loaf pan. Carefully! Transfer your bread to the preheated vessel and score with a lame (basically a razor blade) or a very sharp paring knife. I pretty much tried every knife we own to find one that cut deep enough (the deeper into the dough you can cut the better!). Bake with the lid on 25 min and then take the lid of and bake an additional 10-15 min. And voila! Sourdough. Now take it out. Let it cool all the way and then cut it up and slather it with butter or jam because after nearly 18 hours of work, you’ve earned it.

The finished product.

Do you have your own starter? Have favorite recipes, techniques, or tools? Let me know in the comments!

Baking for Bookworms: Irish Soda Bread from Alice McDermott’s Someone


Alice McDermott’s book follows the life of an Irish immigrant in all its stirring little moments and complexities. It’s a quiet book that is definitely worth a read. There is plenty of food mentioned in the novel, but I really liked this moment between Marie, the narrator, and her mother where her mother tries to impart a little bit of cultural wisdom onto her daughter who has hitherto been resisting with all her might:


“ ‘It is time,’ my mother said, ‘that you learn a few things.’

On the narrow, corrugated tin of the drain board beside the sink, there was the flour bin and a bottle of buttermilk, and a tin of caraway seeds. On the small table beneath the window, a bowl and a spoon and the measuring cup. There was as well a narrow card on which she had written in her careful hand the recipe for soda bread.

It was time, my mother said, that I learned a few things about cooking.”   53


Cooking and learning to cook has a staggering amount of cultural and social meanings and connotations in this short passage. On one hand we have the ‘simple’ process of transformation—raw ingredients into something else. There’s also the transmission of culture to generations, the tension between youth and growing up, and the relations between a mother and her child. This all adds up to some pretty complex bread.


Luckily, this recipe is anything but complicated. It’s probably the easiest bread I’ve ever made. There’s no finicky yeast to deal with, there’s no waiting interminably for the bread to rise… you can make this bread in under an hour if you have all your ingredients ready.


Soda Bread recipe slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction.



  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk (or 5 tsp of white/ apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with the milk filled up the rest of the way to the 1 ¾ cup mark, stir, and let sit five minutes—I like apple cider vinegar’s flavor in baked goods. You can also use this trick on non-dairy milks)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ¼ cup flour (plus more for kneading and dusting)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cold and cut in cubes
  • 1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional but very yummy)


Preheat oven to 425F. You can use a cast iron skillet, cake pan, or regular baking sheet for this bread—just grease it.

Mix the buttermilk (or sour milk) with the egg. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the raisins and mix.

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, and pour in the liquid, stirring with a wooden spoon or a spatula. When the mixture becomes too stiff, turn it out on a floured surface and knead just until it comes together (about 30 seconds). You can add more flour if needed. Form into a rough ball and place in baking pan.

With a sharp knife, score a large X in the dough, which will help it cook evenly. Bake for 45 minutes or until dark and cooked through (if you think your bread is getting too dark, you can turn down the heat to 415F and continue cooking).

Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack. This bread can be served warm or at room temperature and is great with all manner of things. It’ll dry out quickly so wrap any leftovers well or freeze them!


Is there a food you learned to cook with a family member? Let me know in the comments!

I remember making lots of cookies with my mom. Chocolate chip especially. I learned different baking recipes and techniques from virtually everyone in my family from my father’s waffles to my Nana’s challah.

Baking for Bookworms: Mini Brioche from Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde by Thomas Wright


Brioche is one of my absolute favorite breads–it’s light and buttery and makes the best French toast in the world. But I’ve never made it before, so I was happy to look down my list and see that I could use it for a baking post.

There’s usually not much mention of food in nonfiction. And in a book about Oscar Wilde’s books, there was definitely not going to be much food mentioned at all. This particular book had only two references, and they were references based on what Oscar Wilde had scribbled (or dribbled–some jam) in the margins of his notes:

“In the middle of his reading notes he has drawn a doodle of a large and delicious looking brioche.”            155

This just goes to show that delicious food enters into even the most didactic reader and writer’s mind.

With that in mind, I tried to recreate the classic brioche shape on a smaller scale using a muffin tin (and without the use of the specialty baking pan). I thought that the tin would help make this recipe more friendly for those that don’t have an immense stock of bakeware. I also just love miniature foods.

This is a time consuming recipe since the dough has to rest over night, but it’s well worth the effort and they look charming, even when they’re a little lopsided like mine.

This recipe is slight adapted from Martha Stewart’s video. This recipe makes 8 mini brioche, but you can feel free to double the recipe. The recipe is written for a stand mixer, but if you don’t have one, you can always knead by hand, which I quite enjoy anyway.

Mini Brioche

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons lukewarm milk (plus one tablespoon for the wash)
  • 1 packet yeast (1/4 oz)–Martha uses fresh, but I used instant–anything will work
  • 3 eggs (plus one egg yolk for the wash, if you double the recipe, you still only need one told, just add more milk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 oz flour (about 2 cups unsifted)
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Put the yeast on top of the milk and let it proof for about five minutes (if your yeast is not frothy after 5-7 minutes, it’s probably too old and you should get new yeast before you go to all the trouble and find your bread won’t rise).

In a bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl) briefly whisk together eggs, salt, and flour. Using the dough hook attachment, begin kneading these together for about 1-2 minutes (or mix by hand).

Add the yeast and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Bring the speed up to medium and continue kneading for 5-10 more minutes or until the dough stops being so sticky and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. The dough is pretty soft, so if at the end of the 10 minutes it’s still a little sticky, go ahead with the next step, and the final kneading should take care of it.

Mix together the softened butter and the sugar and incorporate into the dough a little at a time. Then continue kneading for another 5-10 minutes. It should be smooth and shiny.

Place in a greased bowl and let rise, covered with plastic wrap, for two hours or until it doubles in size.

Take your dough and lifting it out of the bowl, let it drop back into the bowl several times to deflate it (this is probably my favorite part). Cover it with plastic wrap again and put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

In the morning, or whenever you come back to it, butter 8 sections of a muffin tin. Remove your dough from the bowl and divide it into 8 equal pieces. From each piece, remove a quarter . Roll the remaining dough into a ball. Pinch the ball so that it makes a large size crater or well in the middle (if you use a large crater, your middles won’t be as lopsided as mine). Roll the small chunk into a ball and place in the middle of the well. Repeat with all the dough and place in the buttered muffin tin.

Make and egg wash by mixing one egg yolk with one tablespoon of milk. Brush the egg wash over the mini brioches and store the leftover wash in the fridge to use again later.

Let the dough rise again, covered with plastic wrap, for 60-90 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Bake brioche for 5 minutes, then turn down the heat to 375F for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the tops are a deep golden brown and the internal temp is 205F (if you don’t have a thermometer, bake them closer to the 10 minute mark. You can touch the brioche right where the top ball meets the rest of the bread, and if it’s doughy there it needs a little longer. You can also stick a skewer in, and if it’s at all doughy, give them a few more minutes).

Let them cool in the pan for five minutes before removing them to a cooling rack. If they need some encouragement to come out, just run a butter knife around the edge.

Brioche is delicious on its own, but it’s even better with jam!

What’s your favorite bread and have you ever attempted to make it before? Let me know in the comments!