Sourdough: Order and Chaos
A Sicilian grandmother + Mexican granddad + a delicious recipe for sourdough bread...
I come from a wildly broad span of cultures and ethnicities—much more than anyone would ever guess from an outsider's perspective. While I inhabit the typical ‘cookie-cutter’ American identities—being white, male, cis-gendered, and middle-class—the blood and DNA that pulses within me goes far beyond that American ‘cookie-cutter’ mold (however, let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with a classic chocolate chip cookie!).
You see, my great grandmother, Marge Vivirito-Martinez, comes from Sicilian traditions and cultures, as well as a family history linked to the ancient, original Sicilian Mafia. As she grew up as a beautiful, stubborn, and confident woman, her eventual husband, Pete Martinez, also grew up—literally across the street. Pete, coming from an entirely Latino background from Mexico, was everything that Marge and her Sicilian family were not. Whilst Marge grew up with orderly crime, strict curfews, and a fair financial situation, Pete came from a ‘go-with-the-flow,’ poor, and largely dangerous background—leading Marge’s family to restrict any connection with Pete. However, where there were blatant differences, they found fantastic similarities in other aspects of life—they made each other feel safe when safety was never a sure thing. Despite all odds, Pete and Marge morphed together inherently different familial backgrounds to form a fascinating combination of Sicilian and Mexican heritages, all coming together to form the person I am today. While there are many aspects I get from their cultures and lives, one of the most long-lasting components is my newfound knowledge of worldly cuisine and cooking.
The following recipe is not an archaic, tried-and-true family recipe passed down from Marge and Pete, but instead a glorious combination of their ideologies and ways of life. It’s a recipe for baking bread, born out of the year 2020 bestowed onto us, when all we had to do was sit inside and twiddle our thumbs. Perhaps the best component of this recipe is its simplicity; the baker who crafts the bread may choose to keep the ingredients and amounts as strict and clean as possible, while another baker may choose to throw in aromatic spices like basil and rosemary, or use exotic flours and oils. While Marge grew up used to strict order, and Pete had a lack thereof, both learned to make compromises—in food, and life. A little bit of flour, a splash of water, and a carefully measured portion of salt—the perfect mix of control and chaos. This is my recipe, constructed through bridging my own understanding of food with my Great Grandparents, Pete and Marge Martinez.
Rustic, Artisan Sourdough Bread
- · 5 cups of All-Purpose Flour
- · 1.5 cups of lukewarm water
- · 2.5 teaspoons of salt
- · About 1 cup of sourdough starter*
- o Sourdough starter is made through an extensive fermentation process, with naturally occurring yeast developing from whole wheat flour. If you opt to make your own starter, combine whole wheat, spelt, or rye flour with an equal part of water, and mix. Let the mixture ferment at room temperature, slightly covered, for 24 hours. The following day, discard half of the mixture, and continue to add equal parts flour and water to the remaining starter. This is the ‘refeeding’ process and will need to continue for 4-8 days to develop naturally occurring yeast and a sour taste. You’ll know when your sourdough starter is ready for action when it smells sweet and acidic, and responds quickly to refeeding by bubbling up and expanding in size.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine 3 cups of flour, all of the lukewarm water, and the cup of starter. Mix with force until dutifully combined—it shouldn’t come together in a dough ball, but rather a thick, liquid clump.
- Let the sticky dough rest, covered, for 4 hours out in an area that is warm or slightly above room temperature. After four hours, refrigerate the dough overnight, or for 12-16 hours.
- The following day, add the remaining portion of the flour, 2 cups, and 2.5 teaspoons of salt. Mix by hand or a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment until you are left with a smooth, dense dough. Stretch and knead the dough with force for 5-10 minutes to stimulate proper dough structure formation.
- For the next 2-5 hours, leave the dough out to sit in a warm area, covered, until it doubles in size. Continue to deflate the dough with care every hour, folding and turning it on a floured surface to reinforce yeast structure. Repeat this process until the dough has reached its maximum growth.
- A great way to tell if your dough is ready is by poking it with a finger—if it responds quickly and bounces back, it needs longer to prove. If it comes back slower, then it's ready to bake!
- Heat your oven to 425ºF, or 218º C.
- Transfer the dough into a lightly greased Dutch oven or large pan, scoring the loaf with a sharp blade down the middle, to help air escape from the loaf during the baking process.
- Place the dough and pan in the oven, covered, and bake for 40 minutes, checking on the bread periodically.
- For the last ten minutes, remove the lid of the Dutch oven or pan, and return to the oven. This will allow the bread to take on a tough, rustic crust, typical of traditional sourdough bread.
- Remove the bread from the oven, and let rest until cooled. Enjoy with quality churned butter, cream cheese, a fruit spread, or incorporate into your favorite sandwich.