Seven Dozens

On day one hundred and seventy of my temporary working from home I attended a meeting where I was told to think about how I was going to transition to a permanent working from home scenario. That’s corporate-speak for things just got real, so maybe buy a comfortable chair and clean up your home office because you’re going to be there for a while.

We started making pandemic sourdough on the same afternoon I came home from the office. I’d stopped at the grocery store and there was literally no flour to buy and the shelves were half-bare. It was a reaction to the reality that we had enough supplies to bake a few dozen loaves of bread if… y’know… nothing else was available.

Things have settled.

We wear a mask to the store, limit our visits to once per week, and the shelves are nearly fully stocked if with some weird items sometimes being limited or quietly missing. Groceries are 99% normal even if the experience of getting them is not.

But I still like my sourdough, and we’ve bought barely enough store bread to fill a reusable shopping bag in the nearly six months of pandemic-mode living. When last night I pulled loaves 83 and 84 from the oven it was just another evening baking exercise, so routine now that I was fitting it in between other things.

The Kid has requested softer crusts, so I bake at a lower, longer temperature.

The proofs are a little more casual, and my rises need some work and better timing.

The loaf pans could use some TLC, but have become a permanent fixture on the counter because they’re rarely cool long enough to both putting into a cupboard.

And bread, and bread, and more bread.

Eighty four loaves of pandemic sourdough, and where I once thought a hundred seemed far fetched, it now seems inevitable — and not even the final milestone on the “Achievement Unlocked!” badge for covid-themed cooking.

…I really should have been more serious about making jam.

Six Dozens

So it goes that four and half months into this pandemic … quarantine … lockdown … work-from-home experiment … I’ve baked my six-dozenth loaf of sourdough bread.

I think at one point I joked about reaching one hundred before this was all over. That joke might be on me. Be careful what you wish for, some say.

Seventy-two loafs of pandemic sourdough into the effort, however, it’s still possible to claim to have learned a little bit more, grown a little more, stretched the mind along with the dough. I even bought a lame to score my loaves. It’s getting serious.

(Not that I ever claimed expertise … merely routine and repetition.)

But as a matter of fact, since my last sourdough update I’ve become a little obsessed with the notion of bakeries. The prospect of economic collapse, unlikely but non-zero-probability of job loss, and the ever-present inspiration granted by the voyeurism of obsessive YouTube-watching means I have put more than passing thought into a what-if question of quitting it all and opening a quiet neighbourhood bread factory. Brad becomes baker.

Such notions were leavened from watching internet videos of passionate small-city bakers extolling the simple complexities of waking up each day with the sole purpose of baking bread. Obsession. Mission. Enlightened existence.

I’m not ready, but if I need to step away from the digital services career path I’m on, maybe an apprenticeship in a local bakery would scratch some kind of mid-life itch. I’d need a good bakery name though. Bread. Name. Business plan.


If nothing else, watching all that ‘tube had the benefit of providing one simple bit of advice: a trick to get me past my lumpy dough. The generic flour I was using lately was especially bad for it, but often I’m plagued by the early mix of water and flour resulting in pea-sized lumps of clumping flour that need to be kneaded smooth. The less-than-obvious but-it-works trick is reversing the order of operations for mixing the ingredients. Really. Rather than adding water to flour … bah-da-boom … adding flour to water. No lumps. I can’t explain it, but five batches of five have proven this viable as a fix. (I’ll update after more data is available.) Who knew?

Well … a real baker that’s who.

For now, however, I’ll merely pursue my at-home bakeshop, small scale operation, where seventy-two loaves of pandemic-style sourdough sandwhich bread is still an impressive feat.

Five Dozens

The inevitable happened, and my flour supply morphed away from the familiar collection of yellow-bagged bread flours, the kind I’ve been baking with for years and years like a loyal customer and into other brands. I shook the last dregs from my bags of “Best for Bread” and multigrain mixes.

I then used up the last quarter(ish) bag of AP we keep on hand for cookies and pancakes.

Loaves 59 & 60 of the pandemic sourdough legacy are a mix of flours. The starter is a bit of yellow-bagged whole wheat and a bit of yellow-bagged all purpose. The bread-proper is a store brand generic AP that I picked up a month ago when flour shortages were still rampant.

I’m in the land of uncharted ingredient brands.

If this post comes across as flour-elitist, I don’t intend it that way. In all likelihood the bag of generic AP in my pantry was pacakged in the same factory from the same mill as the yellow-bagged stuff that I usually buy. I am simply amused that (a) I baked 58 loaves of bread (and a few dozen batches of pancakes) from the flour I had on-hand at the start of this pandemic (like, seriously) and (b) the fact that I feel — felt — a lingering if irrational disloyalty to a raw ingredient as I tore in the new bag and started mixing up my latest batch of bread.

The only measurable consequence to the new flour, if I’m being honest, is that for the first time in 60 loaves I baked what was essentially a white bread sourdough — or at most a five pecent grain loaf if one counts what the composition of the starter which will have some ever-halving percentage of whole grains for a very long time.

I christened the new loaves with a couple of delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. Obviously.

Fresh, thick slices of sourdough bread. A bit of grated cheddar. Some butter. And a hot cast iron pan.

Sixty loaves further cemented the pandemic sourdough in my mind as a kind of family legacy.

As I write this we’ve been in a state of quasi-isolation and lockdown for one hundred and twelve days. Eleven and a half million people have had or now have a severe communicable viral infection. Over half a million people have died. The economy has crashed. Borders have closed. The world has foundationally changed.

During that time I’ve fed my family with a few bags of flour and a gooey lump of yeast-filled sludge. When we look back at 2020, when the kid tells the story of this year to some future generation of kids, it would be impossible to tell our version without a buttered slice of sourdough to gnaw on along with it.

“Months and months passed, and every day there was this bread to blend, to bake, to eat.”

I dehydrated a bit of my starter and stuck away for safekeeping. It may never be needed, but it would be a shame if someday it were lost and the story of five dozen loaves — probably dozens more to come — were not recalled with something to taste along with it… whatever colour of bag the flour comes out of.