A Sourdough Attempt, and Why I Cook

23 02 2010

Michael Ruhlman recently posed the question, “Why do you cook?”  I believe I touched on a bit of the answer in my post about his rolls, and I definitely remember having to write an essay in the topic towards the end of my tenure as a culinary student.  I’d like to go back and read that now, seven years later – I’d be interested to see how my answers have changed, and in what ways they remain the same.

Why do I cook?  Well, that’s actually a complicated question, as cooking is both my job and my hobby.  But it was a hobby first, one I developed a passion for to the point of making it my career.  I guess the most interesting question, to me anyway, is “Why do I still cook at home when I do it all day at work?”

I know plenty of chefs, cooks, and bakers who don’t do any cooking at home, which is perfectly understandable.  Me, I come home and cook because it relaxes me, believe it or not.  After a day filled with deadlines and production goals, it’s nice to come home and cook what I want to cook, not what the schedule or the orders or the inventory say I need to cook.  I like being able to make all the decisions, and making last-minute changes when the mood strikes.  I cook because it’s relaxing and fun.

Another thing I enjoy about cooking, that I don’t always get to enjoy at work, is the creativity.  Being able to cook at home keeps those creative muscles in shape.  From coming up with dinner every night, to the challenges posed by the CSA grab-bag, to the wacky ideas that I simply must give shape because they won’t leave me alone, cooking at home prevents me from getting bored with food.  I cook to stretch my imagination.

In any given cooking job, there are always tasks you do more often, and ones you don’t do at all, and these change from job to job.  When I cook at home, I practice those techniques that I am not using at work, because you never know when you’re going to need to butcher a chicken, bake bread, or chiffonnade some basil in a future job.  I cook to hone my skills.

Finally, I love to eat, and I love to eat well.  I certainly can’t afford to dine out every night, and cooking at home is a much cheaper option.  (The downside to this is that after a certain price point, I get irritated if the food is nothing better than I could cook myself.)  I also like knowing where my food came from and what’s in it, and I feel good serving lovingly made food to my family and friends.  I cook because I care what goes into my body.

All of which ties in nicely with my attempt to bake sourdough bread last weekend.  I got it in my head Saturday night that Sunday would be a good day for bread baking.  I asked Nick what kind of bread he wanted (“You can have ANYTHING you want!”) and he asked for sourdough.  My starter was healthy, so I fed it to bulk it up and while it waited on the counter, I looked into some recipes.

I ended up winging it, using Ruhlman’s ratio (5: 3 flour to water), assuming that my starter was 1:1.  I didn’t use any commercial yeast, only the starter, and it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would.  (Must finally be getting warmer out!)  But here’s the thing: I had no idea if this recipe I had slapped together would work the way I wanted it to, but I did it anyway.  I paid close attention to the development of the dough – I didn’t let it get too excited because I wanted a fairly dense crumb, something good for sandwiches.  And you know what?  It worked.  It didn’t taste very sour, but the texture was just what I was looking for.  In fact, it tastes a lot like French pain au levain, which I guess it technically is.

fresh-baked bread

But there you have it: I experimented, I learned something, and I was rewarded with tasty homemade bread.  Plus the immense sense of satisfaction I get from turning ingredients as simple as flour, water, yeast, and salt into something as wonderful as a loaf of bread.

On this day in 2009: When in Alsace…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.



13 responses

23 02 2010

What a beautiful post, Camille. And inspiring – I wish I could have felt the same way about my writing over the past few years. Once I started uni and, particularly, my thesis, I found that I no longer had the inspiration for the creative writing I used to love. I think your answers to “why I cook” can be applied to so many more aspects of life than cooking – so thank you 🙂

24 02 2010

You cook for some great reasons, friend. And lots of us are very glad that you do! The bread is beautiful–proof that sometimes “recipe, schmecipe” is really true! 🙂

24 02 2010

I enjoyed reading your post very much Camille; glad that you could clearly analyze why you cook even when , as you say, you already do this for a living. I felt i needed to explore this myself when so many in my immediate family were questioning my love for cooking, when in Lebanon, most cooking is done by hired help. I realized that like you it is a way to stay creative and it is also a wonderful escape: I don’t have to think about anything else just the dish I am trying to make, so it is a stress release too.

24 02 2010

My goodness, both you and Alex (http://justcookit.blogspot.com/2010/02/sourdough-for-dummies.html) making mouthwatering sourdough in one week! Tempting… and yet the boulangerie is 1 minutes away… ah the dilemma. By the way, those are some GREAT reasons to cook and I really enjoyed reading this post!

24 02 2010

I love this post. And am quite jealous that I don’t have my own starter going in the fridge right now – unless the way too old dough from Artisan Bread in 5 counts?

24 02 2010

Hannah – Glad to help! I’m sure you’ll get your creative writing mojo back – it looks to me like your blog is helping. Don’t let academia suck the life out of what you love!

pastrychef – I thought so, too.

tasteofbeirut – It can certainly be enlightening to examine why we do the things we do.

Hopie – It is a real dilemma. I guess I buy things at the boulangerie that I can’t (or don’t want to) bake at home, and bake at home things they don’t make at the boulangerie (like loaves of sandwich bread, or hamburger buns).

Jessica – It could… take it out, feed it, and let it sit out on the counter for a couple of hours. If it gets bubbly and lively, you’re in business!

24 02 2010
hungry dog

What a lovely post! I do find it so interesting when people who cook for a living still like to come home and cook to relax. But as you say, your work cooking is different than your home cooking for many reasons.

Now, about that bread. Amazing! beautiful! Sourdough is my favorite…and so it’s a good thing I live in San Francisco where you can get it so easily. I’m totally intimidated by breadmaking–silly but true!

24 02 2010

The blog really is helping- reminding me what fun writing can be! 🙂

25 02 2010

hungry dog – Ironic, because you’re in the perfect place to make sourdough and have it taste the way it should! 🙂

Hannah – I knew it!

28 02 2010
The gold digger

Yes! I cook because I like to eat good food and I am a way better cook than Kraft, Frito Lay, Lean Cuisine, Sara Lee, or anyone else who makes all that processed crap that people pay way too much for. I am a darn good cook and I make better food for less money than the industrial food complex does. Plus it’s fun to cook.

1 03 2010

gold digger – Amen!

5 03 2010
Food lover

Wow, home made bread! It looks amazing!

6 03 2010

Food Lover – Thank you!

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