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- by John Biggs
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During the pandemic, like everyone else, I took up baking. I’ve never been good at it – I follow recipes as inspiration and not guides and, as I discovered, baking is a science. So for months, I wasted sourdough starter and flour, making bread that was too dense, too hard, and almost inedible.
The frustration was strong. I hated not being able to make something good and a good loaf was my white whale.
Last summer a chef friend of mine gave me his simple recipe for sourdough. One thing I noticed immediately was that he used more of everything – more flour, more starter, more water, and more salt. I was starving my bread and the little yeasties, ready to do my bidding at any moment, were trying their hardest to break the glutinous bonds between the flour molecules. They couldn’t. They weren’t well-fed, well-loved. I wasn’t treating them as art.
My loaves got better and better. I got to the point that I loved to bake, loved to pull a boule out of the oven, and serve it with good butter. It gave me joy. It was a massive change that I learned late into our collective period of strangity: that I needed to offer the world a little more. It’s been 21 months since March 2020. I’ve seen people die, I’ve gained and lost jobs, I wrote a novel, played guitar, spent more time with my family than I ever expected. I gave more and more and got more and more. It was an important realization and one I won’t forget. It’s been a long time coming, as well, because I am selfish about what I have, what I can offer. I’ve learned to be more generous.
I didn’t want to create an extended metaphor about life and bread but there you have it. Happy New Year, much love, and thanks for reading. I’ll have some cool news next month (if you’re a PR person drop me a line). Otherwise, live long and prosper.
Chef Jon’s Sourdough, as texted
Take 400 g starter; feed it 200g flour 200g water (doubling to 800g)
Allow 3-8 hrs for starter to become active
Take 200g and feed to 400g, store in the fridge immediately
Take the remaining 600g and add
Salt 18-22 g (to taste)
After 1 hour, “tuck and fold” knead about 6 times
(le Fold dough in half in the bowl using a wet hand or spatula)
Do this 3 times
The dough should be well fermented, gently turn into a boule shape, place bread loaf upside down on a
very well-floured kitchen towel and place into a bowl that just fits.
Allow bread to proof. It can be baked immediately, or placed in the refrigerator overnight to develop flavor
To bake; heat an oven at 475 or 500 with a Dutch oven in it. Gently turn the loaf right side up into the
dutch, score it, cover and bake for about 20 min; remove lid and bake another 25; until internal temp is at least 190°
I hadn’t read Roddy Doyle in a long time and I spotted this in a bookshop in the Village. It had a lot of what I wanted in a cover: a beer (I haven’t had one in a year and a half) and that particular shade of green, something between a pool table and a Tartan plaid. I bought it on a whim and devoured it in a few days. It’s basically two friends getting drunker and drunker and talking about the past and the present. The language grows increasingly more disjointed as the lads press on and the story, about love and love lost, is timeless. Well worth a look.
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
Erik Larson writes like a pack of baseball cards. Each chapter consists of tiny chunks of interesting information and rather than slog through a daily diary of Churchill before the U.S. entered the war, we’re given tidbits of life during wartime, tales of the hard-drinking PM, and a description of World War II so vivid and fascinating that I couldn’t put this one down. Another winner.
Didion was a great reporter, essayist, and writer. She died last week and it was awful. I decided to pull out this book about grief and loss and was enchanted once again.