Yesterday in Hearth Breads and Rolls, each team baked sourdough bread using sour starters that we had been cultivating over the past week. By cultivating I mean feeding them with flour and water every day, almost as if they were pets. My team’s sour was named Mildred (others around the room included King Henry VIII, Elroy, and Gus), and one of my teammates even took Mildred home over the weekend in order to feed her. We were trying to cultivate the wild yeast that’s floating around in the air, which gives sourdough its distinctive flavor.

Speaking of flavor, my team’s bread was very tangy compared to everyone else’s, as well as having a much darker crust color. Chef said that this was due to a lower rate of fermentation in our dough–if the yeast don’t eat that much sugar during fermentation, there is more left to caramelize, leading to a darker crust. And indeed, our starter smelled much milder than some others, so our yeast must not have been as active as other teams’. Chef said that any variable affecting yeast fermentation (temperature, humidity, scaling of the starter’s food) could have influenced what happened in our final loaves. Everyone tried to follow exactly the same process, and yet every loaf came out different. Because bread is 99% following the formula carefully and 1% magic.