My kitchen has turned into a laboratory. The fridge is full of pickled spring vegetables, cultured coconut yogurt, and sourdough bubbling in washed-out jam and tahini jars. On the counter is a large drink dispenser with a spigot and a SCOBY — the frisbee-sized, gummy-bear-textured disc you need to turn sugary tea into fizzy kombucha. The process of taking food, adding life to it, and waking up in the morning to a completely different kind of food is the most thrilling science experiment I’ve ever encountered.
Since I was young, I’ve used baking as a way to calm down. Now that my job requires me to spend 7–9 hours a day on my phone (I’m the Cut’s social-media editor), making food has become important to me as a way to disconnect. You can’t text when you have dough on your hands, and you can’t scroll Instagram when you’re straining hot tea leaves from kombucha.
But if fermenting is best done in solitude, the results are inherently social. It lets me feed all my friends, and more often than not, recruit them into my hobby. When I hand a dinner party guest a magenta cucumber that’s been pickled with radishes, they usually say something like, “How do you have time to make this stuff?” But as I begin to explain that I wake up early to poke at my rising sourdough and stay up late to stir my coconut yogurt every 12 hours, the question changes to, “Can you teach me to do it too?” And soon enough I’m tearing off a sheet of paper from a notepad and writing down my own ad-hoc fermenting instructions.
Fermented foods sometimes get a bad rap, probably because they’re aged, which is so close to spoiled or moldy. But isn’t anything alive, by nature, beautiful? If you’ve never cut a piece of warm, crusty sourdough bread you made yourself and then slathered it with butter, I recommend you give it a try. There’s nothing more satisfying to make from scratch, gaze at adoringly for a while, and then put in your mouth.
A NOVICE RECIPE FOR PURPLE SOURDOUGH
People add all sorts of things to bread to make it look more interesting or taste funkier. Instagram baker cool-girl Lexie Smith once posted a recipe for a sunrise-colored loaf made with kabocha squash. Another bread account I follow, @werebros, adds grated carrot for a colorful confetti-like effect. While making purple rice a few weeks ago, I thought, “This is pretty! I should add it to my bread.” And so I did. And it tasted really good.
Here’s where I should warn you that I don’t use recipes for my bread, but that’s the magic of it. Once you start improvising your baking process, you begin to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t, and soon you’re experimenting for real.
Purple Rice Sourdough
Makes one large loaf
2 tbs sourdough starter
2 cups good quality whole wheat flour
1 cup good quality white flour
3/4 cup purple rice, cooked
Salt to taste
Mix your sourdough starter with 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of warm water. Let it sit on your counter for 10–12 hours, at which point it will smell alive and fermented.
Use your hands to stir in the remaining flour and salt and about two cups of water. The batter shouldn’t be too hard or too wet. I like this tutorial from Bon Appetit if you need a general guideline. Let the dough sit on your counter, covered with a damp towel, for another four hours. It will almost double in size as the starter feeds and grows.
Next, rub a bit of oil on your hands so they don’t get sticky and fold in the cooked rice. There’s no real method here, but you want it to run through the bread, rather than combine with it. Let the whole thing sit for another two hours.
Finally, flip the dough on to a baking sheet and put into an oven pre-heated to 425 degrees. It bakes quickly, in only 15–20 minutes. Take it out, try to let it cool, and slather with butter before serving.