I’ve been baking naturally leavened breads for about 8 years. I started baking bread when I was ill for a few months and wanted to spend my down time learning a new thing or two. My sister was a baker at a well-respected bakery in Portland (http://www.grandcentralbakery.com) that arguably singlehandedly introduced artisan breads to that city soon after bringing them to Seattle. Before I started, bread baking was a mystery to me. It seemed fraught with variables and a fickle reliance on living organisms. But hard things attract me, so I set out to learn how to bake when I had the time.
My first efforts were yeasted breads. Allowed to rise and be baked outside of the confines of loaf pans. These turned out good, but I know that artisan bread was based on a sour dough, so I set out making starters. For some reason I ignored the internet and stuck with trying to propagate yeast cultures from Flieschmann’s packets. These all died, but I would get a couple of loaves out of the starter before it became inactive.
After a couple months of this, during which I moved to Calgary, I kind of gave up. I put my last culture in the freezer thinking it a waste to throw it away and to hold onto it for god-knows-what. One day, absent-mindedly, I pulled the frozen mixture out of the freezer and left it on top of the fridge. I forgot about it for a few days but one day I was working in the kitchen and I heard a “pop!” sound coming from the fridge. I pulled down the mix and looked inside and there were bubbles in it and the smell had changed. At the same time, I’d received the book Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the L\LaBrea Bakery: Recipes for the Connoiseur wherein I read about starter maintenance and upkeep.
Since then I’ve baked maybe 80% of the bread I’ve eaten and now bake for my roommates so am supporting 3. Nancy Silverton’s book remains a resource. I bake practical breads with the odd gift bread for complexity. Mostly whole wheat, sometimes an unbleached white. Always with simple ingredients — water, flour, starter, salt. My fave is rosemary olive oil, so this gets a lot of play. Here’s the latest — a 50-50 whole wheat/white loaf. Delicious.