Writing an ebook on Sourdough, part one: Starters

Writing an ebook on Sourdough

by Azélia on 27/06/2012

in Family Life,Flour / Grain Talk,Sourdough Recipes,Work In Progess

It’s not news I’m writing an ebook on Sourdough, for a while I’ve been twitting, and posting photos on twitter and facebook sharing my frustrations with my research and most recently my biochemistry lessons.

Not so quietly I sit here banging my head on the table exasperated by my dimness.

Ask me to make something, bake, cook, draw or paint, something practical or anything requiring visualisation and I’m fine, more than fine, happy.

Ask my brain however, to accept the concepts of chemistry and without warning I’ll start yawning, feel famished, suddenly my eyelids are heavy closing against my will.  I put up a good fight, but it is a fight.  I hate chemistry.

Thrown in at the Deep End

The research papers I’ve been reading in the last few months have been ok, boring and tedious?  Oh yes most definitely.  Pages of dense and badly phrased research findings, tiny results with very specific and not necessarily relevant details, continuously referring to other work.  It was the perfect time to practice my tenacious side.

It was hard at first as every other word was new to me or had a different meaning in this context but now looking back the research papers seem a breeze in comparison to the biochemistry lessons.


Gill the Painter, Dan Lepard and Me

I’m here writing an ebook on Sourdough because Gill sent some starter in the post two years ago.

I’ve known Gill virtually for 3 years but only met her for the first time last Saturday, in the most wonderful of circumstances, at Dan and David’s civil partnership ceremony.  The starter Gill uses was made using Dan’s recipe and it seemed only fitting we met on such a momentous day.

Dan’s delicious cake served with a raspberry compote vanished, for the recipe see here along with photos of the day in Dan’s comments below it.

It was a perfect day, a day that Bikerboy and I (with my rare unbaker-like manicured nails) were so very happy to be part of.  The ceremony was touching and emotional, the food was delicious and abundant and to top it even the sun came out.  Dan and David’s wishes wanting an intimate and relaxing day came true.

Sourdough ebook – Simples!

What started out as a rather more simple idea of writing an ebook on Sourdough, compiling all the experience I had gained through here into a neat format has now turned into something much bigger, something challenging and rather scary.

At the beginning of the year I met up with two lovely and talented friends, Gloria and Monica, Gloria’s advice was to bring out the book in volumes in order to make things easier for me, it was a great idea, I’ll bring out the first volume on Starters & How To Make a Loaf.

Dan Said…

…but then when discussing it with Dan he said, “That’s a great idea to bring it out in volumes but make the first volume just on Starters, it’s such a complex subject and one so misunderstood”

This was a great idea, starters are full of mystery with so many variations on methods, recipes, hydrations, feeding schedules, there’s a myriad of opinions on them.

It’s Complicated

And this is how I started delving into research papers and the deeper I dig the more I’m drawn into its complexities.  The challenge now is to actually stop researching and make sense of this in plain English.  I could carry on researching for years, there so many papers on the subject but only a few that truly answer any questions.  The skill soon will be to start compiling a body of work with proper references to known researched facts or to many unknowns.

I think 70% of what I’m reading and learning about now I will not use but I want to make sure I have the facts behind what I write, this is the most important aspect for me.

By far the most complex part of the book is the first volume, Starters with their temperature and acid sensitive inhabitants, lactic acid bacteria and yeast.

Don’t Want to Add to the Confusion, Rye a Case in Point

There are plenty of bread books out there which add to the confusion.  Some make a statement that is only fact in part, and therefore leaving the reader with the wrong assumption.

An example of this is Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread book, as a whole it’s a good book with excellent trustworthy recipes but the publishers are about to make an errata for the next revised addition on rye which leaves me cross.  I first found out about this errata from blogger Joanna, it will say:

“Rye flour contains gliadin as well as the protein glutelin (which is similar to glutenin). However, due to the presence of pentosans (see page 46), gluten formation is not possible, hence rye breads will always have a denser structure.”

Pentosans exist in wheat and other cereals, there are more of them in rye it is true, there exists a thesis on pentosans in wheat and their interference in gluten formation, and it may be that there is an effect by pentosans, but and here’s the but this is not why rye fails to form a good gluten structure.  The higher percentage of pentosans in rye may hinder, but what really stops rye forming a proper glutinous structure, a backbone if you like,  is the lack of High Molecular Weight glutenin subunits, often referred to as HMW-GS.

I’m quite good now at making your eyes glaze over if I start on the subject of gliadin and glutenin subunits.

Hamelman’s book is one of my favourites but I wish the ghost writer wasn’t so remiss with facts.

Shoot Me

There are some mind boggling moronic things written in bread books, I’ve given Anne and my biochemistry teacher permission to shoot me if I ever write like this, “Hold the slice to a bright light and there is a translucent glow, but no bright sparks of light shine through.  The crumb itself is starkly white because…”  

My book will be a poor man’s book, doing it all by myself, with the help and encouragement from friends.  I have asked Anne, Andrew Janjigian and my biochemistry teacher Jenny to read over any science parts making sure I don’t add 2+2 and make it 5.  I have asked various wonderful people to be my test readers for feedback.

I’m trying my best to research what I can properly.  A few weeks ago I attended a seminar at London University on “Scent & Sensibility: The neuroscience of fragrance”, just to see if I could ask one question on lactic and acetic acid, which I received no conclusive answer to, and this is the case many times over.

There are days I feel I’ve bitten too much, science is not my strong subject, it’s not easy learning a whole new language at this stage in my life, or should I say, at my age, but I do love knowing the whys and feel a deep sense of satisfaction knowing facts.

When it will be ready I don’t know.  I drag slow in-between the distraction of kids and things like 4 year old’s continuous problems with her supports for her feet that are still not resolved after 7 months.  Family life and writing don’t mix.

In the meantime I plod along…with my colour pens.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Kavey June 27, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Wishing you luck, Azelia. I know that whatever you write, it will be well-researched, incredibly well considered, with thought and personal experience combined with scientific knowledge. It will be accurate, it will be a trail blazer in terms of informative and practical side by side and it will surely sell like hot cakes. Or hot loaves. :-)

Azélia June 27, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Thanks very much Kavey.

Louise June 28, 2012 at 8:21 am

It’s such a great project, Azelia, and I’m so impressed with your tenacity of getting into the real details and evidence. This is an area where so many people are happy to skip over the surface of the science, and not understand the detail. I think it’s also an area where there’s still some confusion about the science itself – science doesn’t often deal in absolute certainty, and can move at a frustratingly slow pace.
Good luck, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final result.

gillthepainter June 28, 2012 at 9:21 am

Ah, the structure of the book is coming to life already. You’re a hard worker.
I’ll have writer visions of you still in your dressing gown at 5 in the afternoon, with a fag in one hand, and a gin in the other ;)

And didn’t we all get along famously. Thank you both for the excellent company. We should have stayed for much longer, but I can’t get Tony to stay over in London. Much love, Gill.

Pat Machin June 28, 2012 at 9:31 am

Well done! Delving into the chemistry is very brave of you.

jill farrimond June 28, 2012 at 9:44 am

This is going to be a fantastic piece of work. A great reference. Huge respect to you for tackling it.

Francisco Negrín June 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Hello and good luck. I am very anxious waiting for the e-book. Regards from Venezuela!

Azélia June 28, 2012 at 6:52 pm

hi Francisco – thank you for saying hello, it’s very nice to hear from people all over the world, and thanks for your support.

Azélia June 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm

hi Jill – thanks for the encouragement and support…the pressure is on!

Azélia June 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm

hi Pat – I’m hoping to dip my toe in without drowning :)

Azélia June 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm

hi Gillthepainter – your visions are correct Gill, no fag and a kir :)

Neil and I both enjoyed meeting you both, maybe we’ll cross paths on the road through France or Spain!

Azélia June 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm

hi Louise – you talk of someone who knows their science, yes it is very much dealing with uncertainty. On radio 4 recently I heard someone say how research is carried out to prove a theory wrong.

I don’t know if you caught the scientist Frances Ashcroft speaking on radio 4 on Monday about her book, I found it really fascinating, and her inspiring. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01k2cg0

Maureen @ Orgasmic Chef June 29, 2012 at 6:59 am

What an immense project! I look forward to the results of all this work. I look forward to a bread book that’s written for mere humans.

Azélia June 29, 2012 at 7:44 am

Hi Maureen – thank you, this mere human will try her best!

Marlène June 29, 2012 at 7:47 am

Olá Azélia!
Parabéns… a 1ªparte está quase aí! O livro vai ser, com certeza, um sucesso e uma grande referência não só para quem quer fazer e saber sobre Sourdough, mas também para quem quer fazer e saber mais sobre Pão.
Eu fiquei realmente impressionada com a tua persistência e capacidade de questionar.

Espero ansiosa pela 1ª parte do eBook.


Azélia June 29, 2012 at 7:54 am

Obrigada Marlène – gostei immenso de estar contigo e des esplicar de aquilo que tenho muita paixão.

Petr June 29, 2012 at 11:14 am

Looking forward to the eBook, as your previous posts on starters have been most helpful :-)

Azélia June 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Hi Petr – thank you for your support.

Catherine Jennings June 29, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I can completely agree with you on the statement that “family life and writing don’t mix”.

I too am in the process of writing a book!

It seems such an age since the day that I panicked about sourdough on twitter and got in contact with Carl Legge who then pointed me in your direction. I am writing my book about Herman the German Friendship Cake with recipes for cakes but also for the fantastic sweet breads you can bake with it!
I wonder if you or your biochemistry teacher would know how a starter of milk, flour and sugar works? I have desperately tried to fathom it all out and I DO have a sciency brain but this has completely stumped me!

I too am looking as self-publishing so look forward to see how you get on with it all.
Best wishes for your writing,

Corrie June 30, 2012 at 6:01 am

Oh wow an Ebook on sourdough….Yes please. I am very interested in all the scientific side of it but when I start to read it I also so get lost and start to glaze over and I have to start all over again. HELP! Looking forward to the completed book! :-)

Azélia June 30, 2012 at 7:48 am

hi Catherine – wish you look with your project, let me know when I can buy it. Thank you.

Azélia June 30, 2012 at 7:50 am

hi Corrie – Thank you. The intent is to have a very accessible plain written book with the science part on the side for those who want to delve further.

teawithhazel July 1, 2012 at 1:17 am

azelia..you’re exactitude and tenacity are inspirational..i’m really looking forward to buying and reading your e-books..jane

Azélia July 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

hi Hazel – thanks so much for the encouragement, it’s certainly needed :)

Tannage July 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Good luck with the e-book! Looking forward to reading it already! It’s tough writing, let alone writing a book that’s got a fair bit of science in it. Perhaps the best encouragement I can give is that you are learning more than you think if you feel you’re struggling. I’ve seen that pattern again and again over years of teaching. You’ll get there :)

Azélia July 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

hi Tannage – yes it’s surprising how much goes in without being aware of it, it’s not until you speak of it does one realise how much has been absorbed.

w July 6, 2012 at 10:33 pm

i haven’t dropped by in a while (i haven’t even been able to bake in 3 mths!) so what a surprise to see that you’re writing an e-book. I salute your courage in tackling the science behind starters. I am very intrigued but get lost in all that jargon – or else, it’s scientific papers that aren’t accessible to everyone or it’s someone’s theory against another’s, which leaves you wondering who’s right. Were you a biochemist in a previous (pre-baker) life? ;) )
i can imagine how this must weigh on your already very busy schedule as a mum and baker. If i can offer any help at all as an editor (I was/am one), let me know. I wouldn’t be able to help you in the science dept but if you need someone to check through for errors, language, consistency, you know, all that sort of things, drop me a note. otherwise, soldier on and i can’t wait to see the book!

Azélia July 7, 2012 at 6:20 am

hi W – nice to hear from you again. Thank you very much for the offer of editing but I already been offered and have accepted someone, Dan’s editor for Short & Sweet, David Whitehouse.

Fingers crossed the book is worthy of all this anticipation :)

w July 7, 2012 at 10:08 am

hi azelia, just in case there’s any misunderstanding, i was offering my services for free, just cos i admire your efforts. But i believe you’re in very good hands with David!

Adam September 11, 2012 at 6:44 am

Azelia, your blog is a godsend. I haven’t found anyone else who goes into the process and experimentation involved in cooking with such vigor. I can’t wait to read your ebook. I’m sure it will be one for the ages!

Azélia September 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Thanks Adam.

Anita November 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Your photos of bread leave me salivating. Do you ever give out the recipes? I have searched under “recipes” on your website, but can’t seem to see any?

Azélia November 16, 2012 at 10:38 am

Anita – if you like walnuts here’s a good example http://www.azeliaskitchen.net/blog/walnut-raisin-bread/ if you look at the previous post to that there’s a hazelnut version…there’s a few dotted around in the Sourdough/Yeast/Hybrid categories hidden among those posts.

Wouter Groeneveld January 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hi there,
Excellent blog you’ve got here, thanks a lot for the nice bread related articles! I started with my own sourdough experiments at the beginning of 2012 and can’t stop ever since. It started as a nice hobby but it’s growing into a form of obsessive baking :-)

Thanks for inspiring others!

Azélia January 5, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Hello and welcome Wouter!

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