As the pandemic descended on the world in 2020 and the orbits of many people shrunk to the size of their home, the busy pace of life shuddered to a standstill. For some of us lucky enough, we were granted the gift of time, a gift that we didn’t immediately know what to do with. There was lots of chatter about gardening, crafting and birdwatching, but the hobby I heard the most about was, by far, sourdough. It seemed like everyone was mixing up a new starter or reviving an old one and ordering proofing baskets and dough scrapers and whatever other tools they thought they might need. Their efforts were showcased across social media where I was, admittedly, intrigued, so when Tara Jensen’s new book, “Flour Power: The Practice and Pursuit of Baking Sourdough Bread” came across my desk, I jumped at the chance to review it.
Jensen writes an entertaining cookbook, equal parts stories and science. The introduction references her first experience in a bakery on the coast of Maine; though in a different coastal town, I, too, began my first career in food service at a small Maine bakery. She describes the camaraderie, the community and the safety of a chosen family, all feelings I could relate to. Jensen’s experience in Maine built the foundation for years of bread baking spanning New England and the East Coast, and that education shines through in the wisdom of this book.
Her passion for both the process and the results of baking are apparent as she guides readers through the biology of wheat, the different ways it’s classified and how flour is made. Not to deter those who may require less of the nuts and bolts of bread making, Jensen then jumps into the various methods for making sourdough and soon, my favorite, the recipes — there are over 80. They use flours milled from common grains, like whole wheat flour and bread flour, as well as those that may be less familiar, like spelt, rye and einkorn. Home bakers can try out methods for various loaves, pita, fougasse and paratha. Feeling fancy? Check out the recipes for buttermilk orange bread, candied ginger rye or cardamom bun bread. Additionally, Jensen provides plenty of recipes that use sourdough discard, the portion of a sourdough starter that is removed when you refresh your starter. Try out her recipes for rye brownies, cheddar and black pepper biscuits, or the sourdough chocolate chip cookies for a surefire winner.
With beautiful photographs by Johnny and Charlotte Autry, which offer step-by-step visual guidance, and a foreword by notable food writer and chef Claire Saffitz, “Flour Power” will inspire all levels of bakers to take on new challenges and experiment in the kitchen. I may have returned to a more normal routine in my life, but the sourdough phenomenon appears to be here to stay.