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The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

By: David Ong-Yeoh

Sourdough bread is popping out of everyone’s ovens these days and David Ong-Yeoh is enjoying the opportunity to taste them by pretending to write about what starter (sic) the recent phenomena

Malaysians began the Movement Control Order (MCO) looking for a particular brand of bread but they also rediscovered an ancient and once again ubiquitous type, sourdough.

The European sourdough with its harder crust is quite a contrast to the softer ones that are preferred in Asia. However, the MCO rise of sourdough may change our dietary landscape.

Throughout the MCO, clueless official heads of households and home bakers formed complaint queues outside baking supply shops while bread flour was no longer just loafing around on supermarket shelves.

Bread baking, for many, was a lapsed hobby that they suddenly had time to rekindle while others began as novices. As sourdough popularity spiked, pictures of fresh loaves spiked on social media overtaking the dominance of pets.

“There was suddenly so much free time. Working from home meant less commuting on the road and it was easy to juggle baking between meetings and work,” said Chrissy Tai.

“I was curious about sourdough bread especially as the ingredients are really simple and readily available, which is probably why so many people are trying to make it.”

But, like many others, she soon found out that baking it quite technical and required mastering the hydration and starter.

“I struggled to know when my dough had been sufficiently kneaded and the handling of a wet dough is tough in our climate. Even the quality of the water makes a difference.”

While the majority baked for their families, others took it as a personal challenge as sourdough is considered to be more difficult than other breads.

“For me, taking a sourdough bread from the oven is like the birth of a baby. Don’t tell my wife since child birth is definitely a more painful process. But that moment when you take that beautiful golden and fragrant bread from that oven womb, it's magical! At that moment, I don’t even care if tastes good. I feel like a proud father each time,” confessed Brian Khoo.

However, for Lydia Theng, baking sourdough bread was a stress reliever. She found kneading the dough to be very therapeutic.

Sourdough creations by Lydia Theng

Lydia’s initial attempts at baking it failed until she attended a class and learnt that there’s a lot of science that goes into the process.

“When I first began, the bread turned out so sour as I didn’t know the starter must be fed regularly. The bread didn’t rise as the starter was also not strong.”

Most bakers constantly nurture what they call their pet yeast colony in order to keep these ancient single-celled fungi healthy, usually through trial and error as many were referring to notes from bakers in Europe, where the yeast grows differently because of the climate.

The descriptive Italian term for sourdough starter is 'pasta madre' or mother dough but one baker named his starter “Stacy” and plays music next to the jar to get it active while feeding it organic flour to build strength.

Sourdough creations by Lydia Theng

“I give her lots of attention, sniff her for fragrance and put her in the fridge when I don’t bake daily to keep her cool during hibernation. This reminds me of my relations with loved ones. Attentiveness, quality attention, regular touches (and occasional sniffing) and serenade always.

“My relationship with Stacy may be here for a while at least my wife approves of this healthy threesome relationship. Sourdough baking is such an interesting yet difficult to master skill, that I think it will last a very long time before I get tired of this indulgence.”

Sourdough creations by Lydia Theng

Added Lydia : “A good sourdough is so yummy and of course healthy. Because of the lower gluten level, it is also said to be better for diabetics because of its relatively mild effect on blood sugar.”

Most of the MCO bakers agree that sourdough bread, like the virus that got it started, is here to stay as many of them realise that they just don’t like the commercially made breads anymore.

But the rise of sourdough alone is not enough to change the dominance of the soft bread empire as home bakers still encounter a typical response when sharing their creations with friends – “Wah! So hard to chew! Next time can you make the crust softer?”.

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1 Comment

Alex WaiChoon Butt
Alex WaiChoon Butt
Jul 13, 2020

Your story added such a funny twist to sourdough. Now I am intrigued to explore baking sourdough. Thanks!

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