Reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan will make you want to bake bread

I always enjoy how Sloan’s books (like Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore) features tech and the tech world.

In Sourdough, Lois works as a software engineer at a robotics company in the Bay Area and one day her favourite sandwich and spicy soup shop closes and the owners leave her with their sourdough starter. It’s an unusual starter as it requires music and lots of love. Lois doesn’t know anything about breadmaking but she sets out to learn and starts making these amazing sourdough breads and somehow they have these strange faces on them.

Reading this requires some suspension of disbelief but if you’re up for it, it is a fun quirky romp.

Baking, by contrast, was solving the same problem over and over again, because every time, the solution was consumed. I mean, really: chewed and digested. Thus, the problem was ongoing. Thus, the problem was perhaps the point.

Sourdough made me both crave spicy soup and freshly made bread.

However I am not a fan of sourdough bread although I was tempted to try making a sourdough starter to see how that works.

In the end I decided to try making a fougasse, which I had first seen on Great British Bake Off, a wheat-shaped bread that looked simple enough.

I used this recipe from PBS which supposedly is a Paul Hollywood recipe.

It’s an easy enough recipe but maybe not for beginners as the dough isn’t the easiest to handle. I would recommend following the recipe and using a mixer or bread machine to knead the dough as it’s a bit of a sticky dough.

The recipe calls for various fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage. And of course I had none of them. So instead I put together a blend of what I had around my kitchen – some dried Italian herb mixture and some Ras El Hanout. On hindsight, I should have added some sliced olives in, but as I hadn’t made this (or eaten) this bread before, I wasn’t sure what the addition of a damp ingredient would do to the dough.

It turns out that there are recipes for olive fougasse and other fougasse with more than just herbs in them. So that’s an experiment for another time. Meanwhile, the fougasse was a great accompaniment to a bowl of soup. Or just something to snack on at teatime as it’s quite a light bread.

While doing some Googling about fougasse, I learnt that fougasse was traditionally used to check the temperature of ovens – how long it would take to bake would give a rough estimate of the temperature.

I definitely need practice when cutting out the slits in the dough!


  1. I love anything mention of Great British Baking Show, and I especially love that you attempted something from the show. Looks amazing.

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  2. I think that fougasse looks good. I’m not sure that you are allowed to say you don’t like sourdough in the trendier parts of England. I think it’s OK, interesting, but I don’t like to eat that much bread. The problem with that kind of bread is that you need a lot of butter to make the hard knobbly bits palatable, or you need to eat the whole loaf straightaway before it’s turned hard.

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