While the art of baking sourdough bread has a long history, these leavened loaves are enjoying a renaissance across Toronto right now. With only water, flour, salt, and yeast, residents are hunting down beginner recipes, watching masterclasses on Youtube, and chatting via social media to find out how to make the flavourful bread at home.
Since mid-March, however, grocery stores have been repeatedly knocked out of their stock of flour. This scarcity has started some impressive grassroots movements within Toronto communities like Leaside, where neighbours are sharing recipes, tips, and even adopting out jars of their own mother doughs.
“It all started when we had to figure out a long-distance plan for the kids’ schooling,” says Angela Lam Perieteanu, an estate lawyer who lives in Leaside. “My husband took on the academics and I decided to take on life lessons. It was really fun for them, but shortly after, we couldn’t find any yeast. I noticed my daughter was reading Little House on the Prairie, and I thought: if Laura Ingalls can do this without commercial yeast, we can too.”
Flour, water, and five days later, Lam Perieteanu had a sourdough starter. She adopted out one jar of her mother dough to a neighbour asking for help in their community’s Facebook group. But as word of the “Leaside Sourdough Lady” began to spread, a local bread baking collective was born. As of now, Lam Perieteanu has adopted out 117 jars via porch pickups for neighbours in Leaside and Davisville Village. She’s even started a blog, as it’s now impossible to text each person with her step-by-step instructions and photos. Lam Perieteanu’s mother dough has even bred other small baking collectives, as neighbours split out their sourdough starters for friends and family.
Tips and tricks for the perfect loaf abound right now (avoid bleached flour, use bottled water without fluoride and chlorine). But as Lam Perieteanu has worked through existing recipes to craft her own through trial and error, she’s discovered two top tips for anyone who might soon rise to the occasion.
“For really consistent results, I suggest weighing instead of measuring your ingredients,” says Lam Perieteanu. “And one important lesson I’ve learned is you can’t watch the clock, you have to watch your dough. Temperatures in houses differ, and your dough will tell you when it’s ready.”
Where to find other key ingredients
As for where to get flour, Costco has reportedly been stocked up recently. Bulk Barn has delivery and curbside pickup options for their current inventory, and if you’re willing to wait a few weeks, some artisanal mills are delivering as well. Summerhill Market has been doing incredible things since the start of the pandemic, like packaging their own supplies of flour and selling it at cost when no one could find flour. They’re still delivering, and even have a priority service for seniors. And, if you want to skip the step of making your own sourdough starter, Burdock Brewery has been selling cans of their homemade sourdough starters for $3 with all proceeds going to charity.
“You’ve got to find something during this isolation to not go stir-crazy,” says Lam Perieteanu. “Work is work, and housework is housework, but you need things for yourself. We can’t get together, but we can share our baking successes and failures. It’s just another way of bringing people together.”