Coping with Quarantine and Starting Your Own At-Home Boulangerie

By Chase Gargus, President of the UVic Ukrainian Students’ Society

As I’m writing this, we’re coming into the fourth month of quarantine and boy has this put a lot of things into perspective for me. Over these past couple of weeks, I’ve really been struggling to adapt to this new way of life. With school cancelled and my job prospects looking pretty bleak I’ve been left with a lot of time on my hands. I remember when I would’ve been stoked for something like this to happen, back when exams and deadlines were the norm, but now that I’m living it, all this free time has quickly lost its appeal.

I for one have been struggling to stay productive. My daily trek from my bedroom to the couch got old quick and there’s only so many TikToks and Netflix comedy specials a guy can watch. I realized that if the world was going to lose its structure, it was up to me to provide myself with a routine. This in amongst itself can be pretty tough but after months of trial and error, I’m happy to report that it is getting easier. If you’re like me and you too have fallen into a never-ending loop of TikTok and Netflix, here are my steps on how I got out of my funk.

Chase and his sourdough bread

Step 1) Rediscover your hobbies

I have always loved cooking, but it was one of those things that got put on the backburner over the school year. For me, this quarantine stretching on longer and longer has given me a great opportunity to flex my culinary muscles a bit. If you’ve been spending anytime on social media lately, I’m sure you’ve seen the sourdough trend making its rounds. If TikTok user @lapetitebette can make baking sourdough look easy, I was confident that I could do it too.

Step 2) Gather your supplies

It turned out that becoming a home baker wouldn’t be as easy as I had originally thought. Apparently I wasn’t the only one inspired to bake over quarantine and everyone and their dog is trying their hand at being a pâtissier. Flour has become a hot commodity and finding some can be pretty tricky. With this in mind I can only offer a little advice: beg, borrow, or steal what you can. If your local supermarket is out of the powdered goods, maybe you’ll get lucky like me and have some friends that are willing to lend you some.

Chase and his sourdough bread – hut hut!

Step 3) Execution

At the beginning of my journey I had never made sourdough before. Turns out there are a couple more steps involved than with your traditional yeasted bread. Sourdough starts off with something called a “starter,” an equal parts mixture of flour and water. If kept warm, fed, and given lots of positive affirmations, it will become the leavener for your bread. I named mine Fleur and she is my baby. Honestly folks, caring for a starter is probably the best part of making sourdough. If you’re like me and your landlord doesn’t allow you to have pets, a sourdough starter is a good second choice. I feed my starter every morning and it’s a great way to get me out of bed.

Chase and Fleur – his sourdough starter

Once your starter is matured, it can finally be used for baking. There are lots of different sourdough recipes out there, believe me – I’ve tried a good chunk of them. The trick is finding one that works for you. You’ll hear people talk about things like ratios and hydration levels and blah blah blah. In my opinion, baking comes from the heart. It may be my Ukrainian roots talking but I prefer to eyeball my recipes. Perhaps not the best strategy for baking, if my success with sourdough is anything to go by, but it definitely keeps the process fun. Overall, making sourdough is a long process, with the vast majority of your time being spent letting your dough rest, but believe me – once you get a taste of what is probably the most delicious homemade bread, it will all be worth it.

Step 4) Enjoy the fruits of your labour

I’ve made a lot of sourdough along this journey, all with varying degrees of success, but I’m finally satisfied with the way this one turned out. Sourdough can be pretty tricky and its easy for your dough to be too wet or too dry. Let me assure you though that even if your sourdough doesn’t look the best, I can almost guarantee that it will taste great.

Chase’s completed sourdough bread

Maybe making sourdough isn’t for everyone, but it helped give some kind of structure to my day. Whether the final project works out or not, it gives me something to work towards. My motto with sourdough has really become “keep trying – they’ll get better” and honestly, it’s been as true for my baking as it has been for my life. Every loaf has been a little bit better just like every day in quarantine is a little bit better than the last. With this in mind, whether you end up making sourdough yourself or not, I hope you too can find a way to let your passion shine. And if you do want to give sourdough a try, you can give this recipe a go: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/naturally-leavened-sourdough-bread-recipe