This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a sourdough workshop at White Cottage Bakery in Kingston, Cambs. I was bought the voucher for the course as a birthday gift from Ben. If I’m being honest, I thought to myself “I can bang out a loaf, how hard can it be?!”. Turns out, very hard! The fact that it even shares the name of “bread” with a run-of-the-mill yeasted loaf seems like something that should be called under question by the trades descriptions act! It’s a skill, a passion, a life’s work even, to refine the skills of sourdough. And one that I’m sure yields plenty of tasty rewards along the way! But one that shouldn’t be gone into lightly, the pages of a recipe book couldn’t do these skills and techniques justice. Our hostess and amazingly skilled and knowledgeable teacher, Helen, was telling us of some communities on the continent where sour dough starters have been passed down through the generations for hundreds (even into the thousands) of years. And perhaps more importantly than the starter, the skill!
The day started with a delightful welcome breakfast of sourdough toast, with homemade white cottage jams. Then our journey into making sourdough started. It was hard to believe that the “shaggy mess” of just flour, water, salt and the sourdough starter (stickiest mess I’ve ever seen) would ever form an edible loaf of bread. I thought I’d pick it up easy, but the art of kneading this didn’t come naturally to me at all, and I really had to concentrate. I’m sure I’ll improve if I keep practicing. While we worked Helen explained to us the importance of flour selection, the differences with stiff and liquid starters and the importance of stretching and strengthening the dough while protecting the membrane! By the time we stopped for a delicious lunch, we had made a white sourdough, a roasted garlic and rosemary sourdough, a rye sourdough and a rye and caraway semi-sour. Not to mention the herby soda bread we made to eat alongside our lunch. Busy morning! We had time to break for yummy Chelsea buns and coffee during the morning too!
We learned how to shape our dough, the optimum time for each part of the process, and nurturing a starter. We learned scoring patterns and techniques and the importance of them, and the best ways to bake. We even had a maths lesson on converting recipes, so that now the world is our oyster! Finally Helen baked our loaves and we went home with bags stuffed full of steaming hot loaves.
What a day?! Lovely company, a fantastic teacher, delightful setting, amazing food and some wonderfully skilful techniques learned that I would have never got from a book! And then that bag of bread to take home. If you’re thinking of dabbling in sourdough and you get the opportunity to go and learn with Helen my advice would be to take it (even if just to try her delicious potted cheese)!
Now the real test- how much bread can I eat in a day?! And of course, can I replicate it at home?!