Bread Making Workshop
Learn how to make nourishing sourdough bread, from producing your own sourdough mother or starter to baking your daily loaf.
– Our Daily Bread –
What is it about bread that makes a meal? That makes a home feel homely? The smell of fresh toast is one of those simple, yet utterly enticing aromas that is sure to get your gastric juices flowing in the morning.
When the pandemic stopped us all in our tracks back in March 2020, it was bread making that people turned to. The thought of bread running out in the shops led to panic buying and predictably empty shelves in the supermarkets. Once sliced loaves were hard to procure, people bought all the flour from the supermarket shelves and when that ran out they went online to buy it, sometimes paying exorbitant sums for a simple bag of strong bread flour.
There is something so wholesome and appealing about a freshly baked loaf of bread, steam rising and the crust still crackling as it cools straight from the oven. A freshly baked loaf is the essence of nurture and there is nothing like breaking into a warm loaf, spreading it with a generous knob of butter that melts into the holes formed by the steam during the baking process. Eat the bread with cheese or dip it into soup or a stew and it will always take a starring role in the meal.
We have to have our daily bread. There are foods, such as caviar, that divide the rich from the poor but bread is a universal food that unites us all. ‘Companion’ comes from the Latin ‘panis’ meaning ‘bread’ and ‘com’ from the Middle English Anglo-French meaning ‘with’, so companion was originally used to describe someone with whom you shared a meal.
Bread is an ancient, biblical food; it is the food of our ancestors, the food of peasants, poets and prophets alike. It is deemed to be such a basic human requirement and it is something that we take for granted, as in the everyday sliced loaf produced by the Chorleywood Bread Process which was developed by the British Baking Industries Research Association in 1961 to make a loaf from flour to sliced and in its packaging in just over three hours. On the other hand, it is a food that is revered by gastronomes across the globe and the creation of the perfect sourdough loaf is the holy grail for many a baker.
A simple loaf of bread is the essence of the mystery, alchemy, connection, physicality and spirituality that encapsulates our physical and metaphysical presence as intertwined beings at our time of life on this earth. A lofty claim? Let me explain.
It all starts with the invisible yeasts that surround us all and help support our earthly life systems. Yeasts are single celled members of the fungus kingdom and the first yeasts originated hundreds of millions of years ago. By the simple act of leaving a flour and water mixture exposed to the atmosphere for a few days, a life force is brought into being by unison with the wild yeasts and thus a Sourdough Mother is born! This is the alchemy – the connection that we have to the invisible, particulate world that is part of our inter-beingness with all the life forms and elements of the earth.
We have the Air which transports the yeasts and the Earth in which the grains grow that make the flour. Without Water the flour and yeasts alone would not activate together to become another life form – the Sourdough Mother (or less romantically, the ‘Starter’). Within a week or so the Mother is ready to give birth to her first sourdough baby, or loaf. For this to happen all that is needed is more flour and water, salt and Heat, (the Fire element). The salt is essential for it transforms the gluten structure of the flour by a mysterious process known as autolysation, to endow the dough with a springy resistance and strength.
A sourdough loaf gestates; the making of it is not a process that can be rushed like the Chorleywood bread-making method. However, it is not a labour-intensive process either; the dough doesn’t have to be kneaded like standard yeasted bread to develop the gluten structure. During its gestation, which is actually a fermentation process, rich and complex flavours develop and the natural yeasts react with the gluten molecules to make them more digestible for even those who might find ‘ordinary’ bread difficult to digest.
Here is another nuance in our bread making story: why did so many people turn to bread making during the pandemic, even though there were no lasting shortages of bread in the shops? This was something much deeper; a primal urge to prove that we could survive, perhaps? Time became our currency and endowed us with an unexpected richness of life that we had never anticipated in the helter-skelter rush of our modern times where we are all expected to play a part to make ends meet in the growth economy that we are all small cogs in.
Our lives are a story, our story, the one that we live which can be summed up in a five hundred word eulogy by our loved ones at our funeral. However, our story is made up of moments that we inhabit – a collage of light and aroma, touch and sound – ephemeral atmosphere, if you like; unique moments which are ours to enjoy, moment by moment.
The feel of the soft flesh-like texture of the sourdough as you quietly lift and stretch it to develop the gluten; the delicious smell, flavour and texture of this nutritious commodity; the alchemy of how and why it all comes together to create such nurturing pleasure is a mystery which we might take for granted but may do well to ponder upon. The sourdough loaf is symbolic of the slower, simpler, more sensual and meaningful life. Back in the lockdowns of 2020 it was breaking bread with companions – family or friends – that we came to realise was the essence of life.
A Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe
Make your Sourdough Mother (this will take from 5-8 days)
You will need:
Large glass jar
A piece of muslin (or similar) to create a breathable lid for the jar.
Rubber band or string to secure the muslin.
Strong bread flour
Water (filtered if you can)
Mix 1tbsp strong bread flour with about 2tbsp water. You can use white, brown or rye flour – whatever your preference, but just remain consistent and use the same flour type for feeding the starter each day.
Stir to a creamy consistency and cover the jar opening with muslin secured with a band. Leave on a windowsill or outside if you prefer, but not in the fridge. This allows it to gather yeasts from the air whilst keeping dust and other unwanteds out of the starter mixture.
Days 2 – 5 or longer
Repeat Day 1 by stirring in 1tbsp flour and a little water, covering and leaving.
After a few days the flour and water mixture will produce a few bubbles about an hour after ‘feeding’. The life force has arrived and your Mother is born and ready to use.
How to make your Sourdough Loaf
1: Mix the Dough
In a large bowl whisk the following ingredients using a fork or similar utensil:
250 g water
150 g sourdough starter which has been fed an hour or so before making the loaf so that it has fresh, small bubbles in it
25 g olive oil
500 g strong bread flour
Using your hands bring the mixture together until the flour is fully combined.
Cover the bowl with a plate or damp kitchen towel and let rest or ‘autolyse’ for about 30 minutes.
After the dough has rested, add 10 g sea salt and work it into a ball in the bowl.
Cover the dough again and leave to autolyse for 15 minutes or more.
Autolysation is the first resting period which starts the gluten development process and strong gluten makes a good loaf.
2: The Rise
The dough is now ready to rise.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise at room temperature for 30 minutes or more. Timings can be worked to suit your day because the dough does not contain fast-acting yeast and so the process is a slow one but not an arduous one.
After about 30 minutes stretch and fold the dough. You can do this in the bowl. Wet your hand and simply work round the dough lifting the dough from the edge and stretching it into the middle as if you were taking four corners of a napkin and folding them into the middle of the napkin. You only need to do one turn of the bowl, stretching and pulling like this, so there’s no arduous kneading involved.
Cover and leave the dough. After 30 minutes or longer depending on your day, repeat the above step. Stretching and folding the dough develops a stronger gluten. Repeat this step at least once more.
Use a banneton (a purpose made bread proving basket with and optional fabric liner) or a bowl lined with a clean tea towel (my preference). Sprinkle the fabric liner with flour and optional seeds such as poppy, black sesame, sunflower seed – whatever you like, or oats.
Tip the dough into the proving vessel and leave undisturbed to rise for several hours depending on the temperature. I put mine in a cool oven overnight so that I can bake it in the morning.
4. Baking the Loaf
Choose a baking vessel. This should be lidded and able to withstand a temp. of 220C. An oven roasting tin works well. The moisture within the dough will become steam in the lidded vessel and this creates the characteristic holey texture of the sourdough bread.
Preheat your oven to 220C. Place the baking vessel into the oven to pre-heat as the oven warms up.
When hot, remove the baking vessel from the oven, take the lid off and sprinkle the base of it with flour to prevent the loaf from sticking.
Turn your dough out of the proving vessel into the baking vessel so that the underside of the loaf (the seeded side, if you have used seeds) is topmost. For a really delicious crust sprinkle with a little more sea salt.
Score the top of the loaf with a sharp blade such as a razor blade which can be attached to a lame which is a purpose-made handle for the job. You can make a simple single line score, or a cross, or any other pattern you like.
Put the lid back onto the baking vessel and put the loaf into the hot oven to bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes the loaf is ‘set’.
You can now remove the lid to let the loaf brown and the crust crisp up. Bake for another 25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool for at least an hour before slicing into it. Tempting though it might be, to slice into the loaf before it is cool will result in a squishy loaf.
Eat and enjoy!