Once upon a time I decided that doing a sourdough course was a good idea. That was back in January when I saw a sign at the RedBeard Bakery in Trentham advertising their courses. I took a photo; sent it to my friend Gill; and all of a sudden I was booking us in.
Our course was this past weekend, and it started with RedBeard’s “nice buns” and golly they were nice with a lashing of butter. There were originally nine on the plate….
Next we moved into the baking area and we got stuck into actually making bread. Firstly we made a wholemeal dough, using RedBeard’s own leaven; this involved flour (1kg wholemeal, 200g rye, both stoneground) and water and salt and leaven, and then a lot of kneading. I love kneading; it’s wonderfully cathartic, and although it’s intensive I also found it lulled me with its rhythm. It looked like this, eventually. Very appealing, I think you’ll agree. It was way wetter than any of us (eight people on the day) had expected, which John – head baker and owner and teacher – stressed was incredibly important in creating a good sourdough.
Then it had to rest for a while, so then we had a go at making a white sourdough with a dough that had been started a few hours beforehand by John’s sidekick. When John poured it out of the bucket, it reminded me of nothing else so much as the magic mud of my childhood (it’s all in the meniscus). With that dough we shaped cobs, using these awesome baskets that RedBeard has been using for however many years, and we made Vienna loaves, using their Belgian linen to make sure that the bread didn’t stick and stayed in shape.
These also had to wait for a while, before baking; I think we then had lunch. To be honest, it all blurred together a bit – the order of things, that is – because it was a long day (10am to about 5pm). But I remember lunch very clearly, because it was amazing. There was bread, of course, with lashings of butter; and smashed roast potatoes and garlic; and a great salad with sprouts and lettuce and tomato and seeds; and a truly incredible free-form tart involving leek, goat’s cheese, roast capsicum, and other bits of deliciousness. The whole day was great but lunch was a really delightful moment of sitting down and appreciating food.
After lunch we shaped the wholemeal into three loaf tins. We also got to make our own leaven: potato peel, and rye flour, and water. That’s it. So now I have a leaven that I need to feed ‘for the rest of my natural life…’ – or if I’m going away I either need to phone a friend, or just accept that it’s deaded and I have to make another one. Happily, it only takes about three weeks for a leaven to be ready to use. Given our household doesn’t eat THAT much bread, that’s not so bad.
Eventually it was time to cook the loaves, and that involved the most intimidating part of the day: using paddles and putting the bread into the very large, very hot oven. I didn’t die. No one died. When all of the bread was out, it looked like this. Yes, all of that that bread was shared between eight participants (and John took some too, actually). I came home with seven loaves. I made a lot of people at work quite happy when I gave it to them. (I did, rather guiltily, put a couple of the cobs into the freezer – John said we shouldn’t but I wanted to see what it was like for myself.)
The day wasn’t just about making and cooking bread. John was a wealth of information about the history of the bakery itself and sourdough in general. He’s very dismissive of ordinary yeast bread, rather than fully fermented sourdough, which made me a little dismissive because I do love making ‘normal’ yeast bread. It will be interesting to see whether I give it up in favour of the sourdough completely….
When I got home, we had leftover salad and bread.I now have a list of things I think I need – at least some sort of basket for shaping the cob, because there’s just something about a cob that appeals more than the high tin, for me. I also need to put bricks into the bottom of the oven, in order to increase its thermal mass; this is apparently a good idea for any oven, since it keeps the heat in rather than letting it all whoosh out when you open the order. Happily my darling doesn’t seem to mind the idea.
Edited to add: this is what my leaven looked like when I fed it for the first time, two days later…
Sure hoping that’s ok!