For my birthday this year I requested a cooking class. When my family asked what they should purchase, this was the best thing I could think of for a gift – a chance to do something fun and learn some new skills. I had a look around (online) at the very many different options available, but in the end chose the Saturday Night, Sunday Morning class at my local bakery – Small Food. The class lasts over 2 days. You spend Saturday afternoon and evening in the bakery and then return on Sunday morning. During this time, you learn loads about sourdough, fermentation, lamination, flour, yeast and sourdough starters. It was a fantastic way to spend (most of) a weekend. Because we learnt so much (and I took so many photos, most of which I want to share), I’ve written two different posts: this one is all about making bread and Part II is all about laminated dough (croissants and pastries).
Saturday afternoon began with the participants (six of us) sitting down with Kim (the owner) over coffee to talk about the plan for the weekend, and sourdough starters – the starting point for any sourdough baking. Kim had sent instructions for preparing a starter and everyone had a version of one with them. My starter actually comes from Small Food, as I had no luck trying to start my own last year and I have been caring for it for a number of months. As such, the flavour and smell is very developed – it smells very fruity, mostly of apples and has a wonderful cider-y (ferment-y), apple-y taste. Did you know you can taste your starter? I had no idea until this weekend when we shared our starters around the table, tasting and comparing them. Some were young, creamy and yoghurty; others, like mine, were more sour, with fruit notes. There is no ‘right’ taste to a starter, it all depends on the flours you’ve used, the water and the yeasts in the local air.
Ovens to covet at Small Food Bakery
Then it was straight into work! We began by making a large sourdough mixture, enough to generate four different loaves (for taking home) and two small(ish) pizza bases that we were to eat on Saturday evening. One of the reasons I love making sourdough is getting my hands into the dough, incorporating the flour, water and starter, squidging the mixture between my fingers, feeling and hearing the dough change shape, watching as it absorbs the water and changes into something malleable and usable.
Once we had our bulk dough made – you basically work the mixture until it forms a shaggy dough and has absorbed all the water – we put them into clear tubs and placed them in a proofer (of sorts) to relax. This is called the autolyse stage and allows the dough to absorb water and also lets the gluten relax. Then we mixed up a 100% rye dough from which we made rye loaves and crisp breads. The rye loaf doesn’t require any kneading. You just mix the dough and scoop it into the tin (scooping being the operative word here as the dough is very wet). Then you proof it very slowly at room temperature before retarding the rise in the fridge overnight.
All this physical work was broken by much coffee and cake. Sarah is the cake queen at the bakery and she had whipped up banana and macadamia loaf cake with cream cheese icing, orange and poppyseed cookies, and chocolate chip and lemon shortbreads. (She also screenprinted the fabulous aprons we got to use over the weekend and have now taken home.) After our tea break, it was time to prepare dinner and flavour our loaves.
Once autolyse stage is finished, you add in more water and salt, squidging this into the dough until all the water is absorbed and you can no longer feel the salt. We then rested the dough again before starting to perform the ‘turns’ which add structure to sourdough and ensure it doesn’t just collapse and seep all over the counter when you’re trying to shape it. These turns are completed at half hour intervals, so in-between we had time to think about flavourings for our breads. We all made a Radford Wild and a beetroot sourdough. I then made an olive, chilli and seed bread, and a chocolate, fig and pistachio one. When all the doughs were flavoured and resting once more, we turned our attention to dinner.
Bubbles forming in the sourdough
Turning the dough on top of itself
Flavouring the dough
Dinner was sourdough pizza. Each pizza was formed of 250g of dough weight. Nathan provided instructions on how to thin out the dough into something that resembled pizza and then we were given free range to create pizza toppings. They were all baked in the large ovens before being sliced and shared amongst all of us.
I made a potato pizza with creme fraiche and a butternut, onion, mozzarella and chilli pizza that was super thin and crispy. (Potato pizza looks beautiful once baked as the edges of the potatoes crisp up and brown, making the whole thing look a little like fish scales.) There was green salad and wine (and beer), and lots of conversation about food and drink. It was rather hard to muster the energy to stand up again to do more shaping but the loaves were in need of attention!
After dinner we focused on preparing our sourdough loaves. The flavoured doughs had been proofing whilst we ate and were ready to be turned out, bench rested and then folded to provide structure and strength in the baking process. These are then tipped into sourdough baskets (lined with cornmeal) and left overnight in the fridge.
The next morning, we returned to the bakery to bake off all the bread loaves. Kim illustrated how to score the loaf – this has to be done so the loaf can expand whilst it cooks. If you don’t score it, the loaf will simply expand where it wants. By scoring it, the baker is guiding the expansion in a particular way. Scoring a loaf takes confidence. If you are too hesitant you will damage the structure and affect the aesthetic appearance too.
Once the loaf is scored, it goes into the oven where it bakes until a dark golden brown. The bread bakes directly on the base of the oven which is stone and therefore incredibly hot.
Whilst our sourdough loaves were baking, we made stencils for our rye loaves. Stencils are a fun way to decorate loaf-style breads and everyone got to create their own ‘logo’ of sorts for their rye bread.
The last activity with the rest of the rye dough was to make crispbreads. Kim says she came up with these by accident, after over-fermenting a dough but they remind me a lot of lavash and I suspect are fantastic with hummus. The rye dough is formed into sausage-like logs, using water on your hands and on the work surface (so quite messy to recreate at home). The logs are sliced into 2cm long pieces and these are massaged out onto baking paper until incredibly thin and delicate. You can flavour them pretty much any way you see fit – salt, herbs, seeds and the like. They are baked directly onto the base of the oven until crisps – about 7 minutes.
I had an epic weekend. There is nothing I love more than spending time with other food people, talking about food, eating, making food. Superb birthday present (thanks to Mom and the Princess!)
Small Food Bakery
Primary, 33 Seely Road, Nottingham
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning workshop costs £190. There are places available on the July and September workshops.