CRAFT Workshop - Introduction to Sourdough

I decided to take one of CRAFT’s bread baking workshop this weekend, and to be honest, I was a little intimidated. Bread baking is not like a lot of other types of baking. I come from a pastry background where precise measurements and avid rule following get you a great product, but with bread baking, that is not the case. Following the instructions does not guarantee you a beautiful loaf of bread. Bread baking is more unpredictable, it requires a certain intuition on the part of the baker and a familiarity with what the dough should feel like and how it reacts to certain factors.  

For me, a Type-A rule follower who likes clear cut instructions, I needed someone to break me out of my mold. Taking a class with a professional baker seemed to be the best way to break down my fears of making mistakes and gain the confidence to get started. I needed to learn from someone who would make me get my hands dirty, struggle my way through the process, and remind me that IT IS OKAY TO FAIL! No one becomes an expert in beautiful bread making overnight. I can attest to this fact as I have made many failed loaves in my past, until now!

Sourdough loaf baked by workshop instructor, Shauna Kearns

Sourdough loaf baked by workshop instructor, Shauna Kearns

The 2-hour class covered the basics of sourdough making, taking care of your sourdough starter, bread shaping and baking, and each participant left the class with starter and an unbaked loaf to bake at home. The class was taught by Shauna Kearns, a graduate of the Chatham Food Studies Masters program and professional baker.

We started the class with a short introduction to the process of sourdough making and a bit about the different types of flours that can be used in the bread making process. After the brief presentation, we jumped into making our own loaf of bread.

Step 1:

The first step to making the bread was mixing poolish with water. Poolish is a substance made of starter, flour, and water. Making poolish is as easy as taking a couple of tablespoons of starter, mixing it with flour and water, and letting it sit at room temperature overnight to allow the bacteria and yeast to multiply. It is the roughly the consistency of kid’s slime yet is bubbly and smells like wonderful yeast.

Step 2:

After mixing the poolish and water, we added our salt and flour. I must have added too much water to flour in my dough though because it was very wet and sticky causing me to have trouble in the next phase!

Step 3:

Once all our ingredients were incorporated, we spent about 10 minutes kneading our bread. After much hard work, we let it rise while Shauna walked us through the next steps. After allowing our bread to rise (ideally for 6-24 hours), we did a portioning and pre-shaping of our dough. This is to tighten the dough and create surface tension on the outside. We then let the dough rest for 20 minutes and returned to it for the final shaping.

Step 4:

The final shaping was where we determined our desired final shape for the bread, which in this case was a batard, an oblong loaf with slightly tapered ends. After resting for another hour, we scored the bread and baked it for 30 minutes.

Sourdough baked by Annalise Winter

Sourdough baked by Annalise Winter

After learning about how to take care of our new sourdough starter at home, our sample loaf of bread came out of the oven and was ready to be tasted. We ended the workshop with a tasting, instructions on baking our loaves at home, and all the tools necessary to implement our knowledge outside the workshop. Taking what I learned, I baked my bread that evening and it turned out to be a very dense loaf with very small air pockets. For a first loaf, it was okay…nothing to show off. However, I spent the next week using my new knowledge from the workshop and made 4 different loaves of bread with my starter, playing with different ratios of flour, moisture levels, and amount of time kneading. By the end of the week, I really got the hang of it and made the best loaf of bread I have ever baked! It was crusty, airy on the inside, and had just the right amount of sourness.

I learned so much from this short workshop and really gained the foundational tools I needed to feel confident in my bread baking adventures. However, my favorite part of the class was interacting with all the people from the community that came to learn about sourdough. I met a wonderful vegan baker, a fourth-grade math teacher who built a brick oven in his backyard, and a professor of chemistry from Chatham University.

Workshop participants mixing dough

Workshop participants mixing dough

There is something so fun and refreshing about learning a new skill with new people who also know nothing about sourdough making. We laughed, made a huge mess, and in the end, we literally broke bread together!

Annalise Winter

Current MAFS Graduate Student , CRAFT Graduate Assistant