On March 29th George Grassie of Blackwater Bakehouse came to the Corrie Zero Waste Cafe to give a sourdough bread making demonstration to 22 keen bakers.

This is a recollection of that demonstration which will inevitably have missed some of the expertise that George conveyed but it should hopefully give you an idea of how inspiring and educational it was!

The bread making demonstration began with an overview of the difference between commercial flour products, the loaves we have in the supermarket and real breads. Real breads utilize more of the wheat plant, meaning they are more nutrient dense. Well made ones use quality organically grown wheat processed into flour through stone milling. The quality of the bread is only as good as the quality of the flour so wherever possible invest in good strong bread flour. 

George giving the bread making demonstration in Corrie.
George giving the bread making demonstration in Corrie.

(Bay Stores in Whiting Bay stocks a range and the Zero Waste Cafe currently has the Shipton Mill organic strong white bread flour which the Bakehouse uses!)

The bread making process

George mixed a dough using the ‘bakers ratio’ of:

100% dough

70% water

20% starter

2% salt

These ratios can be applied to any amount of flour and then the others worked out from there. 1kg of flour would make two large loaves of sourdough, ample amounts to feed a family of 4 for a week. The mix is brought together to form a shaggy and wet dough. We learnt that you shouldn’t flour your surface as when you do you are changing the ratio. This affects the rise and resulting density of the bread, hardening it. A dough scraper is key here to manoeuvring the dough off the surface to prevent it from sticking.

The dough softens through the kneading process. George, who must make hundreds of loaves every week, made this part look very easy! The dough was lifted and folded (quite aggressively with a ‘slap’ onto the mixing surface!) and then scraped and turned and repeated many times until it began to smooth. The dough always has a smooth top side and stickier bottom side. Kneading relaxes the glutens in the dough and aerates it. George explained that you should only handle/ mix the dough in the first hour after you’ve brought it together. After that it is fermenting and ‘alive’ and you want to leave it to get on with this process.

Watching George 'slapping' the dough was a highlight of the bread making demonstration!
Watching George ‘slapping’ and scrapping the dough was a highlight of the bread making demonstration!

The dough is left to ferment in a lightly floured cheesecloth lined bread basket overnight smooth side down. He’d brought one he’d prepared the day before so we could see, and touch, to tell the difference between the two. The one which had been left overnight felt, as someone described, marshmallowey and looked distinctly different from the fresher one. We were curious to know how long it took to get to this stage and it turns out there is no prescriptive answer! George explained that the environment in which you leave the dough to ferment impacts how long it takes. For example doughs he’d make in a previous bakery rested very differently to those he makes in Blackwaterfoot! The moisture, temperature, ventilation etc within a given room impact the process but as a general rule (and thankfully for us keen learners!) you should leave it overnight.

At this stage the fermented dough is turned out sticky side down, as the smooth side of the dough forms the crust, onto a surface. It can then be portioned i.e into multiple loaves, bread rolls etc but it should NOT be kneaded again as this would ‘knock the life out’ of it. Once it’s portioned and shaped it should be left to prove for another 2 hours or so. 

What to bake with the dough?

We learnt that the easiest bread to make at home is the Italian focaccia. A baking sheet/ shallow tray is oiled liberally with olive oil and the dough is place on it and topped with any delicious toppings of your choice. For the demonstration we had a mixture of olives, herbs and lemon rind. Fabulous! The toppings are pressed into the dough (as otherwise they would pop out when baking) and the dough is gently spread onto the baking sheet. The dough shouldn’t be forced or torn as this will impact how it bakes and affect the resulting texture.

This was then put into the oven on its hottest setting for 20-25 mins. Whilst the focaccia was baking George did a Q&A and explained how a sourdough starter can be made (there are many, many ways so google and find an easy recipe that appeals to you!). After the 25 minutes out came an airy and crisp loaf of focaccia which the group got to sample. Absolutely delicious!

It was a pleasure to hear about bread making from such an expert. George’s descriptions demystified the process and made it seem a simple and achievable task to make sourdough bread at home! Though if it’s not something you’re up for trying then we thankfully have the Blackwater Bakehouse on Arran to do the work for us. If by some chance you haven’t been there yet then go and get yourself some delicious bread!  

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