Sourdough Bread Baking Workshop

Sourdough bread baking workshop

It was off to Mooladhara, for a sourdough bread baking workshop. Mooladhara, nestled in the tranquil foothills of the Watagan mountains is the rustic abode of Warwick Quinton.

Warwick is an artisan baker. A master craftsman of bread in a world that doesn’t know what real bread is anymore due to corporations’ greed to bulk produce, cut out the time needed for fermentation and I won’t even go into the unethical agricultural and milling methods of grains.

sourdough workshop
sourdough workshop at Mooladhara
sourdough workshop
Outside the bakery trailer, Gypsy which holds Luna the oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has contributed to much modern day woes such as gluten intolerancy, irritable bowel syndrome, candidiasis, Crohn’s disease, bloating stomach and many other diseases.

This word “artisan baker” has been exploited so much for marketing purposes today that the true meaning of the word is lost on the world until… you meet the real deal.

Warwick Quinton is the real deal. He ventured into sourdough baking in 1985 when there was no internet. He had to scour bookshops, libraries, health food stores and hippy kitchens to learn more about sourdough bread.

For centuries bakers have used nothing but sourdough starter to bake bread. The starter is nothing but flour and water that combusts over time into a bubbly blob caused by the voracious appetite of wild yeast and bacteria which are present all around us.

sourdough sciatta

 

sourdough workshop
pre-prepared dough

The problem with using nothing but starter is the difficulty in obtaining consistency in the end result because there are so many variables.

So commercial bakers look for shortcuts which will eventually hurt your health. But a Master baker knows how to work with these variables to consistently produced not only great tasting bread but bread that is good for your health.

Warwick’s “school” is a rudimentary, outdoor, makeshift classroom. We all gathered onto an elevated wooden platform for our sourdough bread baking workshop. There, prepared dough inside rectangular plastic containers awaited us, on long tables.

“The dough you see have been left in the fridge to ferment for 8 hours now. In my house we usually eat bread that has been fermented on average 14 hours,” Warwick informs his students, many of whom have traveled down from Sydney to learn from this sourdough guru.

Ever since Warwick turned his back on the corporate lifestyle of trying to bake in bulk while still staying true to his conventional methods, he has been happier as he has been able to concentrate on the craft rather than the “business”.

We had two dough to work with that day. One that Warwick had made and let rest for eight hours which we were to shape and slash and bake and take home by the end of the day. The other was the dough we had to prepare from scratch.Sourdough class

It was a very hands-on workshop with everyone getting a chance to knead, shape, slash while at the same time concentrating on his vigorous scribbling of invaluable information on the blackboard from pre-ferments to the various types of ovens and even how to modify your home kitchen oven for the best bread-baking experience!

Speaking of ovens, there was Luna, looming over our class eagerly waiting to devour our hand-crafted balls of dough. It seemed so surreal having a bread-baking class surrounded by nature and sounds of wildlife. Yet so apt as that was why we were all there.

Sourdough workshop
Adding the soaked wheat berries

To salvage the reputation of this “staff of life” that commercial industry has ruined to the point many people don’t even know what true bread tastes like. As Warwick said, “And that’s what I’ve learned about bread-making -it’s a confidence trick. But it’s so much harder now – we’re surrounded by ‘food porn’ on every newsagent’s window and our TV screens. We are spoilt for choice through the proliferation of Artisan Bakeries which seem to spring up in every town and suburb. Everybody knows what great bread looks and tastes like. Or at least they think they do. That’s until they try just one loaf of amazing home-made sourdough bread.”

I found several students at the workshop were not just there for the rustic allure of a bread-baking course in the wilderness. Not even for serious concerns about health, but those who actually liked the taste of rich, elemental sourdough bread. So much for the over-rated phrase, “Something that tastes this good, can’t be good for you.”

sourdough baking
Loading the dough into Gypsy the oven

One student was an old client who unabashedly admitted he follows Warwick wherever he moves his bakery. The workshop was a birthday gift from his children (probably because he is a big fan). He finally got to see what it takes to produce the loaves he loves so much. It takes a lot of time and care which the profit hungry bakeries of our era have replaced with production-line-factory-bread.

Finally it was time to fire up Luna while we added pre-soaked wheat berries to our dough and gave it a last round of thumping…oops, kneading 🙂 although Warwick did demonstrate a slap and twist technique I found quite appealing to relief stress.

Luna, the grand princess seated inconspicuously in her carriage, or rather bakery trailer, waiting to wave her flaming wand over plain dough and turn them into incredulous bread.

Ever the environmentalist, Warwick even uses old, stale bread as fuel for Luna. Yayyy! Thumbs up for Warwick.

Warwick’s only passion that can be said to rival that of sourdough baking is his love for building woodfire ovens. Luckily, they complement each other 😉

Check out his sourdough bread ovens; and for a quick oven demonstration.

At the end of a full day’s workshop we all went home with one still warm bread birthed from Luna’s belly and dough we made from scratch to bake at home.

Bell pepper on toast1

 

Orange Raisin Bread

 Orange Raisin Bread 4

Orange Raisin Bread

Ingredients

All my bread uses only wild yeast. So please read Baking With Sourdough Starter if you are not familiar with starters before you follow any bread recipe on this site

Mix sourdough to orange juice
Mix sourdough to orange juice

200 gms active sourdough starter

250 ml orange juice ( 1 cup)

125 ml water (1/2 cup)

600 gms wholemeal flour (4 cups)

150 gms chickpea flour (1 cup)

1/4 – 1/2 cup raisins as you prefer

Method

Mix orange juice and water together. Add active sourdough starter to this. Knead the dough. Incorporate the raisins into the kneading until it is properly distributed into the bread. Leave at least four hours to prove. After proving you are ready to shape it. Leave the shaped dough anywhere from 30 mins to an hour [depending on how warm your kitchen is] for the final rise. Upon the final rise, place it in a very hot oven with a temperature of 230°C for 10 mins. Then reduce the temperature to 200°C and allow to bake for a further 15 – 20 mins. Bakes an 1 kg loaf.

Orange Raisin Bread 2

 

Juicing: Hype or Holy Grail

Juicing to aid the digestive system

green juice

During my trip to Chennai, India in June 2015, I was sipping on what the hotel staff called a cooling drink and became inspired to put down my thoughts on juicing. This cooling drink is called Jaljeera. Mint, tamarind, fennel, black pepper, cumin. The initial taste does feel cool and soothing on the throat and not till you finish the drink do you get the spicy aftertaste at the end. Nice touch.

My pet peeve with juicing is that so much hype surrounds it that you have to shift through the chaff to get to the Holy Grail.

Yet I would say if I had to conclude on the single most important equipment in my kitchen, it would be the juicer. It would not be for taste either. It is exclusively for health reasons.

Our body needs living enzymes to break down the nutrients in the food that we eat so that our body can easily digest it. When we cook the food much of these enzymes are lost. By drinking juices in the morning, you are providing the body these much needed enzymes to prepare the digestive system to function smoothly for the rest of the day when we consume cooked food as most people do.

If the body does not have this, it will draw from our internal storage of enzymes. This will mean there will be a lack of enzymes for other important functions of the body, most importantly  to rejuvenate and rebuild damaged cells.

Everything I prepare is driven to achieve the best in taste and health — except for juicing. Juicing is solely for health and when the mainstream make it for taste I find myself dismissing all their marketing ploy as just another health buzz. Health buzzes annoy me. They give people a false sense of assurance.

Juicing pumpkin leaves
Juicing choko celery and pumpkin leaves

At home, on the farm, we drink juices five times a week which I make with my Vitality4Life Oscar 900 juicing machine. In the morning I would forage my garden for fruits and vegetables to juice. Due to the high content of sugar in fruits it is best to have a higher ratio of vegetables.

You could make an all-veggie juice but avoid making an all fruit juice. I drink one 400 ml glass a day and that is enough to get a good nutritional boost as most of us cannot eat as much fruit and vegetables as we should in a day.

My concoctions are usually not something you would like to be sipping on over an hour. When you juice bitter melon leaves, kale, pumpkin leaves, rhubarb and celery [not all combined together because each one is overpowering] the taste is not something to relish. Instead, you gulp it down. Even when you mix them with orange and rock melons and tomatoes, the dominant taste of these leaves can be quite pronounced.

For instance home-grown celery is very different from commercial celery. Home-grown celery could have a bitter taste. Commercial celery is usually sweeter. The stalks are a lighter colour because they are protected from the sun by mounding dirt around the entire plant so that only the leaves remain exposed. Stalks also get blanched by wrapping them with newspaper. I prefer to leave my celery alone as darker celery is said to be more nutritious.juicing oranges rhubarb celery

You can dilute your juice with water or add sweet fruits and vegetables like oranges and carrots to balance out the bitterness. One healthy glass of juice is definitely worth the discomfort when you get to eat delicious but healthy food for the rest of the day.

While people may be drawn to juice bars for health [or could it be hype?], I doubt there would be a bee-line if the bars compromised on taste.

Today there are even juice recipes available online. Frankly, unless you are treating a particular illness and your list is prepared by a nutritionist solely to treat that illness, don’t go seeking recipes for juicing.

You just tie yourself down to standard formulas and then you get stressed when one or two ingredients listed are not available in your fridge. Sometimes you get caught up with the latest craze, such as Acai berry and end up including that in every single juice you make as though leaving it out will somehow diminish the power of your juice.

Let juicing be fun. Go with the variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Keep changing the combination so your body is exposed to a myriad of nutrition. And always be sure to include one or two different herbs or spice like cinnamon or even alfalfa powder for a potent blend. As I have lemongrass and ginger growing in my garden, they are my favourite choices.

Essentially juicing machines can be divided into two types. A masticating juicer that gently presses and thereby retains the fibre. A centrifugal juicer that tears and during this process of ripping and shredding much fibre is lost.

My Vitality4Life Oscar 900 is a masticating juicer which cold presses the produce at 200 rpm or less. Centrifugal juices can move from 1000 to 30,000 rpm. Its high speed blade creates friction heat and destroys vital nutrients. The high speed also intensifies oxidization. This is why browning of the juice from a centrifugal occurs very quickly.

cold-press-juicers-vitality4life

A masticating juicer is also the only kind that can get the best extraction from dark, leafy greens such as kale and spinach. Avoid juicing carrot tops and beetroot leaves as they are high in oxalic acid. This acid binds with the calcium in the gut and interferes with the absorption of it and other minerals.

The added advantage of a good masticating juicer is that it can also produce nut butters and nut milk. In Chennai I find badam milk or almond milk very popular on the menus of restaurants and they are usually served up with a dash of cardamom.

Corporate crowd in the city are fond of stopping at juice bars to get their nutritional fix. Most of these juice bars however have a centrifugal. The reasons for these could be because it is faster to make, quicker to clean and also the juice is thinner. As a masticating juicer produces more fibre the juice is thicker and while you can easily dilute at home if this bothers you, it is not practical to do this at a shop.

As consumers grow more health savvy, they are dictating to the market what they would like to spend their money on. And the city of Chennai does not lack health savvy professionals. Juice producing companies such as Relish are thriving. Relish is a healthy alternative to a typical juice bar, the brainchild of a former banker and his wife. It supplies fresh, cold-pressed juice, nut milk and smoothies to people across Chennai on a subscription basis (minimum of 12 servings). Their cold press machine exerts hydraulic pressure on the fruit and no heat is generated. Their juices are 80 – 90% vegetable based with a low glycaemic index. Another company in Chennai called Splash offers 70 types of fusion juices and supplies also to schools.

For those who are busy this might be a viable options. If you choose this option make sure the fruits and vegetables juiced are fresh and organic.

The best way is still to make it yourself at home because juices oxidize quickly. Even when fresh produce are cold pressed ideally it is best to consume it immediately. If you keep it in a fridge, drink it within 48 hours and put it in an air-tight container.

If you are juicing organic fruits and vegetables you can safely juice them with the skin but if they are not organic, you may want to remove the skin before you juice.

I start each day with the juice of half a lemon in hot water and have nothing else for at least half an hour (if you do this, do rinse your mouth or brush your teeth to remove the acidic effect of lemon on your teeth).  I have this in addition to my regular juice.  You may opt just for the regular juice. Only 400 ml for a boost that will give you peace of mind that you are well on your way to a balanced diet for the rest of day.