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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 😉
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.