Sourdough Rising: The Home Artisan Bread Baking Revolution

I used to love family holidays as a kid. Every year, we’d drive down to Busselton and stay at a cottage in a beach-front ‘resort’ called Glenleigh, named after the owner’s daughters (yep, Glen and Leigh). They were enchanted summers. The old steam train in the park we’d clamber over until we became too old yet eyed off with enduring affection every time we passed it, the best pies I have ever tasted (still!), that endless mythic jetty, drive-in movies, raspberry squashes in frosty pilsener glasses from the Ship Hotel, and of course, sun sun sun, sand sand sand, sea sea sea…these are cherished memories.

If this post was about those good ol’ days at Busselton, I could rattle away effortlessly for hours. But it’s not, so I won’t. Besides, it wasn’t all good.

There were the hated swimming lessons, and stingers that invaded the bay in such numbers as to ruin the beach on some days. There were family squabbles and annoying excursions to scenic locales that I saw as merely depriving us of valuable time at the seaside. The worst aspect of these outings was lunchtime. Never was one for sitting on rugs on the gravelly ground of some national park BBQ area, battling swarming flies and resentful bull ants while my unappreciated and often irritated mother doled out her elaborately prepared esky tucker. So irksome were these outings to me that I ended up with “issues” about picnics and families that remain to this day.

One of the few upsides to those dreaded family excursions was the bread we’d buy in the then tiny towns of Dunsborough and Augusta.

They stood tall, those country loaves, domed crusts rising aloofly out of the ubiquitous white tissue paper the bakeries used as wrapping back then. On the way back to Busselton the car would be filled with an aroma that spoke in pure poetry of the treat to come after dinner that evening: homemade fig jam spread lavishly on thick slices of that beautiful pillowy white bread with unhealthy excesses of real country cream poured over. That was one of the great gastronomic experiences of my childhood.

On the melancholy trip back to Perth and the looming beginning of a new school year, we’d stop in at the bakery in Bridgetown, Capel or Boyanup to pick up a couple of their loaves – and when that was gone, that was it for another year. Back to tank loaves and sliced sandwich bread, and other unremarkable city bakery produce.

Was that country bread really as good as I recall it? I cannot know, but I do know that many years were to pass before a truly revelatory bread experience set me on the road to bread obsession. It was 1983-84, during a year in Germany, when I came to understand what great bread truly was. I am speaking mostly of sourdough – naturally leavened bread, largely unheard of in Australia at that time.

I returned to my home country singing the praises of the German bread in operatically emphatic tones. No one cared much to engage with me on this. Bread was just bread to most folk, it seemed. I probably would have felt the same without my German bread encounters. How do you appreciate great bread without having tried it? Whatever, no one shared my fervour.

Fast-forward. Bakeries specializing in sourdough bread can now be found all over the country, but they’re far from prolific. On this side of the country, the New Norcia bakery, originally a monastery bakery run by monks, has the highest profile, but it services a yuppie demographic and is positioned as a high-end boutique establishment that also serves up coffees and expensive pastries and lunches. Sourdough is a long way yet from establishing itself here as the quality bread of choice of the masses, as is the case in Germany and some other European countries.

It might come as a surprise to many, then, to learn that Australia, with the US, is leading a sourdough bread revolution!

Have a listen to this podcast, which is a recording of a segment on the sourdough bread movement broadcast on ABC Rural Radio’s Bush Telegraph program in August 2009. No longer archived onsite, the recording was kindly forwarded to me by a staff member.

ABC Rural Radio Bush Telegraph program (‘Food On Friday’ segment, Aug 09): The Sourdough Bread Movement (duration 18 minutes)
[podcast]http://www.boomtownrap.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/ABC-radio-sourdough-segment-MP31.mp3[/podcast]

The artisan bread movement as described in that segment is good news indeed, but the emphasis is on professional bakeries. Far more exciting for me is the home artisan bread baking scene – and that’s what I’m referring to when I claim that a revolution is underway.

Revolution? Un peu dramatique, non? Well, no. Baking sourdough bread at home has changed my life. And I see the home artisan bread baking movement as part of a larger shift that has the capacity to change lives en masse – very much for the better.

Sustainable gardening practices utilizing drought-acclimatised native plants, the mass return to home vegetable gardening, backyard chooks and frog ponds, the slow food movement (albeit hijacked by trendy well-heeled foodie types in this part of the world), the surge in interest in home cooking (often misguided, unfortunately, as a result of TV programs that present a cheffy perspective of food and cooking), environmentally informed architecture, the push towards renewable energy – all this adds up to a new world view, no less. And it’s one that is whiteanting the established order on many fronts: mass-manufactured convenience food, industrial utilitarianism and the many sins it attempts to justify, consumerism by default, to name a few. I’m talking subversion by stealth, by evolutionary mass-awareness that I think and hope is building to an unstoppable momentum, that offers a new order far healthier, far more individually driven, nourishing and satisfying, than ever before. That’s revolution.

And it’s something I’m proud to be part of. My ideological proselytizing stops here, but home baking of sourdough bread? I haven’t even started! Stay tuned.

And in the meantime, enjoy a bit of bread porn. This is a small sample of the loaves I have baked in recent months. Be impressed, by all means (I am!), but be aware – results like these are easily achievable by anyone. All you need is a bit of cheap, basic equipment, flour, and some know-how (all covered in the next post).

norwich SD blog size

pain au levain blog size

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Related posts:

  • Song Of A Baker
  • My New Favourite Home-baked Sourdough Bread – Simple, But Special!
  • Baking Sourdough Bread At Home: A Beginner’s Guide
  • Sourdough Pizzas – As Good As Home Oven Pizzas Get!

  • 4 thoughts on “Sourdough Rising: The Home Artisan Bread Baking Revolution”

    1. Thank you – the radio item is still very relevant so thank you for having it on your blog. I’m new to breadmaking and still at the stage with my sourdough of wondering if it is worth the effort! I know it is sacreligious to say such a thing but like I say, I am at an early stage. So it was interesting to hear that the sourdough does not have to taste sour.

      Great to see the pics of your breads – too true to call it bread porn!

    2. Hi Doris, and thanks for your comments.

      You can make SD bread-making as complex or simple as you like. I’ve developed a routine now that requires very little hands-on time. Most of the time is taken up with proofing, and the final proof takes place in the fridge overnight while I’m asleep!

      For the rest of it, it’s mostly just sitting around watching TV or whatever and just keeping an eye on the clock to do a stretch-and-fold 3 times during the bulk proof period. After that, 5 mins to preshape, wait another 15 mins, then 2 mins for the final shape. Baking next day: 45mins.

      I’ll post my routine and current favourite recipe if you like, but maybe you’re well on your way to developing your own. Another great aspect to home-baked bread: you can customise the bread and the process to suit yourself!

      And yes, SD bread does NOT have to be sour. In fact, most isn’t! I think that sour expectation can be traced to the traditional San Francisco sourdoughs, which are atypical. SD bread was an intrinsic part of the Euro diet long before SF branded sourdough as its own.

      In Germany, for example, every corner bakery has dozens of varieties of sourdough breads, and during a year I spent in Munich and Cologne back in the 80s, I can’t recall any of the wonderful breads I tried being sour. I’d be changing process or recipe, or both, if my breads came out thus. A slight tang is fine, but no more than that for me! Indeed, most of my breads don’t even have a sour tang. They do have deep, complex, lovely flavours, though – that’s my main aim with my bread-baking.

      I really hope you do decide SD is worth the effort. I haven’t bought a loaf for 4 years now, and apart from when away on holidays, I don’t see any reason to do so. Just give it a bit of time, develop a bread and routine to suit you and your schedule, and I’m sure there’ll be no going back for you, either.

      To be honest, when I look at the pics of my breads above, I cringe a bit. I thought they were fine at the time I wrote the post, but things move on, even without you noticing. You can definitely be turning out breads that look at least as good as those of mine above in a very short time, if you keep baking regularly.

      In fact, looking at your blog, you’re pretty close right now!

      Also, you’ll probably find your taste changes as your baking develops and you become acquainted with multiple styles and qualities of bread. That dense quality of the crumb your son likes, for example, is generally not something SD artisan bakers aspire to. Most of us like a more open, irregular crumb. But of course, each to their own.

      Great if you could stay in touch and keep me updated on your progress.

      Cheers!
      rolanstein

    3. I am so glad I clicked on the button to be updated if there were any further comments to your thread! Thank you so very much for your response. It is about getting a routine I can see that and in other ways when I am doing yeast baking I do not sweat the small stuff and fit it because I know say, I have these few hours and can complete. Whereas with the sourdough, it does take overnght and whatnot. The recipe I was using suggested it could take over three days but our place is very warm and it was done in 24 hours which I was worried that was not right but I suppose if the dough has done what it has needed to do then it is ready. Or maybe I ought to be using the refrigerator for part of the process to slow it down – I think I read on your blog that you do that, or somewhere else. I’ve been reading a lot which I think you may recognise having gone down that process.

      Coming back to finding a routine: I recognise what you say that the time is not spent nursemaiding and you can get on with other things. However, I am working all sorts of funny hours and I especially waited until this Bank Holiday weekend so that I would have a couple of non-working days to see a loaf through. You have already posted about making sourdough but if your routine has changed significantly then I think it would be really useful to post an update as it would help me and likely others on this journey. I am at my usual of naturally waking up at or just before 6am and thinking what can I bake this morning! And although I didn’t decide last night, I took my sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and intended to see what else you had made with sourdough besides bread and try that – pancakes/drop scones come to mind! Simply to see what the taste is like. (I am so surprised I have not put on any weight from this home baking lark!)

      Interesting you mention the German thing considering I have friends there and been a frequent visitor. Although I always loved the German baked goods and breads my awareness was not there for sourdough in the past. We are planning a visit in July.

      Aha! So you mention that ones taste changes. I thought that might be the case. I guess it is about becoming in tune with bread what it is and what it tastes like and depth of flavour. I’ve made some really nice breads lately though I noticed that sometimes there was a lack of depth. Something is propelling me on with the sourdough – after all my sourdough has been nurtured and looked after in the hopes of the eureka moment.

      I look forward to any further bread posts from you and meanwhile will read again what you have written. I haven’t yet made pizza with yeast and so I’ll go straight to making sourdough pizza with your encouragement. Thanks!

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