StoriesWarwick Quinton

My Glorious Sourdough Obsession

StoriesWarwick Quinton
My Glorious Sourdough Obsession

It's actually quite difficult to choose the point where normal existence ceased and my baking obsession took over. But that's what happened. One day, or it could have been many days, a bit at a time, I became more interested in making bread than just about anything else. 

I think it was the challenge of getting it to actually work. Making sourdough isn't like normal baking - you don't just add some mysterious powder and viola! Fresh bread! One starts with so many variables, it's almost impossible to conceive how these can be brought into line to actually produce a consistent loaf each time.

In my case, back in 1985 when I was experimenting with making bread truly from scratch (no yeast), there was a dearth of material to draw from. I might point out that the internet did not exist - and this in itself is sublimely salient, in as much as information gathering was a whole different ball game.  One had to scour bookshops, libraries, health food stores and hippy kitchens to get stuff about sourdough bread.

And scour, I did. And experiment - which to this day I still do.

In terms of scouring, even the word 'sourdough' had not even been adopted in those days. In San Fransisco, and possibly in France, they were using it, but here in Australia 'sourdough' was a baker's term describing dough which had become overripe. Needless to say, it didn't go with 'bread', as had been done overseas to describe this particular method of leavening.

Interestingly, I discovered that Australian bakers commonly used 'sour dough' as an additive to their dough to make it ripen more quickly, and to save money on what was an expensive ingredient, yeast. 

Those of us prone to experimenting were keen on various techniques to make bread rise without commercial yeast, and the idea of making a 'sour dough' at that time didn't appeal. Personally, I was keen on the term 'naturally leavened' - and I went about playing with various methods.

In the process, I've embarked on a lifelong journey of discovery, beginning with fermentation and flour, and getting caught up with sustainability, organics, alternative business, community enterprise, thermal engineering, teaching and off the grid technologies along the way. 

I was lucky to have been introduced to 'The Natural Tucker Bread Book' by John Downes, a seminal work by an Australian author. I think it was given to me by a girlfriend with a Candida Albicans condition, who didn't have the head for recipes. It might have been here when the first tinges of this glorious obsession started to manifest. One forgets failures in general, but these I remember well. That's because at the time they represented enourmous triumphs. Make no mistake - they were indeed and actual failures. But we trick ourselves, and thus we provide the necessary confidence to have another crack at it.

 And that's what I've learned about breadmaking - it's a confidence trick. But it's so much harder now - we're surrounded by 'food porn' on every newsagent's window and on 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.

Back in 1985, I had the element of surprise on my side. No one knew what this stuff should or could look like - or taste like. There were no rules at all - no expectations, no 'supermodels' to compare with. So I just did what I thought might work, and people simply responded with their vote of confidence in the flavour I managed to create. I didn't have to jump as high as you do now, because now there are expections to fulfil, images of rustic, perfect sourdough breads to set the bar almost impossibly high. Failure really does loom large, and I hear so many keen home bakers tell me they just found the sourdough thing a bit tricky and shelved the idea.

Thus, Not just recipes. Not just information. There will be different ways to do things, ways that you might like to try, if for no other reason than to come on a journey of discovery, where you get to savour and enjoy the fruits of your labour along the way. Practical stuff too, which will help you fit sourdough and artisan breadmaking into your domestic routine. Alternatives which explore other ways of making bread in the traditional manner - some old fashioned baker's tricks which are still used today, as well as some which have passed by the wayside in the quest for 'rapid dough', and 'no time dough', and ways to hasten us all along to an early grave.

I'll have none of it here. Nothing of substance was ever built in a day. If you would like to learn how to make real sourdough bread in a hands on, workshop setting, follow the link to the School of Sourdough to find out more. 

The school has been set up to teach two types of bakers; keen home bakers, who have realised that the fastest and best way to learn bread making is through actually doing it; and people who want to make dough so they can make some dough. Sorry. I was going to say 'people who want to make some bread to make their bread', but I thought that might be too cheesy. Anyway, have a look at the website and you will find things for all levels of baker there.