The next definite course is a week-long effort at a castle in Umbria from 30 March to 6 April 2020. Details coming soon. I’ll try to get another one-day course here in Rome organised for January or February 2020.
Excellent day all around. Latteria Studio really is an excellent space in which to cook, to talk and to relax. I got in early this morning to set everything up and get my thoughts in order. It’s a calm time, not quite on auto-pilot but going through a routine I’ve gone through before and which I can do with confidence. So that’s what I did, laying out each person’s space, the communal stuff, checking that we had everything we needed. As start time approached, I turned to get the coffee going and that was the only brief moment of panic. No gas. A quick call later and all was good, with the coffee pot singing its burpalicious little song just as the guests arrived.
We had a quick coffee, went briefly through the outline of the day and got down to work. For the one-day course, I have to make the leaven the day before. There just isn’t time otherwise. I also weigh out the flour to speed things along. Still, there’s enough practice using electonic scales to measure the water and salt, and then its on to mixing and kneading, and getting people used to the idea of using their body weight, not their arms or, worse yet, their fingers. These were accomplished kneaders though, and we soon had three lovely, plump, smooth balls of dough ready to rest and rise.
I then did a quick batch of my focaccia dough, which is very liquid and benefits from 10% wholewheat flour and only 10 gm of olive oil in the mix. I also like to stir some rosemary into the dough because it infuses the whole piece with its aroma.
And then the talk; on leavens, wheat and flour, salt and water and, of course, the magic that turns those into bread. I’m not super good at expressing the motivations of creation and transformation and self-sufficiency, even though I feel them deeply, but I think it comes across. By then it was time for the focaccia to go into the oven, the risen dough to be shaped, and the delicious lunch Alice had prepared. The foccacia did not disappoint.
Proved bread into the oven and more talk touching on the history of the industrial processes that underpin inexpensive supermarket bread, and what we exchange for low cost and convenience.
The pleasure of seeing people take their first loaf out of the oven never leaves me and, I hope, will spur them to continue. Finally, they recite The Pledge as they receive their portion of my starter, just as I recited it when I received my portion a decade or so ago.
Save the Date: 17 November 2019
After offering courses in private homes, this summer saw the first one-day course here in Rome. Latteria Studio provides a beautiful space in which a maximum of six people can share in the joy of homemade sourdough bread. This is first and foremost a practical, hands-on day. However, we use the time while the starter is working its magic to explore the history of wheat and bread and the details of how to care for and use a starter culture.
The first order of business is to make your dough. Step by step, I will guide you through the process, along the way explaining why we do what we do. If you have never made a loaf before you will be amazed at how a little effort transforms four simple ingredients into a living dough. And even if you are an experienced baker, there are bound to be new insights.
The secret of great bread
We’ll talk about that, and while your bread quietly does its thing we’ll also talk about wheat, and flour and sourdough leavens. I’ll demonstrate some other techniques and make the bread we will eat for lunch.
I’ve been baking bread on and off for the past 50 years. Some time before 1989 I made my first sourdough starter, and it has been with me ever since, travelling from Somerset in England to Italy. I’m also a biologist and so I have a good understanding of what is going on in the starter and in the bread.
You will leave with your own delicious loaf of handmade bread, plus:
- a “Tuscan” sourdough starter that may or may not be more than 110 years old;
- instructions on how to feed and care for your starter and how to use it to bake more bread;
- an understanding of why I put “Tuscan” in scare quotes;
- a few other recipes;
- maybe some other treats.
And you will have a great day, with good food, in good company.
The day costs 120€, which includes lunch. All you need to do is turn up. Tickets are 60 € in advance, balance to be paid on the day. Cancel up to 72 hours before for a full refund. There will be gluten.
A couple of weekends ago I gave my first public sourdough class in Rome. We were in the beautiful space of Alice Adams’ Latteria Studio, just off the Viale Trastevere, on what turned out to be almost too beautiful a day. After a cool, damp and long spring, summer had arrived with a bit of a bang, and to be honest I hadn’t made allowances. As a result there were some last-minute adjustments to the timetable, and the bread we made didn’t turn out quite as I expected. But one of the students assured me that it tasted really good, and one can’t argue with that.
We made my standard 50% wholemeal loaf with a leaven, and while the dough did its bulk ferment (far too quickly) talked about the magic that turns flour, water, salt and leaven into bread. I demonstrated sourdough ciabatta, using the double-hydration method. They turned out pretty well, and made a good accompaniment to the super lunch that Alice laid on.
Stepping back from my disappointment that the dough over-proofed, I reckon the day was pretty much a success. Alice’s new oven worked out very well and everyone seemed to have a good time, as proof of which I offer an almost total lack of photographs.
Everyone took home their own copy of “my” starter, having dutifully recited The Pledge, and a copy of the booklet I’ve prepared. I haven’t yet had any complaints.
No firm date yet for the next Rome course; possibly some time in September. Drop me a line if you want to be informed when a date has been fixed. I’m also available to show you how to make sourdough breads in your own kitchen. And next spring, with luck, I’ll be offering a one-week course, complete with several excursions, at an astonishingly beautiful castle between Perugia and Gubbio.
Alas, Coleg Trefeca had to withdraw the course, but I am hopeful that this is a postponement, not a cancellation, so I am leaving this up here as a record. And if you’re interested in hosting something similar, please get in touch.
Want to learn more about bread? And how to bake with traditional leavens? And visit a working watermill?
I will be part of a two-day workshop at Coleg Trefeca in the gorgeous Brecon Beacons in Wales on 23–24 June.
I’ll be working alongside Colin Tudge, one of the most thoughtful writers on farming and agriculture, and Ruth West, who organised the first Rise of Real Bread conference in Oxford and is a force in farmers markets and agroecology.
We’ll be talking about bread itself and as an example of how most food is produced today, with narrowly conceived financial profit as the goal and little regard for the health of people or the planet. Bread offers a chance to look at how we arrived at the wonder of a 36p supermarket loaf and what it would take to put that right.
During the course we will explore the history of bread and milling, modern bread production and who is leading the drive for change, and how a new localised bread culture could change the face of agriculture.
On the second day, at Talgarth Mill, we will see wheat turned into flour and together transform the flour into tasty sourdough loaves.
Details of the course are on the Coleg Trefeca website, which has a handy-dandy link to book the course.