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06 October 2008

Sourdough baking with Dan Lepard

One of the many privileges of being an adult is that you get to choose who you learn from and sometimes you get the chance to learn from the best. Being taught how to bake sourdough by Dan Lepard was just such an opportunity. Simply spending the day with so much access to Dan, his partner David and assistant Zoe was invaluable.

It is hard to distil what I learned over the eight hour lesson into one blog post, it would also be a disservice to Dan as a teacher. It was not a class for sourdough virgins. Most - although not all - of my fellow pupils were keen and frequent bakers. Dan assumed a certain level of knowledge and because we all had a basic understanding, it meant the class ticked along at a reasonable pace.

The course was taught at Cookery School at Little Portland Street and the day started with coffee, shots of pomegranate juice, cheese muffins and beautiful lemon drizzle cake. Down to the hard work of baking.

The first bread we baked was a fairly traditional sourdough, followed by a beautiful oily foccacia. Lunch was a weighty spread with bread featuring heavily. After lunch, Dan taught us the wonder of the leaven and how to create our own sourdough starter.

Some of the choice bits of information I garnered included: the advantages of using a firmer leaven, in particular for taste; that a firm leaven is suited to freezing and that freezing is good because it halts the build-up of acidity in the fermentation; that to increase the size of holes in sourdough you can increase the amount of white flour in the dough; that olive oil flatbread is particularly good for part baking and freezing; that rye flour punches above its weight in the flavour stakes; that strong white flour isn't as essential as I'd thought, but it can add tolerance to a dough; that allowing dough to rise is far more important than kneading - in fact kneading is a bit overrated and stop worrying that you can't get hold of fresh yeast, dried can do the job. Finally, slashing dough makes the loaf look nice, it also allows bakers to bake large batches in one go, even if all the loaves aren't quite at the same stage of the prooving process.

That's not the half of what I learned, it was a fantastic, informative day and for me at least, well worth the cost.

Dan mentioned that he's planning on another class at the well appointed Cookery School sometime in the new year. When it's announced, there'll be details on Dan's forum, which is also well worth reading.


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Dan is brilliant! I think I might go to his next class.

Kake, I'd definitely recommend going if you can.

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