September’s annual celebration of sourdough breads presented a great opportunity for Ireland’s bread makers to highlight the best of bread baking. Members of Real Bread Ireland gave away starter kits throughout the month and hosted events around the country to share their secrets and demystify what can seem to many to be a daunting process.
Sourdough is a traditional type of bread that people used before the industrialization of bread making. The raising agent used to make sourdough (known as a starter) is made with just a handful of ingredients – flour, water and salt. The naturally occurring yeast and bacteria then ferments the dough over time which gives the bread its distinctive and mildly sour taste.
History of Sourdough
While sourdough bread has become fashionable of late, it is actually one of the oldest forms of leavened bread with an exceptionally long history which can be traced back to the Egyptians.
Sourdough bakers tend to pride themselves on the longevity of their “mother doughs”. One of the oldest and best known of these is claimed by the famous Boudin Bakery in San Francisco, whose starter supposedly originated in 1849. Indeed, sourdough has long been associated with the 1849 gold prospectors on the US west coast (known as the 49ers).
The current interest levels in sourdough can be linked to what some commentators describe as the “Breakfast Revolution”. From pancakes with caramelised bananas to avocado toast, artisan breakfasts made a comeback to our menus in 2017.
According to the US National Restaurant Association 72% of adults want restaurants to serve all-day breakfasts. Restaurants are increasingly adapting their menus to serve interesting breakfast-inspired options that can be available throughout the full day.
Sourdough in Space?
German start up company Bake In Space even has plans to take sourdough to space. Traditionally breads (apart from tortilla) have been banned from space missions because crumbs can damage the station’s equipment and even the astronauts themselves. To address this, Bake in Space is working with the German Aerospace Centre to develop a dough mixture and baking process that produces a crumb free bread. As well as this the company plans to send a yeast culture to the International Space Station that the astronauts will use to create sourdough from which it is planned to establish a line of made-in-space breads (back on planet Earth).
Ireland’s Sourdough Bakers
Some of Ireland’s best known sourdough bakers include the Bretzel Bakery, Tartine Bakery and The Firehouse Bakery. A new arrival to the sourdough scene is Bread 41 which recently opened on Dublin’s Pearse Street. Bread 41 is an organic bakery with a flour mill on site and a 44-seat café. The bakery’s sourdough range includes wholegrain, malt and rye variants. Like many other bakeries, they will also offer classes to aspiring bakers to meet the rising interest in bread making.
Recreating the Sourdough Experience at Home
With many seeking to recreate their out of home dining experiences in their own kitchens, there is currently huge interest in learning how to bake breads. Waterford based Clodagh O’Neill has been baking sourdough breads for the past 2 years from a self-made starter. A seasoned baker, she describes her approach to sourdough baking as follows: “Firstly the starter is fed overnight with water and strong flour (this is essential to create the bubbles).”
“The dough then takes 4 to 6 hours to make, only kneading a few times.”
“Finally place it to rest in the fridge overnight before baking”.
Clearly this is a slow, unhurried process – baking at its best! The long fermentation process makes sourdough breads more easily digestible than mainstream alternatives, and less likely to cause food intolerances.
If you missed out on the free giveaways in September, this Sourdough Recipe from specialist UK baker Vanessa Kimball is a great start. The Bretzel Bakery also has a video with their head baker demonstrating how to make a Sourdough Loaf. And let us not forget the visual appeal of a great sourdough. US Food blogger Shanna Mallon has compiled a list of 22 Sourdough Bakers to follow on Instagram.