A visit to sour­dough school

Bak­ing your own bread is im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing, es­pe­cially when it’s a crusty, mor­eish sour­dough

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - Amy Bryant

SPEND A DAY with Vanessa Kimbell at her Sour­dough School in Northamp­ton and I defy you to come away with­out a burn­ing de­sire to bake bread the mo­ment you get home. Kimbell is ob­ses­sive (her own word) about sour­dough, and shares what she knows with her stu­dents across a vast farm­house ta­ble at her home, us­ing mix­ing bowls and bread boards res­cued and re­cy­cled over the years, be­neath a huge ‘Tabac’ sign that once hung above the first bak­ery she worked in, in France, aged 11. The scent of warm bread hits you from the drive­way – it’s im­pos­si­ble not to fall in love with her world.

Kimbell’s is a high-oc­tane master­class in the sci­ence and pro­cesses of sour­dough (from the starter of flour and wa­ter, whose wild yeasts and lac­tic-acid bac­te­ria de­ter­mine the flavour and tex­ture of the loaf, to the steam that en­ables the dough to ex­pand in the oven (and de­velop that gor­geous bur­nished ‘ear’ from the scored sur­face). ‘It’s not just about mak­ing the yummy bread with big holes,’ Kimbell says. Diges­tion and nu­tri­tion are cov­ered, too, as sour­dough (‘the real stuff, slowly fer­mented, not the ar­ti­fi­cial flavour added to other bread’) was the an­swer to her gut prob­lems at univer­sity. It’s a life’s love and work – as is Kimbell’s new book, The Sour­dough School (Kyle Books, £19.99), into which she has poured her own ex­pe­ri­ence of bak­ing boules, baguettes, char­coal-rye loaves and hon­eyed por­ridge bread, as well as the re­search of over 300 sci­en­tific stud­ies on the sub­ject. If you’ve a ques­tion about leav­ens and flour en­zymes, it’s an­swered; if you haven’t a clue about either, but want to turn out your own sweet-smelling bread for break­fast, this is your guide. sour­dough.co.uk

Clock­wise from main Vanessa Kim­bell (cen­tre) with bak­ers at her Sour­dough School; a char­coal-rye loaf; wa­ter – how much to add, and when – is key to the suc­cess of a loaf

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