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