The rise of sourdough at home: Sunny Coast bakers share their journeys and tips

There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked sourdough bread…the irresistible, comforting aroma that that evokes a sense of the simple life.

There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked sourdough bread…the irresistible, comforting aroma that that evokes a sense of the simple life.

With many of us having extra time at home time on our hands, due to Covid-19, more people have been discovering the soothing ritual of sourdough breadmaking. From isolation, a new generation of bread makers is emerging. Seasoned bakers are sharing tips and starter, while images of freshly baked loaves fill our social media feeds.

Living Smart spoke to three Sunshine Coast home bakers about their sourdough journeys, as baking brings people together during a time of disconnection and uncertainty.

Tried and true recipes

Buderim’s Trish Thorn is a self-titled “basic baker”, with a tried and true recipe that has been refined over several years from her own starter. Trish’s simple approach is inspiration for anyone who has always wanted to try baking sourdough but thought it was too hard.

Trish initially followed the steps for the spelt sourdough loaf in*Healthy baking: nourishing breads, wholesome cakes, ancient grains and bubbling ferments*by Jordan Bourke and a version of that is what she continues to make now.

Better known for Stories from the Red Couch, Robyn Cook rediscovered her love of sourdough baking while in isolation. After an initial starter failure (tip: use a sterile jar), she bought starter from Katie at The Wonky Loaf and hasn’t looked back. Robyn’s go-to recipe is a no-knead Rustic Homemade Sourdough from The Stone Soup.

Elizabeth Halley started sourdough baking about 18 months ago after a friend gave her some starter. Elizabeth inherited both a love of food and the Dutch oven she uses for baking from her grandmother.

“I found success through trying different techniques and recipes then coming up with my own version. Sourdough is pretty forgiving. Even if it doesn’t turn out as expected, chances are it will still taste nice,” Elizabeth said.

A labour of love

Isolation has given us something precious…time. And time is a key ingredient in making sourdough.

For newbies, Trish’s weekly ritual provides an insight into what’s involved:

  • Thursday: Remove starter from the fridge and allow it to return to room temperature. Feed with a mix of flour and water, stir and leave on the bench overnight.
  • Friday AM: Add a small amount of flour to keep the batch growing during the day.
  • Friday PM: Mix three bowls of ingredients, add the starter, rest and complete a series of folds or turns every 15 minutes for an hour. Leave overnight.
  • Saturday: Turn each batch onto a bench sprinkled with rice flour. Gently stretch and tuck. To finish, wrap the edges and cut the top to prevent splitting. Bake in a hot oven.

Trish admits she’s not a “die-hard technique person” and even though she takes some shortcuts, her sourdough works just fine.

There are as many possible methods as there are bakers so experiment and discover what works for you. But beware, it can become addictive!

“It is like therapy. When I am making it, the stretch and fold process is really therapeutic. You watch it grow and develop. It almost becomes part of you,” says Elizabeth.

Robyn concurs, saying she finds breadmaking hypnotising and magnetic: “The minute your bread is out of the oven, you want to make another loaf and try something different to see how it turns out.”

Decorating sourdough is something many bakers take seriously. Do a quick search on Pinterest and you’ll find plenty of ideas, from scoring techniques to creative stencil designs. Check out the photos of Elizabeth’s beautifully decorated loaves that look almost too pretty to eat!

Communities of bread lovers

Social by nature, breadmaking has helped ease the sense of isolation for Robyn - by sharing her journey on social media, Robyn has re-connected with old friends and made new ones. Her starter has also gone on to make countless other loaves.

“I’ve given starter to my brother-in-law who then gave some to a friend in their apartment block in Maroochydore and now they’re all busy making bread and crackers. It is such a beautiful communal thing to do. It brings people together in that very fundamental way of food sharing and creating slow food,” Robyn said.

What began as a hobby for Elizabeth has given her a sense of purpose and connection during isolation. Knowing she was a keen breadmaker, neighbours began calling asking to buy her bread. Before she knew it, she was baking daily for a network of Peregian Springs neighbours and friends.

Elizabeth bought a little cart and started going door to door, talking to neighbours while supplying them with bread. She even created an instruction booklet and began making extra starter for people who wanted to try making sourdough themselves.

“While coronavirus has hit the world hard, some beautiful things have emerged. I now know all my neighbours and have helped 45 other people to learn how to make sourdough. They’re now sending me photos of their masterpieces!” she says proudly.

Top tips for getting started

Robyn says
  • Check out 15 Mistakes most beginner sourdough bakers make for advice on how to use ratios, which makes it easy to determine the amount of water, salt and starter to add to the flour you have on hand.
  • If making your own starter, don’t throw away the “discard” (surplus starter). Use it to make crackers (Robyn’s crackers are pictured) or Google recipe idea

Elizabeth says

  • Be aware that different ambient temperatures will affect timeframes
  • Resist the temptation to indulge as soon as the bread comes out of the oven to give the crumb time to form

Trish says

  • Start at the library - Sunshine Coast Libraries have many wonderful books and resources
  • There’s no need to invest in expensive equipment. A good quality loaf tin, an inexpensive Dutch oven and home-made starter is all you need.

Helpful resources

  • Healthy Baking: Nourishing breads, wholesome cakes, ancient grains and bubbling ferments by Jordan Bourke
  • Modern Sourdough by Michell Eshkeri
  • Sourdough by Sarah Owens
  • Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
  • The Wonky Loaf Masterclass
  • Wonky School, a program to support families to make their own sourdough. The kit contains all the information you need to create a successful starter and bake your own pizza dough.

If you’re keen to get a sourdough fix but don’t have time or inclination to make it yourself,check out Daily bread: the local artisan bakers nourishing us from the inside for a guide to where to get sourdough on the Sunshine Coast.

Know of an individual, community group or business doing something good for the planet on the Sunshine Coast? We would love to hear about it! Send us an email or share in the comments below.

Main image by Robyn Cook

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