Saturday, September 11, 2010

Agrarian Kitchen Secrets of Sourdough

Linseed fruit loaves, sourdough cobs and batons, baguettes, pide, brioche, bagels and chocolate cake - all made with only native yeasts from stoneground whole grain and unbleached organic flours. These are Graham Prichard's (pictured) secrets of sourdough taught as a 2 day class at the Agrarian Kitchen and at courses at his Companion Bakery under the shadow of the Callington Mill at Oatlands in Tasmania.

Batons and cobs of linseed fruit loaves made with pepitas and figs and walnuts are pictured above and perfect sourdough loaves below, all made by students at Graham's meticulously taught course and cooked in the Alan Scott wood oven at Rodney and Severine Dunn's Agrarian Kitchen at Lachlan.

Some of my own results at the end of Day 1 - brioche, fruit cob and baguette are not to0 bad and smell like heaven.

After some explanation by Graham as to the science of wild yeast and making sourdough starters from scratch in a cup covered by a fern and left in the forest, the first day gets started straight off with making a dough from scratch. Each student supervised by Graham's ubiquitous presence.

Flour is weighed, grey salt added to water, starter in ...

... and then it's hands in the dough folks and mix, mix, mix.

The dough is then left for 20 minutes before Graham's strenuous French artisan method of kneading is employed - lifting the 2 kilo piece above the head, slamming it onto the bench, pulling it back and folding it over. A quarter turn and then do it again - 300 times before a secret gluten test to see if it needs more.

Then the dough is bulk proved before scaling and balling up. The bulk prove can be for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or even overnight in the cellar or fridge. You can of course pinch out a bit of dough after a little while to use to make pide for lunch.

After lunch it's on with the job.

The bulk proved dough is scaled and folded into balls for cobs and batons for classic loaves. The shaped dough is rolled in flour and gently placed into well floured bannetons made from willow.

850g of dough in each loaf.

Next the oven. The wood fired oven starts when this fellow crows ...

... and the wood pile is raided to light the fire and let it burn down to coals.

After the fire dies down the coals are scraped out and the sole of the oven swabbed clean of all dust and charcoal.

The loaves are then gently tipped out of their bannetons and slid onto the sole of the oven.

At this point Rodney and Graham are very happy and the short wait for bread begins as the unbelievable aroma fills the kitchen.

Next comes the moment of truth. The bottoms of loaves are tapped along their whole length for that well baked hollow sound. Colour is examined...

... students become very excited at the golden crisp brioche ...

... and bread is tumbled onto racks to cool and then onto the bench. Ciabatta mingle with baby brioche and kugelhopf.

More brioche - made from 1kg of flour, 5 eggs and 500g of butter!

Ciabatta is made from the basic sourdough dough but with extra water added until the dough runs like lava and is heavily floured before being shaped into rolls.

The classic cob looks spectacular as it comes out of the oven with the floured marks of the willow banneton contrasting with the bare strip which has formed from the slash around its crown with a lame razor blade.

And a happy bunch of students praise the master, who incidentally, is behind the camera.

And the real photographer of the day, to whom thanks must go for all these fabulous images, is Pauline Mak - seated next to me - front left - and who had spectacular success with the linseed fruit mini loaves pictured below. Quite a feat!

And a happy ending. Thanks Graham for your hands on tuition and for your generosity in sharing your secrets. If you want to see Graham at work check into and watch the webcam in the bakery.


  1. Fantastic post,I haven't made bread by hand for ages. you have inspired me to make some (soon)

  2. Thanks Kim. Just wait til I get my new Panasonic Lumix LX5 :-)

  3. Sounds like a wonderful day. The photos are gorgeous!

    I can't wait to get a bread making lesson from Graham, but for now I just enjoy his bread every week from the market.

  4. Wish I had the money to do the Agrian Kitchen courses.....

  5. Wow- having stopped at Oatlands on Saturday to pick up some bread (2 country batards and an unbelievably good spring onion and parmesan brioche) I am very keen to get to a workshop with Graham. It was great to even watch him in action on Saturday in the shop. The pies were pretty damn tasty too!

  6. The sourdough class at Agrarian gets better every time...thanks for being so excited about sourdough everyone!

  7. Make my own sourdough, but nothing as spectacular as Grahams. Inspired to learn more. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience.


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