Sourdough Diaries


Sourdough loaf – Proved in Banneton

It’s no secret that I get a kick out of fermenting stuff. Anything really. I’ve been known to experiment with sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir, but my longtime love has been sourdough. I’m not sure exactly what it is about these foodstuffs that so fascinates me, but I think it’s a combination of their aliveness and unpredictability. With fermented products, you are harvesting natural yeasts and bacteria from your environment and encouraging them to colonise your yummy items. There are loads of reasons why fermented foods are great, but these are my favourites…

  1. They can create useful byproducts, such as air bubbles and yeasts in the case of sourdough
  2. They help to preserve natural products when you have a glut
  3. The bacteria created through fermentation often make the item easier to digest. Many people with gluten intolerances can actually eat sourdough bread, as the natural fermentation makes it easier to digest
  4. They are often rich in nutrients such as Vitamins K and B
  5. They boost your immune system. The ‘good’ bacteria (probiotics) created through fermentation colonise your gut and boost your immunity.
  6. They taste really, really good.

Which is how I ended up attending a two day Sourdough workshop at the Mühlerama in Zürich. In Ballymaloe, Tim was king of the dough and most of my knowledge was gained from pestering him and following him around. I would regularly force him to sniff my starter, poke my boule or slash my loaf. He was ever patient and an excellent teacher, and while I was down in Shanagarry, my starter thrived and my loaves were victorious. However, something in my dough died the day I left the coast of East Cork, and it hasn’t been the same since. I’m convinced it has something to do with the cold, desert climate in Switzerland. I swear I need to add 20% more water to make up for the humidity it was used to in Ireland, and even then, my overheated (and well insulated) Zurich apartment results in a ridiculously overactive, pongy starter. It makes satisfactory bread, but who ever aimed for that? I need beautiful boules, lovely loaves and delicious doughs.

So I thought the Mühlerama might be able to help me with a Swiss approach. The Mühlerama is a museum in Zürich devoted entirely to the history of flour, milling and bread. You can tour the building and learn about different grains and flour and you can see the mills at work, including the beautiful stone mill (imported from Nepal) that produces delicious stone-milled flour. You can also sign up to various workshops and learn from the breadsperts themselves, which led to my sourdough course.

Eight of us gathered on a balmy Saturday morning and were met by Sam and Maggie (our teachers). Sam is a Swedish bread fanatic who trained in the very famous ‘Tartine‘ bakery in San Francisco. He is passionate about sourdough and religiously sticks to the mantra and processes he was taught by Chad in Tartine. Maggie is a chef and sourdough expert who runs Stazione Paradiso in Zurich. She first comes across as gentle and relaxed, but you quickly realise there’s no messing for her when it comes to bread making.

For me, it was fascinating to compare the method of sourdough making we learned at Ballymaloe with what they whipped up at the Mühlerama. In Ballymaloe, we had to feed our starter every day or risk its swift demise, here were were told we could neglect the starter for up to a week, but should then ditch most of it, and give the remainder a big feed. At Ballymaloe, we kneaded the dough in a Kenwood machine, and it got a good bashing. Here we were taught to gently caress and seduce the dough. In Ballymaloe, we did a two day ferment in the fridge. Here we did a 24 hour ferment in a cool room. However, Ballymaloe and Sam also agreed on many counts. It is essential to use the best quality flour you can afford. It should be organic, local and full of flavour. You do not want to encourage the creation of bacteria and yeasts from a highly processed, inferior product. Another similarity was that both methods encouraged a long resting time for the dough. After the dough has been kneaded you should leave it so air bubbles and gluten develop. Then gently fold it, before allowing it to rest again. To a lesser mortal, these conflicting methods and contradictions could lead to brain explosion, but I decided to embrace the differences… I was also delighted to learn a method that did not involve using a mixer, because my Kenwood has bitten the dust (it’s in the doctors at the moment so fingers crossed)!

As courses go, I can only reccommend Mühlerama. It was professional, well organised, personalised, fun, hands on, and… I got to take 8 loaves home (I still have one left in the freezer). It is very difficult to get the hang of something as varied and unpredictable as sourdough. You need to use all of your senses, especially smell and touch, to truly understand it (and even then, you’ll have a long way to go). Being able to quiz people as knowledgeable and passionate as Sam and Maggie was a gift, and I will definitely be back for future classes!


Start of Day one! Mixing flour, water and starter…


My sourdough station

Stone Mill

Nepalese stone mill (still in use). Stone-milled flour is more nutritious, because it can be very fine without losing any of the grain

Dough touching

You’ve got to touch the dough to get to know it…

Dough activity

Make big batches of dough in transparent containers so you can check the activity

Folding dough

Folding big batch dough (with light, delicate fingers)



Dough before shaping

Dough before shaping


Dough in boules (before shaping)


Shaping the loaf


Shaping the loaf

Stone mill

Stone mill at work


Grains falling into the stone mill

Basket of wheat

Basket of wheat for the stone mill

Shower caps

Great use for shower caps

Dough day 2

Dough at the start of day 2

Loaves for oven

Loaves ready for the oven. Just need to be slashed

Loaves in the oven

Loaves in the oven

Loaves in the oven

Loaves in the oven


Steaming the loaves

Half baked

Halfway through baking

Loaf in Dutch Oven

Loaf in a Dutch Oven


What we’ve all been waiting for

Loafing around

Loafing around







The big reveal

The big reveal

Holey dough

Woohoo!! Holey, doughly

Baker's grave

This is known as a ‘baker’s grave’. When it looks like you have nicely risen, puffy dough, but inside there’s just one, massive hole…


Loads of loaves!!


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  1. Carina

    Hi Emma, great post, the course was really great! And after all the baker’s grave was very tasty :-). Have you worked with your starter since? I produced an acceptable result last week, but gotta work on those big bubbles a bit more… All the best, Carina

    • Emma

      Hi Carina! Great to hear from you:) It was great, wasn’t it! I’ve produced a few edible loaves but nothing perfect… mine tend to be very active and spill out of the basket (ruining all my shaping efforts). I did try Foccacia the other day which was great. After folding the dough, I poured it into a very well olive-oiled baking tin and proved overnight. I poured on more olive oil (and some crunchy salt) before baking, and more after baking and it was delicious:) and very easy! You’ll have to drop by with a loaf sometime!! Xx

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