Have you ever heard of Cloughjordan Eco Village? Or, have you ever heard about an Eco Village in general?
According to their website (link above) “Cloughjordan ecovillage is a member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) which defines an ecovillage as ‘an intentional or traditional community using local participatory processes to holistically integrate ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability in order to regenerate social and natural environments”.
I know, you are thinking what is she on about. I’m not at all an expert on it, but from my visit to Cloughjordan, I understand it is basically a group of houses, built in a particular area, with people who agree to live life in a particular way. Are you with me? This way of life has many aspects to it; community, ecological and cultural. Everyone who comes to live within the Eco Village therefore agrees in principle to a certain way of life and to building a sustainable future. So for example, members of the Eco Village must agree to build eco friendly houses and devote at least 100 hours a year to community service within the village. Anyway, if you are interested, I’ve popped the link to their website above so you can discover more.
The reason I’m talking about Cloughjordan Eco Village on Where Is My Teaspoon is because this is where the bakery Riot Rye is located. Riot Rye is a bread house and bread school set up by Joe Fitzmaurice and Julie Lockett, which focuses on Sourdough. I had gotten a place on one of their classes as a birthday gift from my boyfriend back in February and it finally came around in June.
Riot Rye has a lovely manifesto – you can read everything you would want to know about it over on their website, but their reasons for setting up the school part of the business is probably my favourite part of their story;
“they decided to set a new course with their business in response to the continuing demise of true artisan and craft bakeries in Ireland”.
From attending one of the classes it is very clear that Joe is passionate about the craft of making true Sourdough and sharing recipes to encourage other people to begin baking bread too. Throughout the class, he actually referenced Instagram quite a bit – believing it to be the tool bakers are using to spread inspiration and tips on how to bake real bread. So true! I would say about 98% of my Instagram feed is taken up by food and the couple of minute tutorials shared by other bakers are an amazing push for me to get into the kitchen.
To tell you everything I learned on this class would be impossible – it was so much information and I think until I really spend a couple of months putting it into practice it would be a little premature to go sprouting off tips – especially as I am only scraping the top of what you can do with Sourdough – but I’ll give you some topics below.
- He recommended we bake the same loaf over and over until we can get it 100% consistent each time. He said when we think of the normal home-baker, we are probably only going to bake Sourdough maybe once a month – leaving only 12 times a year to practice! So, he was suggesting that once we crack one loaf and can successfully get the same results each time, we will understand the process and how to got that loaf and then be able to move on.
- Ratios are important! They ask you to bring a Sourdough you have baked to the class so Joe can see what you can do. The pressure! It’s actually brilliant though, because the minute we cut open mine, he could see that I wasn’t using enough water in my recipe. When I told him the breakdown of ingredients I was using, he told me I was at 60% hydration and the normal figure for Sourdough is around 72%. The lack of water was resulting in a dense dough. Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply add more water though, I actually need to work out my baking ratios to ensure there is an appropriate amount of everything. I have never, ever been good at maths but thankfully, he gave us all a handout as to how to do this. Phew.
- Everything in a bread recipe should be measured in grams – eh what? I always switched to ml for water as that’s what I had seen in my cookbooks but for ratios, it is better to work in grams. Who knew?
- You can use a starter to make a new starter, even if it is a different type! This honestly never occurred to me. A lot of people start off with a Strong White Flour starter but as they gain confidence in Sourdough, they want to try out different types of breads. You can take a small piece of your white starter and add something like rye to it to make a rye starter. This saves people from having 2 or even 3 starters on the go at once. He told us in the course how to do this at home but I think I’ll stay away from it until I’ve cracked my first loaf consistently.
- You need to taste your starter. Sweet Jesus,why! He made us all taste his and to say we were a little hesitant is an understatement. They actually didn’t taste too bad, just like very strong vinegar or flour depending on the stage of the starter. He said we can’t really understand them until we know what they taste like.
- Your starter has a time scale once you feed it. This was a really interesting point, as baking at different points of will give you different results.
- Scoring the bread correctly is key. Even if you have done everything right, but score the top of the bread incorrectly, it could ruin the bake. I had scored mine completely wrong. A good portion of this course covered shaping dough and scoring the top as this is something a lot of people fall down on. You kind of have to think about how the bread will rise. The cuts you make should encourage this and ensure the rise happens evenly.
- Creating steam is the oven is vital for a good bake. You can pop a tray of water into the bottom of your oven, but that isn’t enough steam. He recommends getting a little spray bottle and spraying as much water as possible into the oven for the first 10 minutes of the bake. After this you can’t open the oven door anymore as it will change the bake.
- There is no level of certified standard on Sourdough in Ireland – this was the most shocking thing he said to us! So basically, there are no rules really when it comes to Sourdough and many cafes and bakeries use yeast to help Sourdough along or, you can actually buy Sourdough powder to save needed a starter at all. It really brings up the debate over what true Sourdough is and if it’s important to distinguish or not. To be honest, if I went into a cafe and discovered their Sourdough wasn’t made with a starter at all, I would be really put off and think I was being misled. However, I like to read about Sourdough and learn as much as I can about it but maybe the average bear doesn’t care! I would have thought though that Bord Bia would get behind the Real Bread movement in Ireland and protect this type of bread but it seems that is not the case yet anyway.
I don’t want to tell you too much more as I really think you guys should try and go to one of Joe’s classes if you have the opportunity and want to learn more about Sourdough. I know I have got SO MUCH work to do on mine but at least now I know some of the ways I can improve it and a little bit more about the craft too. I just hope I can re-create some of these beauties at home without Joe standing over me to help. How amazing do they look though? I am so happy to have gotten this course as a birthday gift, as it is definitely one that will stay with me for a long time, and has given me the knowledge to create at home.
As always guys, let me know if you have taken any great Sourdough classes or have any further tips – always want to learn more.
Until next time, happy baking!