Although I have been baking bread for more than ten years, I have yet to be comfortable relying on a starter for naturally leavened or sourdough bread. The steps involved seemed daunting, as did keeping a starter alive. I like to joke that the only reason my cats are alive is that they can meow and bug me for food. My plants do not always fare as well.
Last month, I was making my quarterly trip to Los Angeles (Silverlake to be specific) to pick up my 50 pounds of hard white wheat berries. I have become an avid home miller and King’s Roost in Silverlake is a great place to pick up grain. Roe, the owner of King’s Roost, does bulk orders which brings the cost down significantly.
We got to meet Roe in January when we picked up the last bag of wheat berries. He shared some delicious sourdough bread and why he believes it is the best way to make bread. He was generous with his knowledge and gave me a bit of his 45 year old starter. Since then I’ve been adding to my regular bakes but still haven’t gone 100% sourdough.
I signed up for his class with one of my best friends, Ralphie, who is also interested in bread baking. He recently bought the Mockmill KitchenAid attachment and wants to know more about milling too.
On a rare rainy day in Southern California, we breezed up the 5 freeway. What normally takes 60 to 90 minutes due to traffic, was only a 40 minute drive. It may have been a combination of the rain and it being Super Bowl Sunday, but it was the easiest commute we’ve had yet. We even had time for a quick bite at Flore Vegan Cafe a few doors down. Unfortunately, they were closed due to a power outage. The storms this week have been intense for Southern California. Luckily, King’s Roost was open and class was still on.
The class began with introductions. There were 15 of us in class. Roe gave a background on bread and wheat specifically. He is self taught and said he had to learn how to bake with freshly milled flour as there were very few resources. The recipes he tried failed again and again. They were written for white processed flour which has a higher gluten percentage but next to no nutrition. He said they are also written without taking into account the different climates and temperatures. These variables matter and you have to go with the dough versus the times specified in any given recipe. He explained the differences between whole grain and white flours. I felt like Hermione Granger as I knew a lot of this from my own research and reading since getting my Komo grain mill. Although, I know a bit about whole grains I still learned a lot. Roe is a good teacher.
He then had us gather as he showed us two doughs that had been going through their first rise. He showed us how to shape the dough into boules and placed them in bannetons proofing baskets for their final rise.
Now it was time for hands on experience. We got to mill our own grain! He gave us 500 grams of hard white wheat berries and we got to use one of the store’s mills. Roe is a local distributer for Komo and Mockmill. I got to use a Mockmill 200 for the first time. They were not out yet when I bought my Komo in 2017. I liked it but am glad I have my Komo. The Mockmill does do a great job and is less expensive, but the Komo is a beautiful piece of art.
We used the recipe he provided to mix the freshly milled flour with salt and water. We used either provided dough whisks or our hands. I used both as the dough was little stiff and I had to incorporate all of the flour. We let our pre-doughs rest while we gathered around to watch Roe prepare the dough he had placed in the proofing baskets. He scored one dough demonstrating how to use a lame. The other he let a student score. The scoring helps the dough expand in the oven in a controlled manner. You can create beautiful patterns. I learned one reason for scoring in different patterns was to be able to differentiate loaves in a communal oven.
One loaf went into a preheated cast iron combo cooker. I’ve had my eye on one of these, so I was glad to see it in use. One side is a deep skillet and the other a shallow skillet. One becomes the lid for the other. It’s easier to place the dough in a hot shallow pan and cover it versus dropping it into a deep dutch oven. The other loaf went into a countertop steam injection oven.
Next we added starter from Roe’s big Cambro bucket to our dough. He had fed the starter the day before. This was his 45 year old starter that he has been using for the last five years. He got it from a local bakeshop. He showed us how to mix in the starter with our dough by pressing the starter into the dough with a fork and then mixing by hand. We covered the dough so we could take them home to bake later.
By the time we were done mixing in the starter to our doughs, the bread was ready to come out of the ovens. The one in the combo cooker came out beautifully. The one in the steam oven did too, but browned a little unevenly. We all got to try some with some jam, cheese or butter. We cut into them too soon, but they were still delicious. It’s hard to wait when there is warm bread around.
I bought some grain to take home and another proofing basket. Ralphy got some supplies, too. I refrigerated my dough when I got home and baked it the next day. We stopped and picked up a couple of the combo cookers on the way home. Roe had three in the shop, but they sold out quickly.
It was a wonderful day and an amazing class. I’d highly recommend taking this class to anyone who is interested in whole wheat sourdough baking. It is not only informative, but fun! You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make whole wheat sourdough bread and come away with a healthy starter ready to start your own sourdough baking adventure.