A Day in the Life of a Sourdough Baker

Tues Jan 19, 4 to 8 pm: Fresh bread straight from the oven!
Wed Jan 20, 9 and 9:30 am: Bread delivered to Green Tree Health & Wellness and Bouchie Lake Country Store
Wed Jan 20, 4 to 8 pm: Pizza night!

1. bacon, apple, roasted garlic
2. feta cheese, kale, green olives

Shaping a Beer Belly loaf.
Shaping a Beer Belly loaf.

The reason commercial baker’s yeast has become ubiquitous in the bakery world (since the mid to late 1800s) is simply due to time. Leavening bread with sourdough, a mixture of wild gas-producing yeasts and bacteria takes much more time and bother than using the commercial yeast, which is a single strain of yeast formulated to produce a lot of gas in a very short time. But, as we are beginning to understand about most food processes, slower is better, in terms of both taste and nutrient value. That’s why we bake bread like it’s 1803 and we won’t change anytime soon!

Here’s how it goes:

Monday afternoon
– first firing of oven with approximately 40 kg wood
– milling of whole grains into flour: wheat, rye, spelt
– feeding of sourdough starters (rye and wheat)

Monday evening
– building up sourdough starters to weights needed for all the doughs
– weighing out and soaking of whole-grain flours in hot water
– weighing out and soaking of any fruits, seeds, or nuts in hot water

Tuesday morning
– second firing of oven with approximately 20 kg of wood
– making the doughs – usually 7 or 8 types – and leaving them to proof in tubs for 5 to 8 hours
– organizing and preparing labels and bags for bread being delivered

Tuesday on-going
– folding the doughs

Tuesday afternoon
– scaling and shaping the doughs into loaves and putting them in baskets for the final proof of 1 to 2 hours
– scraping the ashes out of the oven, brushing the hearth free of ash, and mopping the hearth with a damp rag

Tuesday evening
– baking the loaves!
– selling bread directly from the bakery

Wednesday morning
– packing and delivering the bread

This all ends up being about 18 hours of work for me, and 27 hours for Tim! We can produce up 200 loaves in that time, but a maximum of 180 loaves is much more comfortable. I haven’t included any time that isn’t directly related to bread-making or delivery: things like book-keeping, ordering supplies, blog-writing, processing other bread ingredients such as garlic and candied fruit peel, gathering and splitting firewood, cleaning the bakery, etc. If we were making breads leavened with commercial baker’s yeast and baked in an electric oven, we could compress this time-line considerably. But we aren’t, and we won’t. Yeasted dough scares me – it all happens so quickly (plus I don’t like the way the bread smells or tastes)! And as for the wood-fired oven, well, there’s no beating that, ever.

Speedy doughs: pre-shaped and ready to be shaped and put into proofing baskets.

4 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Sourdough Baker

  1. What a process. It makes me even more grateful to receive the final delicious, chewy product. I am curious though, what benefit does soaking the grains give? That is not how my mama did it.

    1. Apparently, for I am a mere neophyte, soaking the whole grain flours ahead of time starts the enzymatic activity that we want in order to make the grain more digestible. The enzymes are present in the grains, and given enough time, moisture, and heat they will begin to do their work: breaking down the proteins, starches, and fibres, thus making them more accessible to our digestive systems. Soaking seems to make the dough easier to work with, and, I believe makes the bread taste better, too.

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