I hardly ever take cooking classes. Most of my culinary education comes from all the BBC Cooking, Channel 4, and Food Network shows I devoured since I was in my pre-teens. As I started down the path towards my food photography career, I started collecting cookbooks too—primarily for the photographs at first; I wanted to study the way stylists plate the food and how the photographer would compose and light each scene—but eventually I would make my way around the text and the recipes too. I read cookbooks cover to cover—the good ones, anyway—and I would take note of the recipes, the techniques used, and the ingredients.
But bread has always eluded me. I have owned Chad Robertson’s Tartine for years, inspired to make bread using natural leaven after watching one too many Bake with Anna Olson episodes. Her bread episode got to me. I had it recorded on DVR and watched it over and over and over again. In these episodes, she used good, old-fashioned instant yeast, but I really wanted to make sourdough the old-fashioned way. I wanted to develop my starter (at this point, it is worthy to note that I was in my kombucha phase; I was obsessed with ferments). I wanted to be THAT WOMAN who hardly ever buys her loaves; she would adhere to a regular baking schedule and make sure her house always had a homemade loaf on hand. I quickly cracked open Tartine and started to study and make notes… only to be overwhelmed by all the science, the ratios, and the information. I shelved that book in the back corners of my bookshelf—so quickly daunted by the process. I chickened out too quickly; I barely gave the book a chance.
I met Julie through a mutual friend of ours—a fellow food photographer, Melissa Quantz. When I worked for Janaki Larsen, Julie was a frequent visitor of her shop, where she would eventually strike up a best friendship with Janaki. She hosts a series of culinary tours and cooking classes in Puglia, where she has built a home with her partner and soon-to-be-husband, Francesco. Julie and I have only really orbited each other through the people we both know mutually, but I soon became aware of her culinary prowess and her love of Italian cooking. Both her Vancouver and Puglia kitchens, known fixtures on her instagram feed, became my future kitchen goals.
When I saw that she was offering some sourdough-making classes in her kitchen while she’s back here in town briefly, I knew I had to see her Vancouver kitchen in person, and to learn from someone whose work with bread is relatively new—at least, compared to the seasoned bakers that surround both our culinary consciousness. The price was really reasonable, and it was a 4-hour intensive workshop that broke down the Tartine method—and I mean really broke it down—in absolute layman’s terms. Now, I had taken a two-day sourdough workshop years before, but found it a little too difficult to follow. I needed to be guided into the world of bread like I was a small child learning to take their first step. Julie’s class was perfect.
Julie guided all six of us through a basic recipe she has gleaned and tweaked from Tartine, explaining each step without the jargon that usually surrounds the science of sourdough-making. The recipe she provided can be divided or multiplied with relative ease—and… after having baked FIVE loaves since taking her class last weekend—this recipe is foolproof. You just have to develop a pretty regular habit of taking care and maintaining your sourdough starter, but once you have some sort of routine down, you are pretty much set. I simply had to follow the recipe Julie broke down for us—down to the folding and final shaping of the loaves. Having cracked open Tartine again the day after I took her class, I noted that her method is essentially Chad Robertson’s method, only perfectly suited and tweaked to her everyday repertoire, and eventually, my own.
Furthermore, Julie had time to show us how to make crackers using spent starter. I was delighted we had time for this; normally, when you feed your starter, you discard about 80% of the old starter and the idea of throwing away that much starter makes me a little sad. She devised a few ways to use up spent starter to minimize waste, and crackers are a great way to do so. She also baked a cake with spent starter; she says she is still tweaking the recipe, but will gladly share with us her method once she has perfected it. This chocolate cake (which I neglected to photograph with my SLR—whoops) had a sourdough-like tang at first bite, which I personally loved. It had a drier crumb if you compared it to a traditional molten lava cake… but for me, it was still tender and moist, and has a substantially more elegant texture and flavour profile than your average chocolate cake.
Et… voila! Our finished loaves and my lovely workshop mates! :-D
I have been baking up a storm since her class, mostly for the practice, and to form my sourdough-baking habits. I could not resist shooting my results in my studio, which I am super proud to share here.
My scoring has gotten incrementally better, though I have yet to develop my signature look.
For the above loaf, I had chosen to set the bread on an un-lined banneton basket. Look at those flour swirls!
Of course, I had to make crackers using spent starter. I made two kinds. First, Julie’s fennel crackers…
Then, my own version: Ethiopian berbere and caraway seed crackers. This one WAS A HIT at last night’s dinner party.
Bread and butter… nothing can be more heavenly.
Thank you, Julie, for your warmth, your patience, and for sharing your knowledge!
You can follow Julie’s instagram feed here.