Sourdough baking course at Vicky’s Bakery, Helston, Cornwall. 11/11/11

 Vicky opened her bakery in Helston about 5 years ago. We were soon convinced that it was the best bread we had eaten, and ensuring that we had a supply on our visits to Cornwall became a compulsive behaviour disorder for Marilyn and me. Similarly, not wanting to be deprived of our fix, we had resorted to taking frozen loaves back to Surrey. When we heard that Vicky was holding one day courses in sourdough baking it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

The bakery is located on a modern industrial estate and is approached via a drive with lawns on either side. Inside it is spotless but warm and friendly.
A bit of background on sourdough breads
Essentially sourdough is the process of using a pre-ferment (sourdough culture) that starts the natural fermentation within the loaf. Why use a sourdough? Here is an extract from Vicky’s recipe book which answers this question better than I can.
“Using a sourdough culture to leaven bread has some fantastic advantages. A sourdough is naturally acidic, as it produces organic acids and ethers as it ferments. This increases the acidity of the final loaf, which has a number of effects.
Firstly, this naturally lengthens the shelf life of the bread without using artificial preservatives. Secondly, it strengthens the gluten structure, therefore allowing us to make a wetter, looser dough, resulting in a final loaf that is more moist. Thirdly, the acidity developed during a long fermentation and proof improves the flavour of the dough. Fourthly, the use of a sourdough culture encourages our body to extract more of the minerals and goodness from the flour as we digest the bread.”
The course given by Vicky spans 8 hours. This duration is an imperative as the sourdough baking process requires between 5 & 6 hours from initial mixing to taking the loaves out of the oven. For much of this time the dough is resting between short periods of gentle human intervention.
I was one of six students, each of us managing to bake from scratch three different types of sourdough loaf. Additionally we were involved I a shared effort to produce some Venetian rolls which use a slightly different type of pre-fermentation process.
The course is very well structured, based around the proving and baking times of the various breads we were making. Vicky had great presentation skills and makes the whole process very uncomplicated, which in fact it is. Her approach to bread making is non-interventionist; there isn’t any knocking back or heavy kneading with the dough. It’s more of a mutual cooperation between her and the fermenting dough mix, both working towards a really happy outcome. It’s always good to see someone who is truly enthusiastic about their product and I know from buying the finished product for many years how the combination of knowledge and experience manifest themselves in brilliant bread.
The day was punctuated with tea/coffee breaks including home-made brownies and flapjacks. We shared a lunch with Vicky’s family and care was taken to fit in with any special dietary needs.
I left with armloads of bread and a goody bag containing a sourdough culture starter, a recipe book and all the tools and equipment to get me started. I also came away with a little more knowledge than I began with and the realisation that nice people taking care with great ingredients produce great products. The course cost £150.00, which I felt was extremely good value.
Vicky’s contact details are:
Tel: 01326 572084