Something I’ve always wanted to do is learn how to bake my own sourdough bread at home so an “Introduction to Sourdough” class with Graham at Companion Bakery was the most practical way for me to gain more knowledge and understanding of this artisan baking method. This class was on my wish list for many months so I finally booked myself in.

Companion Bakery - Oven

Alan Scott wood-fired oven (photo by Roy Vieth)

Companion Bakery: Baking Bread in Oatlands

by Coreena Vieth

We were a group of nine gathered at the Companion Bakery for a lovely cuppa and delicious scones. Soon after, we made our way to our classroom for the day, donned our bakers’ hats and aprons before Graham started our class.

First we learnt about the Alan Scott wood-fire oven; an oven type that is well known in the wood-fired oven world and the one that is used to bake all the bread for Companion Bakery. This oven is also the one that we would use to bake our creations later in the day. Alan Scott was a distinguished man of the wood-fire oven industry around the world and rests in peace in the Oatlands cemetery.

It was not long before we were learning about the ‘science’ of the starter. Although it is possible to create your own, it is certainly easier using one that is all ready to go and we were using a starter that Graham had prepared earlier.

There are so many intricacies about all the different flours; the difference between not only the flours but also the brands is extensive. Fortunately some of these differences were explained to us and hopefully my bread making may benefit in the future.

Flour from Callington Mill

We were using the locally stone-ground flours milled at the historic Callington Mill located just across the road – couldn’t get fresher than that! Fast-forwarding just a little for a moment, included in the class is a tour of the mill; we did this tour while our bread dough was in the raising stage.

Companion Bakery - Callington Mill

Callington Mill: Oatlands (photo by Roy Vieth)

Using the sourdough starter that Graham had ready for us we mixed the bread dough using our own choice of flour, light-sifted white, wholemeal or spelt (or a combination of any). Vigilantly we each weighed the components – water, flour, salt and starter and then continued with combining, kneading, shaping and finally, developing. The process in its entirety was a perfectly relaxing (and of course fun) way to spend a day.

After kneading for a good amount of time, our doughs were ready to be shaped and placed into bannetons. A banneton helps the sourdough maintain its shape during the final proofing stage.

Lunch from the Companion Bakery Menu

As our loaves rested it was lunchtime for us! We enjoyed a delicious selection from the Companion Bakery café menu. Thinking about the activities of the day so far we had a chance to review what we’d done while taking a look at the provided notes and recipes.

Back to it after lunch (and our tour of the mill) it was time to get the loaves into the oven. Turning the dough out of the bannetons and onto the wooden peel we each placed our loaves into the wood-fire oven. It was a proud moment as we placed our very own loaf into the oven.

In addition to us mixing & kneading our own dough, Graham had prepared others that would be at different stages throughout the day – this was a fantastic way to see how extra time allowed for the proofing stage would ultimately affect the outcome of the final baked product.

The end of the day brought many a smile – and the great achievement of having baked our very own sourdough bread – under the guidance of an excellent instructor and of course baker, Graham Prichard.

It would be safe to say that it’s difficult to learn absolutely everything in just one day but the hands on experience along with the notes that were provided have armed me with the tools to experiment on my own at home. Will I become a great artisan baker? Not sure about that but I’ll give it my best shot and I guess time will tell.

Find Companion Bakery in the town of Oatlands, part of the Heritage Highway region of Tasmania, about 84kms north of Hobart. The “Introduction to Sourdough” class takes place every two months and the class schedule can be found online. Bookings are essential. Contact Companion Bakery by email or phone 6254 0070.

Coreena and Roy Vieth own Shutterbug Walkabouts, conducting photography tours and in-the-field workshops in Tasmania. Email Coreena and Roy Vieth or phone (03) 6267 2952 for more information. You can also follow Shutterbug Walkabouts on Facebook; see Think Tasmania’s Richmond competition, and Cassandra’s article (she took a Shutterbug tour in Hobart).

Map: Companion Bakery, Oatlands Tasmania…

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