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Eat Alberta & a Lesson in Sourdough

Eat Alberta: Sourdough 101
“This is Julie.” Owen Petersen, of Edmonton’s Prairie Mill Bread Company, said as he nudged a jar of sourdough starter. “You can name yours whatever you want, but mine here is Julie.”

Petersen was the presenter of the Sourdough 101: Basic Yeast Farming session at the second annual Eat Alberta conference. The event, which was held at NAIT, both highlights local food experts and provides the opportunity for people to learn from their expertise; and learn, I did. I made fresh pasta, sourdough bread, canned some pickled peppers, tasted local beer, and – naturally, found out how to survive a zombie apocalypse. I wish every Saturday was that exciting.

The sourdough session stood out to me because, despite the fact that I make my own bread on a regular basis, I’ve never made a loaf of the sour stuff. I couldn’t grasp the concept of creating my own starter; and the idea of maintaining it and precisely measuring out ingredients seemed daunting. Lucky for me, Petersen showed us that it is unnecessary to be meticulous with your bread prep, but it is necessary to get your hands a little {or a lot} dirty.

I think it’s safe to say that Petersen’s methods may miff baking purists. Baking is a science, after all, and many professionals go to school for years to learn how to create the perfect loaf of bread. But our charismatic instructor insists otherwise: “anyone can bake bread,” he said, “you just need to keep doing it and eventually you’ll find out what works.” After all, precise measurements don’t account for contributing factors such as altitude, room temperature, the temperature of the person who is kneading the dough, and the specific ingredients used – among other things.

Sourdough Bread
There’s no denying that his years of experience and passion for his craft have resulted in a good, solid product. Petersen’s Prairie Mill Bread Company is known for its quality breads, made with premium natural ingredients and delightful additions {seeds! spices! muesli!}. Who better to learn the mysterious ways of sourdough from than a guy like that?

After a few minutes of prep, and more than a few laughs, he got to the good – er, goopy – stuff. He divvied up Julie in metal bowls {about one cup per person}, and then gave us each a few cups of flour, a tablespoon of sea salt and two cups of room temperature water. Next, we were instructed to just get in there with our hands; to get gooey, and to add more flour as needed. That’s it. Just add flour and knead until the dough feels right – until it’s soft, smooth, elastic, and simply feels right.

Sourdough Bread
We wrapped our dough in plastic wrap, and Petersen told us to refrigerate it until the next day, when it was ready to be baked. To finish it, he said to shape the dough into a loaf and let it rest at room temperature for about half an hour. Next, place it in a preheated Dutch oven, score the top, cover, and bake in a 500 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature {to anywhere between 350-450 degrees}, uncover, and cook until it is done.

Though the instructions were vague, they were spot on; and on Sunday morning I had a beautiful, golden loaf of sourdough baked and sliced by breakfast time {and a lovely jar of Sourdough Starter Steve – Julie’s lovechild – brooding away in my fridge}.

Sourdough Bread
Sourdough Bread
Want more information on Eat Alberta, its presenters, and sessions? Check back next week for more details, links, and photos of the event.

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