Book review: The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking, by Vanessa Kimbell

17 September 2020 by
Book review: The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking, by Vanessa Kimbell

During lockdown it was impossible to get away from photos on Instagram of chefs and amateurs alike trying their hand at sourdough, which makes the publication of The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking particularly well-timed.

Author Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School in Northamptonshire, teaching a range of courses including advanced sourdough techniques, higher hydration sourdough, and speciality breads, pastries and cakes, as well as a course in digestion and nutrition accredited by the Royal College of General Practitioners for healthcare professionals.

Rather than a recipe book – there is only one chapter of recipes – this book focuses on other aspects, including gut and grain diversity, microbiomes and the sourdough process. The recipes are included as much for their taste as their ability to support a healthy and diverse microbial community.

Although it can feel like a science textbook at times, it's all useful knowledge for a chef's arsenal considering the government's new focus on the nation's health and guests' awareness of the importance of what they eat.

There's also a focus on the relationship between microbiomes and mental health. Baking has even been something many of us have used to escape the stresses of lockdown, and the book reminds us of the importance of enjoying the moment while kneading dough, for instance.

Every recipe has a diversity score and it starts with creating diverse flour blends before the baking even begins. I had never considered adding seeds, wheats, oats, flowers, herbs or spices to increase the diversity of my bakes, and the book leaves recipes open to experimenting and tweaking.

The early recipes include cultured dairy products, fruit compotes, vinegars and drinks, while the sweet baking recipes in the advanced section include live sourdough doughnuts, millefeuille, miso prune Danishes and brioche. Many of these come with suggested flour ‘botanical blends', a probiotic and even a schedule to ensure your starter is used at the ideal time after refreshing.

The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking by Vanessa Kimbell (£25, Kyle Books)

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