Sourdough Library

Karl De Smedt has travelled to 50 countries on a quest for sourdough starters, to compile and study them at the Puratos Centre for Bread Flavour in Belgium. He invites us into his curious archive…

KARL_INSTA-5-7.jpg

First thing’s first, Karl. Why?

One hundred and fifty years ago, bakers yeast was starting to be produced commercially. Comparatively, the sourdough process was very time-consuming, so most bakers abandoned it and the knowledge was lost. I feel that having a library where sourdough can be studied is an important contribution to the world of baking and fermentation.

Tell us bit more about yourself and your background.

I graduated from bakery and patisserie school in 1988. I worked for six years in a confectionary in Brussels before joining Puratos in 1994 as a test baker. That’s where I worked with sourdough for the first time. The sourdough dated to 1989, brought over by a colleague from San Francisco, as part of research to produce sourdough solutions for the company’s customers. You could say this sample was the very first sourdough in our collection.

Since 2008, I’ve been responsible for the Centre for Bread Flavour, a specialist branch at the forefront of the company’s sourdough production efforts, which handles clients from all over the world. It’s here we opened the sourdough library in 2013.

How unique can a final sourdough product be?

Very. We like to compare sourdough to cheese, where the main ingredient is milk, but there are so many different types of cheese, due to the origin of the milk, fermentation temperatures, the ageing, the producer etc.With sourdough, there’s just as much variety – in our library we’ve identified over 900 microorganisms from 108 starters.

I understand that the original creator of each starter also needs to donate yearly supplies of flour to the library for maintenance. So, will this change the outcome of the mix later on?

Indeed, we do ask for a supply of flour from the owners for their sourdough contributions. However, we do that to minimise the impact of change, a protocol recommended to us by Professor Marco Gobbetti from the University of Bolzano and Bari in Italy. We are well aware that the starters might be subject to change. But with Gobbetti’s protocol, the sourdough cultures are kept in optimum conditions to preserve them for longer; we have the micro-organisms stored in a freezer at -80°C and the sourdoughs themselves are stored at 4°C.

When a sourdough enters our library, it’s like taking a picture. We capture that moment – we have the composition of the sourdough at that point in time. That allows us to go back to the bakery after 5, 10 or 20 years to compare the two starters with each other and the original sample. There is no other place in the world that is doing this for sourdough. That’s why this library is so important to us.

Does the library undertake research into the microbes in the starters?

Yes, of course. Through DNA sequencing, we can define each and every microbe that we find in a starter. So far, we have identified more than 900 different ones. We do this in close collaboration with the universities we work with; Professor Gobbetti and his team have already been able to produce a couple of scientific publications as a result of our work together.

Any surprising finds on your quest?

In a starter from Switzerland, made from rye flour, and one from Guadalajara in Mexico, we found the same strain of yeast: Torulaspora delbreucki. It’s a strain often found in premium wines. The only relation we could see between the two is that the bakeries were located at about 1,500 metres altitude. Also, In Canada I met a lady who had a sourdough that dated back to 1896 – her great-grandfather carried it to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. I shared her recipe online so our followers could make her waffles.

The sourdough library isn’t open to the public, but Karl and his team are happy to provide tours on request. Find out more at questforsourdough.com

Interview: Matt Iredale

The Mail Train

Not so long ago, any letter or parcel landing on a doormat in London would have just disembarked from a surprising journey... underground.

Images courtesy of the Postal Museum

Images courtesy of the Postal Museum

Stretching for 6.5 miles in a tunnel deeper than the Tube, the Mail Rail transported post between Whitechapel and Paddington for 75 years until its closure in 2003. Since then, the stalactite-filled
tunnels and abandoned platforms have lain dark and empty. Until now.

The Postal Museum in Clerkenwell has opened part of the Mail Rail to the public; running battery-powered passenger trains on a 20-minute subterranean tour. While the Mail Rail is undoubtedly the star attraction, the museum is a thigh-rubbing joy to wander itself, for its interactive displays (you get to sort post and put your face on a stamp) and fascinating insights into what has kept this great British institution ticking for so long. 

Open everyday (except 24-26 December) from 10am to 5pm. Last train departs at 4.30pm. Journey lasts 15 minutes. For more info, visit postalmuseum.org

The Mail Train features in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Issue 7
10.00
Quantity:
Add To Cart

Essence + Alchemy: the relaunch

Lesley Bramwell of Essence + Alchemy spends a lot of her time in her laboratory mixing batches of rapeseed wax candles that crackle and smell of wild gardens and the sky above the clouds. We've spoken to her about her relaunch...

Lesley, tell us about what you've been up to in your laboratory the last few months.

It’s been a busy time, working on the E+A relaunch and designing the new store and products. I’m also in the process of designing and building a new garden laboratory. 

A garden laboratory, you say? Tell us more.

I was struggling to find a place in Sheffield that ticked all the boxes – clean, light, warm, nice view etc, so I decided to look into building a lab at home. My house is built on 1/3 acre – we have the space so it made perfect sense. 

Building starts end of July. A local timber frame company will erect the frame and my husband is finishing the external and internals. Hoping completion will be end of September.

It will have a dedicated lab store room, a desk area facing double doors onto the garden and lab area with benches under the windows facing the garden. Water used will be filtered and collected for reuse in the garden. 

The dream is to eventually grow and distill my own oils, which I can use in products. I like the idea of distilling my own rose essential oil but I might need to plant a few bushes before I can do that! 

What's been the inspiration behind your redesign?

The look of the brand has always been about my scientific background and the formula behind the name E+A.  I wanted a fresh and clean look that reflected this and with the help of local Sheffield designer Sean Coleman, I think this has been achieved - a combination of scientific text and pastel colours to reflect the natural scent of the products with a clean minimalist edge.  

Tell us about some of your new products.

There is a new handy travel size gold tin candle, great for popping into your bag or giving as a gift.  There are also candle refills for tea-light holders and large beaker candles and I’m also offering a candle refill service now whereby you can return your candle beaker for refilling.  

What is the candle club?

I created candle club to encourage the reuse of the large candle beaker and offer refills at discounted rates. Customers can either sign up to a 3 month or 6 month package and choose which candle scents they’d like and they also receive little gifts each month. 

What's on your bedside table?

A hardback copy of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and an E+A Aroma Mist.  At the moment I’m using Unwind with lavender and sweet marjoram to help create a relaxing atmosphere before bedtime.  

This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with Essence + Alchemy. Find out more about them in our Directory.

 

Paint it black

By applying an iron solution to carved wood, you can instantly ‘ebonize’ it, creating unique pieces with wonderful inky hues. Max Bainbridge turns to the dark side...

Max advises using either oak or walnut for ebonizing, due to their high tannin content. Image by Dean Hearne

Max advises using either oak or walnut for ebonizing, due to their high tannin content. Image by Dean Hearne

In this project I demonstrate how to ebonize a small oak bowl, using the natural tannin in the wood to blacken the surface. It’s a simple and natural process that gives an instant and completely transformative result. 

The ebonizing process is one that’s hard to believe even when you see it happening before your eyes. The basic principle is to create a chemical reaction between the wood’s tannin and iron oxide. Tannin is a tree’s natural defence against predators, and iron oxide is what we commonly know as rust. You can create an iron solution by steeping wire wool or iron nails in vinegar. Then, by applying this to the surface of a wood that is high in tannin, such as oak, you produce a chemical reaction that turns the wood black. 

Tools

Small oak or walnut bowl
Large jar
Water
White distilled vinegar
Iron nails or wire wool
Paintbrush
Cloths
Beeswax salve 

Method

1. Fill a large jar with two parts water to one part white vinegar, add the nails or wire wool and leave to soak. Do not keep a lid on the jar because while the vinegar reacts with the iron, a small amount of gas will be produced, which needs to escape.

2. Once the nails have been in the solution for at least a week, a layer of rust will form on the surface and the liquid will be brown or orange in colour.

3. Using a paintbrush, start applying the rusty vinegar solution to the surface of the wood and allow the reaction to take place. If you are using oak, the reaction will happen straight away and you will see the colour change in front of you. Observe how the colour develops and keep applying more solution if you wish to intensify it.

4. You can keep applying layers, allowing each layer time to dry, until the colour doesn’t get any darker. Once you are happy with the colour, give the surface of the wood a wipe down with a cloth.This may result in some of the colour rubbing off, but keep going until nothing more comes off on the cloth. Leave the ebonized bowl somewhere ventilated to dry and allow the vinegar odour to evaporate.

5. When it is completely dry, apply a coat of beeswax salve.You will need to use a clean cloth just in case any residual pigment comes off the bowl as you apply the salve. Leave to soak in overnight and then rub down the following day. 

For more carving projects and woodwork techniques from the team behind Forest + Found, pick up a copy of The Urban Woodsman by Max Bainbridge (Kyle Books, 2016), £16.99.

This features in issue 6 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Issue 6
10.00
Quantity:
Add To Cart

Photo boards: mastering the backdrop

The art of creating a beautiful backdrop for small-scene photography has been made far simpler with Photo Boards – rigid, lightweight background boards where every splinter, grain of wood, rusty nail and thread of linen are true to size. We spoke to Lyndsey James about her designs...

Lyndsey, Photo Boards® is such a clever, yet simple, idea. How did you come up with the concept?

Thanks! As a commercial photographer, I have spent a lot of time looking for backgrounds. I had the idea about three years ago, when some vinyl backdrops I purchased just weren’t of the quality I needed for close-up work, like jewellery, but I had just started teaching online and knew it would be a huge undertaking to manufacture, market and ship products to customers at a time when I was already super busy. 

I decided back then that if someone still hadn’t produced something like this in three years, then I'd go ahead and do it. It helped that I had a huge customer database of photography students to market them to, but I didn’t quite expect them to go viral in the way that they have – after just two months we were dispatching worldwide from a warehouse! 

What exactly are Photo Boards? 

They are table-top sized background boards for small scene photography with two essential features – they are true to size replicas and in a board format. As a photographer taking close up shots, you want a fake background to look like the real thing, so every splinter, rusty nail and thread of linen in the designs is actual sized. 

It being a rigid lightweight board design is also important for photographers, because it means that your set becomes mobile, allowing you to pick it up and move to a window for more light, or rotate your board to adjust your shadows without having to set up from scratch. To use a Photo Board, you simply use it like you would an actual piece of board, placing it on the table or floor or propping it up for a vertical background.

The textures of each Photo Board are strikingly crisp and as close as possible to the real surface - how do you achieve such clarity?

Yes, they look so real sometimes we do a double take! We spent a lot of time researching the base materials, inks and processes used to create the boards. They are created using the latest in high-resolution scanning and printing techniques, and laser cut to perfection to ensure each board looks smart before being wrapped in a clear sealed wrapper. 

People often think they're just prints of stock images but you just couldn’t get the true replica quality without having full control of the resolution at every stage. Each board starts out as an actual board from my collection of backdrops or we paint new designs when we fancy introducing a new colour or texture to the collection.

Which Photo Boards are the most popular? 

The most popular designs are neutral because they are the most versatile. Our customers can add a splash of colour to a neutral background with their subjects or props, layering their scenes on top of the neutral Photo Board base. We have seen the same wooden design used as an effective wooden floor, cabin wall, kitchen table, rustic desk – our customers always delight us with their creativity!

Why is it important for makers and bloggers to carefully consider backdrops for shooting their products?

A good background can really make or break an image, which of course is important for makers and bloggers who want their shots to be shared on social platforms to pull traffic and interest to their blogs and stores.

Readers and buyers love to aspire to a lifestyle, and for effective lifestyle shots you should always ask yourself does this photo look like real life? One example is that solid surfaces, such as wood and marble, don’t usually bend and curve, so if you use a wood or marble effect paper that curves behind your subject, it won’t look like a real lifestyle setting. Using a flat wood or marble effect base for the table and plain wall behind would look more effective in that scenario.

What's your personal favourite go-to Photo Board?

We particularly love the marble designs and bloggers and food photographers love them too – marble is very on trend at the moment because it adds a touch of style and glamour to scenes. If I had to choose a personal favourite, it would be our French linen design because it looks so wonderfully real, yet, like all our boards, it's wipe clean!

You also run Photocraft, an online photography school that teaches makers how to tell the story of their products - when's your next course?

There are exciting changes going on at Photocraft – we're about to embark on the summer season of live workshops here in Rutland, which are fun, relaxed days of styling with lots of pretty props.

Online we're moving towards mini workshops and free webinars. Photo Boards has taken over big time so after three years of hosting tutor guided courses, Photocraft will now become the place to go for free webinars and mini courses about specific photography topics, such as how to create dark and moody lighting. Watch this space!

Discover more about Photo Boards at photoboards.org and follow @photoboardshq on Instagram. Find out more about Photocraft in our Directory.

This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with Photocraft