Sourdough bread can be baffling, even for the experienced cook. It uses naturally occurring yeasts for start — yeasts that are present the air around us. They’re flying around up there right now, waiting to be harnessed, but will only work their magic for the right person. It’s as if the baker needs a special password or language, like a horse whisperer taming a horse, or Gandalf opening the doors to Moria.
Dan Lepard can teach you the language of sourdough. A man who has worked all over the world with many famous chefs, he has countless years of experience in baking. What he doesn’t know about sourdough baking isn’t worth knowing, basically, and he's one of many experts who run classes at Cookery School at Little Portland Street.
We went along and tried to absorb his knowledge, dutifully following instructions, mixing, folding, shaping and baking then crossing our fingers that we’d have something vaguely edible at the end of the day. And you know what? We did. We actually made a focaccia, a sourdough loaf and a batch of sourdough chocolate muffins, all of us rising proudly come the end of the session.
To be honest, this seemed like a minor miracle, much of it down to Dan’s teaching style. He has the easy manner of a bloke who knows his stuff but also knows people, and that’s a very powerful combination — particularly when it comes to something as notoriously tricky to master as sourdough.
We learn how kneading isn’t really necessary, but folding sure as hell is; we learn how to make focaccia so light and springy it’s visibly puffing with air bubbles; we harness the knowledge necessary to maintain a sourdough starter (and receive a healthy live one to take home) and we spend a day testing Dan’s knowledge with every question, problem and failed loaf story we can think of.
In short, we can’t recommend this class enough. The Cookery School itself is a great space, too - well equipped and full of cheerful staff who bring you everything then take it away and wash it (and if that doesn’t sell the place to you, then frankly you haven’t done enough washing up in your life).
At the end of the day we leave with our loaves, some starter, a dough scraper, an information booklet (covered in frantic scribbles) and a whole lot of love for the Lepard. What better way to spend a day than mixing and kneading, drinking tea, eating chocolate truffles (yes), and learning how to bake high-grade carbs.
Baking not your thing? No matter. Cookery School at Little Portland Street runs lots of different classes focusing on everything from knife skills to mastering fish and shellfish, and a full list of courses can be found on the website. Cookery School, 15b Little Portland Street, W1W 8BW.