A MASTERCLASS WITH TOGARA MABHARANI

Togara Mabharani, Master Baker at Belmond Mount Nelson and multiple Distell Inter Hotel Challenge award-winning ‘Bio-Wheat Baker of the Year’ gives us some insight and the finer points on preparing sourdough bread.

Over the years Togara has been mentored by Head Pastry Chef Craig Hibbert, under the auspices of Executive Chef Rudi Liebenberg at Belmond Mount Nelson, now, in turn, he mentors the young bakers during the Skills Exchange Development Program for the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge.

“Sourdough bread baking, which is referred to as wild yeast bread baking due to bacterial fermentation, is a vast topic and has a lot to consider before you embark on it,” says Togara.

“The most important thing is your ‘mise en place’ – all the necessary tools need to be in place. The right type of flour, premium quality from a consistent supplier, a fully functioning oven etc. as most problems encountered are realizing at the last minute that all is not in place! The best way to have ‘mise en place’ is to have a checklist and focus to avoid mistakes. 

Still, in this early stage, a proper bread formula must be available which you have proved works well for you and you understand it.

Sourdough bread needs a good starter before you start. Make sure you have a good mother starter, which you feed regularly.  Before you start to make the sourdough bread, breakdown the stages you are going to go through and put a time schedule in writing for each stage so that you know exactly the time you are baking your bread.”

“When folding a sourdough, punching (professionals call it degassing) is done in the primary or bulk fermentation. The main reason for degassing is to introduce new food to the yeast cells redistributing the nutrients in the dough.

During bulk fermentation, the temperature of the outside of the dough is cooler than the inside. Punching and folding help to equalize the temperature. The main reason is to release some carbon dioxide, which is trapped in the dough. The other reason is to make the gluten relax.

The procedure to fold the dough is first to dust flour, spread a little bit of oil or spray water on the counter. Scoop your dough on the counter and pull all sides from the center to form a rectangle. This must be done gently retaining some gas so as to produce irregular holes (crumb) in the final baked loaf.  Pick the two top corners and bring it toward you stretching halfway, take the bottom two corners and fold over the first top fold. Take the two right-side corners and stretch and fold halfway lastly take the two left corners and stretch the fold over the right corners. Turn the dough and put in a lightly oiled or floured bowl and rest for 45 minutes for the next, covered with plastic,” explains Togara. 

“This pic shows a sourdough being bowled in an oiled bowl then covered for another 45 minutes bulk fermentation preparation for another folding. I prefer to prove it very slowly so as to get a better flavour,” shares Togara

“In this picture,” says Togara, “l am portioning my dough. After folding the dough two to three times during bulk fermentation. The next stage in baking will be portioning or dividing. In this stage, you need a dough cutter. Scoop the dough on a well-floured counter or lightly oiled surface. 

Portion the dough into the right size you want and for the right banneton or mould you have. For example, don’t cut a 700 g dough to fit into a 500 g banneton, you will have a problem, it will overflow!

When dividing the dough do not rip it, cut it clean using a metal dough cutter. Get your weights right on the first cut. i.e. cutting a 200 g dough, go as close as 200 g. I prefer to make the one cut than for it to comprise of too many pieces as this makes the dough weak.

After dividing, pre-roll your piece of dough into the shape you want and bench rest for 10 to 15 minutes before final shaping.”

“Shaping is the next stage after dividing. In this picture, l am shaping a bâtard. Sourdough can be shaped into various shapes such as Baguettes, boules, a sheaf of wheat, and even normal tin loaves. I am using a banneton dusted with flour for this loaf, if not available you can use a round dish and put a clean dishcloth as a couch.

After l divided my dough and had a bench rest, l gently flatten my dough into an almost rectangle shape then pull the top side halfway and gently press – that’s the first fold. Pull the bottom part and fold halfway to meet the top part – that will be my second fold. Take your right part of your dough and stretch folding it halfway – that’s the third fold. Pull the left-hand side part of the dough and fold to meet the right side on the center and flatten gently – that is my fourth fold, and finally, pull the top part of the dough again and fold it slightly past 3/4 and roll over into a bâtard. Place your bâtard into the dusted banneton seam facing up.”

“This is how a bâtard should rest in a banneton after shaping, seam facing up ready for secondary proving.”

“The loaf has finished its secondary proving (i.e. 80% proved) the remaining 20% is done in the oven as ‘oven spring’.

Before l put my loaf in the oven l need to score or dock my bread. This is a cut made with a blade called a lame or a sharp knife at an angle of 45 degrees with the surface of the bread. The main reason of docking for me is to release the trapped gases in the proved loaf to achieve a nice shape. The slashing is also artistic when done properly and gives a good presentation.

l preheat my oven 15 to 20 minutes before. Dust a wooden board or peel if you have one with flour, turn my banneton with the proved loaf upside down on the floured surface and leave it a few seconds to be released out, steam your oven and slash your loaf and load into the oven directly on the hot deck then steam again before closing.”

“For all my bread l use preferments and the end result is always amazing, visually stunning and spectacular flavour with large irregular holes, a true mark of slow-fermented bread,” says Togara Mabharani.

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