Before I started culinary school, sourdough was a complete stranger. The only kind of bread that I knew throughout the entire twenty-odd years of my life was plain commercial white bread—Gardenia, in particular. My once trusty Jumbo 600g pack that matched everything under the sun; kaya, peanut butter, strawberry jam, cheese and luncheon meat. Name an ingredient, and this slice will be able to wrap around it like a tailored skirt—matched to perfection.
Then came that particular lesson on the art of making sourdough bread. After an entire day of punching, kneading, folding and shaping, we each got to savour a slice of freshly baked pain au levain (traditional French sourdough bread) straight out of the oven. Boy, oh boy, it was heaven in a mouthful—fragrant, chewy and subtly tangy. Since then, I was a convert; no other bread could satisfy me the way the sourdough did.
Sourdough—the artisanal loaf
Hand-crafted and made with high-quality ingredients without the use of additives or preservatives, sourdough is a slow-fermented bread known for its characteristic tanginess and slightly chewy texture.
In order to ensure that the bread is created as naturally as possible, bakeries tend to limit or eliminate the use of commercial yeast to bring out the best qualities of the ingredients used. As such, natural starters made from live fermented cultures are used as a leavening agent in addition to flour, water and salt for the preparation of a basic pain au levain.
Flavour develops from the starter
Most sourdough aficionados swear by the signature tang of the bread. After all, this is what makes it stand out from its other artisanal counterparts. But do you know that the same recipe made using two different batches of starters can result in completely different tasting loaves of sourdough?
Natural starters contribute a distinct flavour to the bread after being baked. Depending on the type of flour, quality of the water and environmental conditions, the final product can range from being mild and buttery to sharp and tangy.
The fermentation process of a natural starter causes wild yeast and bacteria to convert glucose from the flour into lactic acid and acetic acid.
Generally, a cool fermentation favours the development of lactic acid which is mild, whereas a shorter, warmer fermentation favours the development of acetic acid which is stronger and tangier in flavour.
Natural health benefits
Apart from its unique flavour and texture, the long fermentation process of the sourdough also introduces a slew of nutritional benefits, making it a better choice as compared to store-bought alternatives. So let’s take a look at all the good things a slice of toasted sourdough will do to our body.
1. More nutrient absorption
In most bread, essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc are bound together by phytates preventing them from being easily absorbed into our bodies. Wild yeast and lactobacillus neutralise these phytates during the fermentation process, resulting in free-flowing nutrients that can be absorbed readily into our body.
The presence of lactic acid also increases the micronutrient profile in the sourdough allowing them to be quickly and readily available for our body’s usage.
2. Regularisation of blood sugar level
During the preparation of a natural starter, wild yeast feeds on glucose during the fermentation process. With the majority of the glucose being consumed, the ultimate sourdough product will therefore not cause as much of a spike in blood sugar level as compared to commercial white bread.
3. Easy digestion
Sourdough’s long fermentation process breaks down gluten protein into amino acids, making it a suitable carbohydrate option for those who bloat easily, are sensitive to gluten, or have digestive problems. In fact, natural bacteria together with the natural yeast predigest the starches aiding our body in its digestive process.
5 bakeries in Singapore to get your loaf of sourdough bread
1. Starter Lab
Originated from Bali, Starter Lab is a bakery located in Havelock Road selling crusty sourdough bread made from a mother starter hand-carried to Singapore all the way from Indonesia.
A place of experimentation since its beginning, Starter Lab serves up an array of American-style sourdough which are lighter in texture and more pronounced in its acidity as compared to Europen-style loaves.
For a basic option, their Country Sourdough Bread (whole: S$18, half: S$11) makes for the perfect vessel for a smashed avocado toast or a grilled cheese sandwich. Otherwise, go for their Seeded Wheat Sourdough Bread (whole: S$16, half: S$10). Coated with a mix of black and white sesame seeds and a generous amount of sunflower seeds, this loaf is loaded with nutty fragrance bread lovers will not be able to resist.
2. Baker & Cook
Brainchild of New Zealand born entrepreneur, baker, author and TV personality Dean Brettschnider, Baker & Cook is an artisan bakery and food store committed to creating hand-crafted products made with honest ingredients using traditional techniques.
Cakes, pastries and traditional sourdough loaves such as the Pain au Levain (S$8.20) aside, you can also expect to find one-of-a-kind sourdough creation such as the sourdough bagel.
Retailing in a pack of four, feel free to choose between three distinct flavours—Plain (S$6.90), Onion Sesame Seed (S$7.50) and 7 Grains & Seed (S$7.50)—to bring home for the recreation of a healthy meal any time of the day.
A little bird also told us that some of Baker & Cook’s bread can also be found in major grocery stores such as Cold Storage and Market Place by Jasons. So, do keep a lookout during your next grocery run to see if you can spot them in stores nearby.
3. The Bakehaus
If there is just one place which I have to choose to get my loaf of sourdough, it will definitely be The Bakehaus. I was attracted to this one-year-old bakery the moment I bit into their Purple Wheat with Candied Orange Sourdough (S$12). Albeit subtly tangy, it had bits of sweetness from the candied orange in every bite, resulting in a perfectly balanced loaf of bread that is delicious even when eaten alone.
Apart from classic flavours, the bakery also frequently delight fans with unique varieties such as the Hae Bee Hiam Sourdough and Rich Double Belgian Dark Chocolate Sourdough.
Count on The Bakehaus to make festive seasons fun and delicious with their festive sourdough bread. Interesting flavours like the Milk Kefir Mocha (S$16) and Roasted Pumpkin & Bacon (S$16) are sold during Halloween so do constantly check out their Facebook and Instagram nearing festivals such as Christmas for updates on what they have to offer.
Let me warn you that these special flavours can be sold out before you know it, thus, it’s first come first serve here at The Backhaus!
4. Bread Yard
Spouted in the campus of Singapore University of Technology and Design, Bread Yard to date has grown out of their initial location with a cafe in 1 Fusionpolis Place and a factory outlet in Mandai Link.
Here, Bread Yard differentiates itself from fellow bakeries with the usage of Japanese and European techniques in their baked goods. For a taste from the Land of the Rising Sun, give their Sourdough Miso Sesame (S$8) a try. Rather than a strong sourish aftertaste, this loaf has hints of umami and savouriness that is uniquely addictive.
As much as we love our sourdough slices, sometimes getting our hands on them is just not an easy feat. So how about a two-month bread subscription to put an end to all the trouble? At Bread Yard, you can opt for a once a month delivery at S$38, twice a month delivery at S$68 or weekly delivery at S$120 depending on your household’s bread-loving situation.
Otherwise, you can also choose the two-month bread and pastry subscription for a wider range of variety that is sure to tickle the fancy of both bread and pastry fans.
5. Mr Kneady’s
Most sourdough bread comes in a humongous loaf weighing up to 600g. If you are looking for a smaller loaf just to feed one or two in your family, Mr Kneady’s is where you need to be. Located in Bedok, this bakery is situated in a hawker centre and it sells nothing but sourdough—both bread and pizzas.
Their 250g sourdough bread comes in five flavours ranging from the basic White (S$3) and Whole Wheat (S$3) to a nutty Walnut (S$4) and a fruity Cranberry Turmeric (S$3.50).
During your visit don’t forget to take a seat and give their sourdough pizzas a try. To get the best out of the sourdough crust, the Arlandria (S$12) is a traditional tomato-based pizza topped with cheese such as brie, gruyere and mozzarella.
Adventurous foodies should give their dessert pizza—Art of War (S$12) a try. Completed with crème fraîche, bananas, blueberries, streusel and caramelised white chocolate chips, this pizza is the one kids will definitely fall heads over heels for.
If you have yet to venture into the world of sourdough, I hope this article will inspire you to at least give it a try. Who knows, you might end up like me—hooked and addicted to this unique loaf of bread.
And if time allows, instead of getting a ready-made one from the bakery, why not try your hands at baking them. It might seem like a long and tedious process, but trust me, once you see that bread baby birth out of the oven, it will be love at first sight. If you are interested in the baking process, leave a comment and who knows, a follow-up recipe article might be on its way.