Iris has been interested in baking since we returned from our first ‘Forests of the World’ trip in Costa Rica and that’s when I started to follow a baker from Slovenia called Anita Sumer. Her unique twist on cooking inspired me to merge Iris’s artistic skills into her baking. When we were planning our trip to Slovenia I contacted Anita and she kindly offered us the chance to visit her to have our own private workshop in her apartment. It was an inspirational start to our trip filling our tummies with yummy food and a perfect way to rejuvenate from our testing journey the day before and fuel us for what was to come over the week ahead.
At first, Iris was a little shy but she got into the swing of things as soon as she saw the dough and made herself at home.
We made delicious pizzas, a selection of breads and puddings.
We asked Anita some questions about her journey so far with Sour Dough and I wanted to share this with you.
How did you start making Sourdough?
I started about 6 years ago when my husband Sašo had his gallbladder removed and was not able to eat yeasted bread as he experienced bloating and stomach issues. So I researched and stumbled upon sourdough. I made my very first sourdough starter but sadly it died on me, because I didn’t know how to take good care of it. But I did not give up and made my second one, Rudl, that’s his name, and he’s been with me ever since. And one day I made a sourdough brick loaf and my husband was able to eat it without problems. We knew at that moment that this bread was something special.
I did not go to any workshops. I’m a self-taught 100% sourdough baker, this means that I’ve been baking for 6 years only with sourdough no commercial yeast added. The more I baked the better understanding of the whole process I got. With every bake, you make some progress, you just need to be persistent and patient.
What was your life like before Sourdough? What was your profession?
I’m not a baker by profession but definitely by heart and soul. My normal occupation is an English teacher and German translator and interpreter. But lately, I’ve been baking and teaching sourdough baking more than translating. It is something I enjoy a lot, I pour my love and passion into it and can’t imagine not baking anymore, it has become a part of my life.
Your sourdough breads incredibly beautiful, are arts in your family?
Actually, my mother loves to dance and sing folklore songs, and I’ve always loved arts, made my own greeting cards, and all those hand-crafted items. When I got the hang of making sourdough bread, I started to decorate it to give it my unique touch.
What’s your favourite recipe or food from Sourdough?
I love all kinds of bread, there isn’t a favourite one, one day I prefer a heavy rye, some days a light white kamut batard, then on the next day a fluffy and buttery brioche. Sourdough baking is a journey and you get to eat your ups and downs on the way. To me it is more important that the bread has a nice flavour, is healthy, nutritious, delicious, and if it looks good it’s just a cherry on top.
I have quite a unique approach to sourdough, I use it not only for baking but also for cooking, it’s so versatile.
You have a large following online, how did that happen?
Almost overnight, haha. No, but really, I created my Instagram account (sourdough_mania) two years ago in October 2016, and started posting bread/sourdough-related content every day, videos, pictures, tutorials etc. Somehow the content caught attention of foreign media companies like BuzzFeed, Insider, Business Insider, Daily Mail, Freeda amongst others. They made compilations of my works and the number of followers jumped up a lot. Then the media in Slovenia discovered my story, magazines and televisions came to me to make the interviews, and I became better known also in my home country.
You’ve recently published a book on Sourdough, how successful has it been?
The book was released on 7th December 2017, it was the first sourdough book in Slovenian language, and the first edition was sold out in 3 months. And now almost half of the second edition is sold as well. And from every book sold, 2 € go for therapies of a 6-year-old-girl with cerebral palsy. In December, it even surpassed a book by a world-wide known cook book author and celebrity chef in sales at a major book store.
When I was writing this book, I had in mind that I need to include everything that I was missing when I first encountered sourdough. There were no books in Slovenian language six years ago. All the information I found was online. The book is structured as this; first we cover grains with the help of my friend David Kranjc who is a specialist in agronomy, then we move on to different types of flour, after that is time to make our first starter and mix our first bread, knead, stretch and fold, preshape and shape, then proof, score and bake. Then I also showed some procedures in detail (for example how to make rye bread, croissants, pizza etc.). The first part of more than 150 pages is dedicated to procedures and theory and is very rich in photography with beautiful pictures of my friend and photographer Primož Lavre who is also a devoted sourdough baker himself.
The second part includes more than 45 recipes that cover different types of bread, pastries, sweet and savoury delights etc. Then at the end, there’s an extensive SOS chapter with questions and answers to the most common situations in sourdough baking. And a baking schedule so the reader can adapt the process to fit their time and life.
The book is having a huge impact and the sourdoughmania is slowly evolving into a movement for better bread.
Next year it will be published in two foreign languages as well, approximately in May there will be a Croatian edition, and in autumn another language will be added to the sourdoughmania edition.
I’m so grateful to be able to make a change, with small steps we can all contribute to a better well-being.
You run workshops on Sourdough, tell me about the people who go to them?
My classes are visited by professionals and amateurs alike. Though this January I gave a special course for chefs with many well-known and excellent Slovenian chefs, Luka Košir for example came to my workshop in Ljubljana as well as Matej Zupančič, and Črt Butul, we had one whole day dedicated especially to sourdough baking in restaurants, and it was a blast and a lot of fun. Good bread is critical for a good restaurant, the first thing a person gets on the table is bread, and you need to make a good entrance with it.
Where has Sourdough taken you in your travels?
So far I’ve visited Portugal, Russia, Jamaica, Singapore, Bangkok, England, Belgium, the Netherlands and also Croatia. Every country has its charm, I love them all and I enjoy getting to know other cultures, especially food-wise, I love to eat and experiment. But I think Asia has found a weak spot in me, I got immersed in its rich culinary background, lots of new and exciting things to try, such amazing hospitality, a friend of mine and a fellow questor chef William Woo organised my first 2-day-masterclass in his artisan school in Singapore and a 3-day-masterclass in Bangkok. We baked a lot, also traditional Slovenian goods like fruit bread, potica, buhteljni, doughnuts etc. Sharing the culinary tradition around the world is also a privilege, seeing the students trying something they’ve never had before and enjoying it is really rewarding.
Do you have any advice for people starting in baking?
Yes, of course, don’t be intimidated by sourdough, it’s just fermented flour and water, anyone can learn. You just need to be patient and persistent, don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time. When you get the hang of the process, observe it with all your senses and you will make it, and the reward is a loaf of flavourful, delicious and healthy bread.
Know your flour well, try to use local organic ingredients if possible. Good flour is the key to good sourdough starter and then to delicious bread.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to spread the sourdoughmania bug around Slovenia and the world, share my knowledge, get to learn new countries and their culture, meet other sourdough enthusiasts, and I hope to see my book translated into other languages as well.
How do you book on to one of your courses?
I’m usually contacted by email – firstname.lastname@example.org or over Instagram if someone wants to invite me over to do a masterclass. There are a few foreign workshops already planned for next year, some old locations and some new ones too, you can find more information on my website – www.sourdoughmania.com (will be up and running at the end of November) and on my Instagram (sourdough_mania).
Photography by Arabella Carter-Johnson, Harry Speller & Sourdoughmania