Sourdough in the land of poi

“We must learn to let go as easily as we embrace or we will find our hands are full but our hearts are empty.” – Leo Buscaglia

In a beautiful old Portuguese house by the river in Goa, there stayed a lovely couple who not just opened their house to strangers but also their hearts.

It’s not a fairy-tale I am writing. It’s an experience from a sourdough baking class in the land that starts its day with poi – local Goan bread similar to pao. Earlier this month I was at Sujit Sumitran’s house in Goa to tick off a major wish from my list – learn to bake sourdough and not just learn from anyone, I wanted specifically to attend Sujit’s class in Goa. There were number of reasons for that: a) Sujit is a master of sourdough and has an extensive knowledge on the subject.b) He has built a lovely wood-fired oven in his house. c) His house is in Goa! d) His wife, Sudha, is an exceptional cook and I wanted to eat her Kerala style curries and stews.

Yes, I have my priorities in place.

Sujit Sumitran

Sujit started his sourdough workshops last year, around the same time when my interest in bread baking kicked in. I was baking with store bought yeast and was mildly satisfied with the results too. However, the whole technique and science behind sourdough kept pulling me. Besides the fact that it’s healthier, there’s a joy in seeing your culture come alive and work its way organically on the dough. Commercial yeast hastens the process of fermentation and doesn’t break down the wheat resulting in bloating and discomfort.

A couple of months ago I started my own live culture or mother starter. I baked two disastrous breads with it that went straight into the trashcan and the starter eventually died since I couldn’t feed it while I was traveling. Yes, the sourdough mother starter is like a living person or a pet that needs to be fed on a regular basis. Going into the science behind it, it’s a mixture of water and flour in equal proportions. When left in open microorganisms present in the air and flour start to feed on the sugar and generate gases that create tiny bubbles on the surface of the mix. These tiny bubbles are the sign that your starter is alive. This has to be fed water and flour regularly so the microorganisms have a constant inflow of food. This mother starter gives you bread all your life.

Sourdough Starter

All my attempts – from making my own starter to baking sourdough – were all trial and error based and Sujit’s class happened at the perfect time (actually I booked my seat a month and a half in advance). At his workshop you go through every step of mixing and proofing. The nine hour long workshop starts at 8am. During this time Sujit takes you through various stages of proofing the dough, talks about the right kind of flour, the mother starter and how it behaves differently in different weather conditions. To top it all, you learn by doing and at the end of the day you have a perfect loaf of sourdough.

Dough at its final resting stage

All this in a typical susegad setting; like friends catching up over a bread baking session. We discussed bread and life over cups of coffee and glasses of sangria while giving regular TLC to the dough. The breaks were made better with a lovely breakfast of idli, sambar and homemade molaga podi and a lunch of prawn curry and vegetable stew with Sujit’s breads. You know how some things are meant to be together, same goes for Sujit’s breads and the stews/curries that Sudha makes. They are meant to complete and complement each other. Among the lessons of letting go and patience our dough rose and got ready to go in the oven. There’s a beautiful wood-fired oven in the backyard; our loaves went in to be baked while we lapped up home-made caramel custard.

If you aren’t already tempted to book a seat for the next class, here’re a few pictures.

Sourdough for lunch
Look at that crumb
Vegetable stew
Prawn curry

Checkout Sujit’s blog to learn more about sourdough –

And follow him on Instagram to stay updated with his upcoming workshops

The story of that loaf that I baked didn’t just end there. I took it to the hostel where I was staying and shared it with my Italian hostel mates who loved it and what started from breaking bread together ended in dancing in the rain, floating and singing.

The sourdough loaves we baked

Borrowing Sujit’s words from his Instagram post, “The love of food that led to resonance and created sheer magic.”

And here’s the ritualistic ‘Doughnut Dance’

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