The Fresh Loaf

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Tips and ideas for teaching a sourdough bread baking class!

Ogi the Yogi's picture
Ogi the Yogi

Tips and ideas for teaching a sourdough bread baking class!

Hello bakers! 

I was recently asked to teach a sourdough baking class at a community center. I bake and have been baking every weekend for two years now. I feel very confident in my skill and knowledge. I learned everything I know from watching youtubes videos, posting here and reading A LOT. 

I have never actually taken a bread making course. I was wondering if any of you give me some advice or tips on teaching a sourdough class. Do I come prepared with doughs in various stages of development and do I need to have enough dough made the day before for the students to bake and take home? I would love to show the students what the dough needs to look and feel like at various stages but I am not sure how to execute this, or what the logistics of this would be. 

I would of course would want to bake some loafs for the students to eat and make themselves, how would this work exactly? If they mix the dough in class and we give it a quick 20 minute autolysis then add the starter and salt the doughs would still not be ready for hours, especially if its rye bread. 

Would any one be willing to give me some advice or a mini lesson plan from any bread baking courses they have taken or taught? 

Thank you! Also is this the right place to post this post? 

doughooker's picture

Bring some mature starter so the students can see and smell it.

Demonstrate mixing and kneading.

Will you have an oven available? If so, you could bring some dough and bake it.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I've been teaching a class on Artisan Bread Basics out of my home kitchen for a few months now. Couple of things that worked well:

  • Pre-make ciabatta dough the night before, then have the students shape it into buns (good practice handling 80% hydration dough). We bake the buns and have it for lunch (with toppings that they brought with them)
  • Have a dough mixed and ready for folding; have the students fold it then later shape and bake it. In the afternoon, students follow the recipe to make another batch of this dough from the beginning; they take it home and bake it that evening (or put it in the fridge to bake in the morning)
  • Provide a glossary of bread terms; spend some time discussing them (particularly hydration and gluten)
  • Have a pan-bread recipe that can be mixed and baked all in one day (not a sourdough)
  • For the sourdough bit, have starters at different stages and hydrations so they can see what it looks like when first mixed and mature. Have a set with white flour and another set with whole wheat
  • If possible, make sure they have accurate scales for weighing ingredients, as well as enough bowls, bench scrapers, bowl scrapers, etc.
Fatmat's picture

I think that you need to bring in dough at different stages.

Also, I think that it is impossible to teach people how to make sourdough bread, the best you can do is teach them to teach themselves... Show them the techniques and give them the principles. 

Keep it as simple as you can otherwise you may lose them. 

Maybe useful to teach them no knead method...i.e. mix, 4 stretch and folds, shape, rise and bake. 

I hope that this helps. Best of luck and let us know how it went. 

doughooker's picture

Maybe make it a non-sourdough course and bake regular yeasted bread instead. Sourdough involves such long proofing times.

How serious are your students about bread baking in general? Will they go home and never make a loaf themselves?

barryvabeach's picture

I have attended two different classes, and have been asked to do a class by a few friends and have given this some thought.  

1.  Make sure you have a recipe they can follow along with as you go, and extra copies so they can take the recipe home with them.  I would like the ingredients in a table format, with one column for cups, one column for grams.  While you will probably show them the recipe in grams, students who try to make it on their own may appreciate the cups column.

2 I agree with Fatmat,  try to keep it simple.  I went to one class where they had us make 4 different doughs  in a row, then baked the first one - but by that time, most of the students were thoroughly confused.

3.  Set a clear goal  -  for ex.  for my class, the goals would be how to read a recipe  ( bakers percentages ),  how to measure ingredients  ( cups or weights ),  what it means to mix all the ingredients and what it means to knead the dough.   I would show them a window pane, then what bulk fermenting is, and what the final proof looks like.

4.  If at all possible, let the students feel the dough at various stages, or better, make their own batches.  You definitely want to bring to the class dough in different stages ( I tried to work out the timing in advance ) so you can be like that TV chef -  "now that we have finished mixing, it is time to let it rise,  here is the dough that I made 2 hours ago and set at room temp to allow to rise"  


alfanso's picture

A big question is how many participants and what are the facilities?

Work backwards.  And here's how to, for let's say, two students, since you don't say how many.  But let's just imagine two.

After introductions, etc. the work will start:

  • Hand out a somewhat comprehensive copy of the activities and the formula.
  • Review the order of the day, the formula and why you chose it (David Snyder's SJSD immediately comes to mind) and the normal procedure.  Then describe how and why you are doing things in this order.  (you will see why at the end of this...).
  • Take out a retarded dough that you prepared the day prior.  Shape and return it to proof while the oven heats up.  
  • Walk students through the oven prep routine.  
  • When the dough is proofed, oven heated up to temp. and pre-steamed. then follow your personal steps for getting the dough from couche, banneton, etc. through scoring, loading and then baking.
  • While the dough is proofing and the bread is baking begin step two.  Mix a batch of dough as you normally would.  
  • Have a fully built levain ready to be mixed in and demonstrate what that is and why it is.
  • Always mindful of the oven baking timings, of course.
  • Continue with this throughout the discussion and Q&A.
  • While the dough is doing it's bulk rise, take your starter out and feed it.  
  • Then eventually take your already first fed levain, which is ready for the next feeding and feed that.

In essence you can perform a full two days worth of baking related activity in a few hours by working backwards and overlapping tasks.  You may want to use a higher percentage of pre-ferment so that the bulk rise will be accelerated.

I've done this a few times now and my very few students felt like they got their money's worth, even though it was free anyway.


Danni3ll3's picture

I have family and friends who want me to show them how I make my bread and I had no idea on how to go about it in the space of one day. This is perfect! Thank you!!

Ogi the Yogi's picture
Ogi the Yogi

I need to figure out which formula to use for a class like this, is it going to be beginner only or intermediate level students?

If I need to explain baker's percentages or leave that in the hand out with some useful links. I just know other people explain the more technical stuff of baking better than me. 

I was actually considering doing a bake with starter or explaining how some recipes ask for a levain (which I of course can have ready) or a starter. Honestly when I was just learning I found this distinction very difficult! 

I like showing them various steps. 

I also want this class to be about everything I wish I knew when first starting to make sourdough. 

HansB's picture

First off, doing a sourdough class is probably the most difficult of bread classes, it almost needs to be an 8 hour class for sourdough. I have taken many classes at Zingermans and have attended Sarah Owens three day class in NYC.


Zingermans is very professionally run. They start out with the handout that lists ingredients and amounts and steps.

The poolish or starter is premade. 

Zingermans is hands on. Every student (max 12) gets pre measured ingredients in plastic containers. Students then mix/knead the dough. They use a quick erase board to list the time for each step like S&F, preshape, shape and bake.

You end up taking poolish/starter home along with dough in bulk that you can bake at home. You do get to practice each step of the process and bake dough you made in class.

That said, unless you or the center are set on sourdough, I would hope that the students are familiar with yeasted bread already. If they are newbies French Baguettes might be a better place to start.

The links below give brief descriptions of the classes, you can find many more on their website.

All the best with the class. You'll probably learn more than the students!

Ogi the Yogi's picture
Ogi the Yogi

I was worried about the time limitations! 

How was Sarah Owens class structured, would love to meet her one day. Her workshops get great reviews. 

HansB's picture

Because her class was three days we made several breads from her established starter on day one. The next days was baking those loaves and making doughs to bake on the third day. 

There were only three of us in the class. She did not pre measure any ingredients. We all had previously made a fair amount of SD bread so we all knew bakers %, weighing and scaling, etc. She has a nice Rofco B40 so we were able to bake all the loaves at once.

I think you could pull off a short class if it is more of a demo but for SD you may need a full day. All the best!



After day one she got us to make up our own formulas using her large variety of fresh flours. I had a good time.

Arjon's picture

I've never taught breadmaking other than informally, and never taken a class, but I've been a lecturer and trainer in other areas at the university, community college and adult education levels. One thing I've seen a lot of people do who have knowledge but little or no experience teaching what they know (and sadly, some with experience do it too) is to fail to aim their classes at people who know a lot less about the subject than they do. 

On way in which this often manifests itself is the (over-)use of jargon that isn't familiar to the people in the class. So for example, if you tell beginners they can do stretch and folds without demonstrating how to do them, you shouldn't expect them to understand. The term is quite basic to you, but what matters is that they will understand or not. 

In a similar vein, it's also important not to over-focus on the students who are doing well. The ones who aren't have more need of your attention, particularly the quiet ones who are reluctant to speak up on their own.