Thanks to Octopus Publishing Group or the complimentary copy of The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking: Nourishing the Gut & the Mind by Vanessa Kimbell. I’m excited to share my honest review of this gorgeous new cookbook.
A note from the publisher about The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking: Nourishing the Gut & the Mind
The benefits of sourdough are well known – the slow fermentation process creates a healthier and lighter dough that is easier to digest – but until now they have been mainly linked to bread. If it rises, however, it can be made with sourdough, and in this ground-breaking new book, Vanessa Kimbell focuses on sweet sourdough bakes that not only nourish the gut but also improve your mood.
Using a variety of flours, including chestnut, spelt and einkorn, as well as blends you can make up yourself, the classic recipes and new ideas for flavour combinations cover everything from cakes, tarts and biscuits, to doughnuts, brioche and pretzels, and rely on natural sweetness wherever possible.
Recipes include Morello Cherry Shortbread, Chocolate, Tangerine & Pistachio Cakes, Carrot & Walnut Cake, Doughnuts and Mille-feuille as well as vinegars, compotes, cultured creams, butters and ghee. There is even Chocolate, Almond & Hazelnut Spread and Sourdough Vanilla Ice Cream.
Vanessa also explains how sourdough helps to maintain the health and diversity of your gut microbiome. From understanding the benefits of having diversity in your diet to the amazing work of enzymes, this book is about understanding the connection between our food, gut microbiome and the potential impact on our mental health. New studies are unveiling links between the microorganisms in our gut and our mood and behaviour, and Vanessa is at the forefront of this research.
- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: Kyle Books (September 3, 2020)
My thoughts about The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking: Nourishing the Gut & the Mind
Like many others, I’ve welcomed sourdough baking at home into my life this year. I’ve struggled with GI issues for many years and sourdough baked goods seem to be easier for me to digest than traditionally yeasted ones. In addition to making home-baked loaves a regular occurrence, I’ve been turning my focus to all the other ways I can incorporate sourdough into other baked goods. So when I saw Vanessa Kimbell’s latest book, The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking: Nourishing the Gut & the Mind, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.
My first impression was how lovely the book itself was. Quite often these days, books seem to be cheaply clobbered together with a softbound cover and the same (more or less) fill-in-the-text page design from a word processor template. This book was thoughtfully designed to include both thoughtful illustrations and gorgeous photography among the text and was obviously designed with great care; it would be gorgeous sitting on both your bookshelf or coffee table.
The text is broken up into multiple sections, including scientific chapters to help guide your understanding of how the gut microbiome affects the mind, the diversification of grains, and eating symbiotically, before progressing into the sourdough process, and finally recipes toward the last third of the book. For those looking strictly for a recipe book, this might not be what you’re looking for. But for those who are looking for a better understanding of how the food they consume affects their body and mind, this book is a fantastic introduction to thinking beyond the flour bag you pick up from the market. As Kimbell says in her introduction, “While this book has incredibly delicious recipes to bake and eat, it is not a book about baking. This is a book about understanding.”
I really appreciated the sections on the diversity of grains as it’s something I think most of us don’t consider until we find out we can no longer eat the grains we’ve always consumed and have to look for an alternative. I think when many people consider ‘grain,’ they pair that word synonymously with ‘wheat.’ But in reality, grain can be many different varietals of wheat as well as other grains: rye, buckwheat, quinoa, rice, etc. — and we can bake with them! The diversification of what we choose to bake with is actually quite narrow compared to what is often available to us.
Though I do find the grain blends listed to be somewhat unrealistic for the average kitchen to keep on hand, the more I read this book and reform my understanding of diversification, the less ambitious the idea of the blends seem. I don’t get the impression that the author is advocating for you to necessarily follow her blends strictly, just to open your consideration for adding additional grains into your flour blend. I see the blends as a jumping-off point for increasing the diversity of grain with which you bake.
I found the recipes in the book to be varied and unique. I had previously never considered utilizing sourdough in ice cream or fizzy drinks, but am intrigued by the flavor profile and process for both. There’s also wonderful-looking recipes for things like pasta, galettes, and cake too if traditional dishes are more your speed — I opted to start with a chocolate biscuit recipe for my first bake.
Chocolate Chip Biscuits
Rich, dark chocolate and cacao powders are an incredible source of polyphenols (which make up 6 per cent of cacao’s dry weight), including flavanols, anthocyanins, flavones, flavanones and isoflavones (page 29). These special antioxidant compounds combat the effects of biological stress in our cells and perform anti-inflammatory functions. What’s more, the polyphenols in cacao are another source of sustenance for probiotics Bifidobacterium (page 22) and Lactobacillus (page 23), which help maintain our gut PH and support beneficial bacteria. And as they break down polyphenols, they even increase the available levels of these compounds for use directly by our body. […]
The moment I saw the Chocolate Chip Biscuits, I knew I had to make them. I mean, just look at these beauties!? They’re just begging to be eaten by the stack and dipped into milk. They’re a chill and slice biscuit (cookie) with the added benefit of being chock full of gut-healthy ingredients, including cacao, pecans, and my trusty sourdough starter “Walter” who is made from organic rye and organic all-purpose flours.
We really enjoyed the texture of these biscuits. They were surprisingly soft and chewy and the sweetness was just perfect for a post-dinner treat or afternoon dip into the cookie jar. The pecans and spice complement the chocolate so these feel like the perfect fall treat to enjoy with a glass of milk, coffee, or tea.
In full disclosure, I did make two small changes to the recipe. The first was that I limited the amount of nutmeg that I used in the recipe as a full teaspoon seemed like quite a bit for the amount of dough. The second was that I opted not to leave the cookie mix out to ferment overnight, only because the dough included eggs and as a US baker, that made me nervous. I think there are some differences in how eggs in the US are processed compared to those in the UK, so I instead opted to put them right in the fridge to firm. I think when I make this recipe again I will just omit the eggs from the dough the first day so that can fully ferment at room temp overnight and add mix them in the following morning before chilling.
Who this book is a good fit for
The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking: Nourishing the Gut & the Mind is a great gift for those who would like to progress past the basics of basic sourdough bread, are looking to diversify their pantry baking staples, or are looking to learn more about how these things can positively affect both the gut and the mind.
I don’t think the recipes themselves are too complex, but I think a more experienced baker would be more comfortable with the recipes in this book as they may sometimes require minor adjustments, even just because of the grain blend you choose to use, that a brand new baker may not feel comfortable making. Overall, I think this is a lovely book that I see myself revisiting to learn and bake from again.
ABOUT Vanessa Kimbell
Vanessa Kimbell runs The Sourdough School in Northamptonshire, where she teaches sourdough breadmaking and baking classes to students from around the world. A regular BBC radio journalist in the UK, she is a third generation baker of Italian descent and trained in several French bakeries.