Savouring the complexities and craft of baking sourdough bread, with Nur and Chalith of Woodlands Sourdough.
Text and photography by Denise Hung
In 2016, a wholesome bakery opened its doors in the corner of Serene Centre. The building holds much sentimental value for us who grew up patronising McDonald’s and the Island Creamery ice cream shop; as high school students, we would have tutorial classes upstairs and end the day with a cone of freshly made ice cream or golden fries. Now, The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough is making its way onto our memory lane by changing the way we enjoy our daily bread and coffee.
Nur and Chalith start their days as early as 7am, and end around 10pm. Throughout, they feed their sourdough starters* with big pinches of flour and dashes of water, setting multiple alarms for feeding times. As the starters fluctuate with the temperature and humidity of our tropical weather, Nur and Chalith have to make do with their elasticity, wetness, and how activated the bacterias are. These elements might fall outside of their control, but they make baking a modest experience.
Mixing, primary fermentations, folding, scaling, shaping, resting, final proofing and off to the preheated oven—the bread making process may sound tedious, but Nur and Chalith have certainly gotten the hang of it after maintaining the mother dough** for four years. They are reluctant to change the temperature of the dough, adjust the humidity or speed up its natural process. They are also unwilling to change their recipes to suit the average customer’s palate, preferring to let them experience a Woodlands Sourdough bread the way it is meant to be.
Nur has a pair of hands like an engineer and the intuition of a baker. She plans her baking schedule but often finds it charmingly unpredictable. Even so, the day carries on like clockwork as she kneads, measures, bakes and adjusts what is needed to roll out country, sesame, cereal, baguette and wholemeal loaves on weekdays; walnut, polenta and cinnamon raisin leavened breads on weekends. A very thick caramelised crust, moist holey texture and fermented sourness are distinctively theirs to own. “We want customers to know when they eat our breads, that those are ours,” says Nur as she kneads the first dough of the day.
The bakery uses organic whole wheat flour, grains, nuts and other unrefined products. They also make their own nut butters without additional oil, salt, or sugar, but straight up omega fatty acids. Toasts are served on simple metal trays and customers are highly recommended to indulge with their bare hands. The space is shared with Cata Coffee, which brews specialty coffee beans from around the globe. Coffee is served in reused jam jars while soft-rock music plays through a vinyl turntable.
On Sunday evenings, Nur and Chalith host Pizza Night with just 40 servings of the dish; these are usually sold out via pre-orders by Wednesday. Their inspiration stems from Una Pizza Napoletana, an Italian pizzeria in New York City. Founder Anthony Mangieri has been making thin-crusted Neapolitan pizzas since 1996, and is still in “pursuit of perfection”. His pizza doughs involve a three-day process and are naturally leavened. Back in a corner of Serene Centre, the couple knead their way through a similar path of perfection. And as they remain genuine and true to their trade, customers return to the cosy corner and wait for their daily bread.
* Bread dough typically comprises grains, salt, water and yeast (a catalyst for fermentation). In the case of sourdough, a mixture of flour and water (the starter) replaces yeast as a natural leavening agent, producing carbon dioxide and natural bacteria (lactobacillus) through fermentation.
** Once the starter is alive, it is known as the mother. When it is fed and kept well, it will last indefinitely. Maintaining the mother is done by adding flour and water according to the humidity and consistency of the dough.
For a taste of freshly baked sourdough bread and to see Nur and Chalith at work, visit Woodlands Sourdough at 10 Jalan Serene, #01-05 Serene Centre.