Why naturally leavened?
Grains are inherently difficult to digest. Throughout history, cultures all over the world have relied on grains as a dietary staple and they all developed ways of unlocking the nutrients in these compact little grass seeds. In doing so a whole world of flavours is unleashed as well.
One of the most common methods of increasing nutrient availability in grains is fermentation. The aim of proper fermentation is to employ the enzymes of both the grain itself, and multitudes of tiny microbes, in order to untie the tightly woven structures of the grain. In the word of Dave Miller we are "borrowing all of the enzymatic processes originally designed to facilitate the germination of the wheat seed into a living plant and, instead, using them to give life to a bread dough." A wild sourdough culture "leavens, conditions, flavours, and partially breaks down complex substances in the dough so that our bodies can metabolize the wheat more readily."
The fermentation of grains by wild bacterial cultures lead to the first forms of leavened bread. Studies suggest humans have been making bread this way for more than 30,000 years. In fact, that was the only method of making leavened bread until about 120 years ago when commercial baker's yeast was developed. Since that time bread has changed a great deal; moving towards shorter rising times, refined flour, and mass production. Recently there has been a resurgence in traditional bread methods. At Lakehouse Foods we believe that the very deliberate and methodical preparation of grains is an important part of any thriving food culture. Many people today are having adverse reactions to commercially available wheat products, bread being one of the most common. Like others, we believe that it's not wheat itself that is the problem, but the way it's prepared (and in many cases, grown). Long, slow fermentation with a wild sourdough starter allows wheat and other grains to be transformed into something incredible, something irresistibly delicious. It's no coincidence that the grains reveal their most alluring and complex flavours once they've become a thing the body can digest with no complications. The beneficial bacteria in a sourdough culture essentially pre-digest the grains - in much the same way a grazing animals digest grass. Grass and other plant matter is fermented by microbial action in the rumen before entering the stomach where enzymatic digestion can begin. Being animals with only one stomach, humans have had to come up with clever ways of accomplishing that initial stage of grain digestion in the kitchen. Luckily it's not very difficult, it just takes time.
It's not just the taste but the texture, the mouth feel, and the smell of naturally leavened bread that make it what it is. There is a multi-sensory satisfaction with true sourdough bread that is incomparable. Complex and richly aromatic gasses are produced during fermentation and become trapped in the bread dough. As the bread is eaten these gasses are released and travel up the back of the throat into the nasal passage where they trigger a series of sensations and create depth of flavour. I'm continually awed by how three simple ingredients, combined in just the right ways, create such complex and pleasurable experiences.
Fresh milled whole grain flour:
At Lakehouse Foods we use as much fresh ground flour as we possibly can. We use a stone mill that keeps the temperature of the flour low, and use the flour within 24 hours. This is another concept central to our bread baking practice - like fermentation, the milling greatly improves the healthfulness and the flavour of our breads. Grains are extremely stable in their whole form, but as soon as they are ground into flour the vitamins and oils begin to oxidize and enzymes are activated.
Milling our own flour in house also allows us to bake with a wide variety of whole grain flours that aren't otherwise readily available. We know the appeal of white flour well, and at the same time we see so much potential in the dimensions of whole grains. There are flavour and texture possibilities that become possible with whole grains that could never be achieved using predominantly white flour. What's more, whole grains are an extremely important part of maintaining a healthy microbiome. Many of our recipes feature whole grain flour and we are constantly developing or adapting recipes to explore more whole grain possibilities
Sprouting is another great way to make grains come alive. Like all seeds grains are in a completely contained state until they germinate. They have enzyme inhibitors and other anti-nutrients so that they can remain intact through all sorts of adverse conditions until they can find a suitable place to take root. The act of sprouting grains turns them from dormant seeds into living plants that look, feel and smell as delicious as they taste.
Once sprouted the grains can then be used in a number of ways. We use sprouted grain flour in all our recipes that don't involve a significant amount of fermentation, as well as some recipes that do.