Fermentation: Harnessing the Power of Nature
By far the most exciting change coming to LeFevre Bakery is the bakery wide introduction of natural fermentation. Instead of adding commercial yeast, LeFevre Bakery's bread selections (Stone Valley Sourdough and The Idealist's Loaf) will be made with a stiff, natural levain, or sourdough. What does this mean and why does it matter?
What's natural fermentation? When I bake, I like to think that I am harnessing the energy of the universe in order to bring you, my customer, a magical loaf of health, deliciousness, and pleasure. Honestly, this is not far from the truth. My job as baker is to create the perfect environment with a sourdough starter (comprised simply of flour, water, and salt) for the magical little bacteria--yeast--to thrive. The yeast do the rest. They eat the sugars from the ground wheat and subsequently produce gasses (the rising power of dough) and acid (the yummy flavors and aromas of bread). We call this fermentation and it can be done naturally and slowly through a levain or quickly with commercial yeast.
Why should I care where my yeast comes from? In general, the process described above happens when commercial yeast is added to dough; however, due to the astronomical levels of yeast bacteria in a pinch of commercial yeast this process happens really fast which does not allow for the yummy flavors and aromas, the natural preserving qualities of sourdough or the health benefits of slow, natural fermentation. Some schools of thought even consider the accelerated fermentation from commercial yeast as a primary contributor to the wide-spread intolerance of gluten products.
There is still much to say and much more for me to learn, but as I continue to research bread in particular and food in general I keep running into the same thing. Food is more delicious, longer lasting (without those nasty preservatives), and much better for us when its fermented. So here's to the cheese, the sauerkraut, the yogurt, the wine and beer, and, yes, of course, to bread!