Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bring on the Bread

Who doesn't love some warm, freshly baked bread straight out of the oven? Oh yum. Add some herbed dipping oil, and I'm done for, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. But I know what you're thinking: "All those carbs!" or maybe, "All that gluten!" Bread has gotten such a bad reputation in our modern society. What used to be considered the staff of life is now looked at as pure evil. Hmmmm. Something doesn't seem quite right about that. Well that's because it's not. The problem is not with bread in and of itself; the problem is with our modern version of bread. (Big surprise.) Today's wheat has actually been altered to contain more gluten (the protein matrix in wheat and other grains that so many people are intolerant to) than it used to, and many bakers then add even more to their dough. This is not a good combination for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. On top of the excess of gluten in most breads, we're all confused in the yeast department too. In traditional breadmaking, dough is typically left to rise for at least 12 hours. During this time, wild yeasts from the air get added to the dough and make themselves at home. Lactobacilli from the air also settle themselves in. These wild yeasts and lactobacilli work symbiotically, the lactobacilli utilizing maltose, which yeasts are unable to use. In today's bread, bakers yeast is used, which is not one of the natural yeasts that have traditionally been used for baking, and it is not a whole food. Plus, breads are no longer allowed to rise for long periods of time, preventing the wild yeasts and lactobacilli from making their way into the dough. Without the lactobacilli, there is no protection from harmful bacteria, and all this extra yeast is bad news for the consumer. Some of it can survive the baking process and then make its way into the gut. Too much yeast in the gut weakens the immune system, increases intestinal permeability, and can cause headaches, digestive disorders, and depression. So you see, all of the problems we associate with bread are actually due to quick, convenience bread - the modern bread - not to artisan breads, which is where I come in :)

I'm happy to report that I am the proud new owner of a cast iron bread pan and a sourdough starter. As soon as I can get my hands on some freshly ground whole wheat flour, the artisan bread experimenting will begin! I'll begin with wheat as a starting point, but who knows where it will lead? I would love to experiment will all different types of grains and even try my hand at sprouted grain breads. Other than the deliciousness that's about to ensue, I'm also excited to have a few more live critters (the sourdough culture) around the apartment. I recently revived my kefir grains after their long hiatus in the freezer, and I'm trying to be more intentional about regularly feeding my composting worms too :)  Stay tuned for the bread updates. The first step will be to activate the dehydrated sourdough starter I received . . .