Breadfarm cultivates wild yeast which we nourish in our sourdough starter. This simple mixture of flour and water creates an ideal environment for yeast to grow and thrive. We ‘feed’ our starter twice daily to keep the yeast happy and active.
Just before the starter is fed each morning, we measure out the amount we will need in order to mix our dough for the day. This mature and active sourdough is combined with additional flour or grains to create a “levain” or intermediate dough. As the levain rises, the flavors of the sourdough are mellowed and balanced. At the same time, the starches from the flour are unwinding and breaking down into the simple sugars that please our palettes. This stage also gives the hungry yeast a nice boost of energy.
The levain rises and is then mixed into the final dough. This kneading action performs the duty of stretching and folding delicate strands of gluten that give the dough body. These elastic strands create a web of air pockets that will fill up as the yeast does its job of making the dough rise.
Fermentation, or rising, is the most critical step of bread baking. We raise our dough slowly, at cool temperatures. In doing so, we allow the time needed to bring out the true flavors of the wheat and grains. We are also developing a balance in flavors between the tang of the sourdough and the sweet simple sugars.
SHAPING AND PROOFING
Once the dough has fully risen, we cut it to weight and the loaves take shape. In shaping, we are giving those gluten strands a final stretch and fold with the bread beginning to take its final form. Now the loaves can expand again as they rise, or “proof” before baking.
Loaves are scored to create beauty and symmetry just before they are placed on the stones of the oven. The oven is then filled with steam which settles on the bread, loosening the surface tension so the loaves can expand as big as can be. As the steam evaporates, the crisp crust begins to form, setting the shape. The simple sugars on the surface begin to caramelize, giving the bread a deep amber color, wonderful aroma and one more level of flavor.