The process of leavening bread through fermentation is as old as bread baking itself. For thousands of years humans have been harnessing the power of naturally occuring lactobacilli and yeast to create sourdough bread. The earliest records of the use of sourdough in the process of breadmaking date back to ancient Egypt around 1500 BC. Though we don’t know for sure how the sourdough process was discovered, many speculate that ancient civilizations discovered it accidentally when dough may have been left out too long before being baked. Wild yeast spores, which live both in the air all around us and on foods such as grapes, wheat and other grains, were mixed into the dough and allowed to begin to ferment. Bakers would have noticed that the dough that had been allowed to sit undisturbed rose higher and was lighter than the usual flat breads
The use of sourdough as a leavening agent for bread was also used across Europe throughout recorded history. Many of the older, darker varieties of wheat used in European countries historically respond well to this process, creating a lighter longer-lasting bread. As European settlers came to the United States many brought this process, along with their sourdough starters, with them. Most notably, French bakers who came to California during the 1840’s during the Gold Rush found that the wild yeast in the San Francisco Bay area created a sourdough starter that baked bread that was particularly pleasing in flavor and texture.
Unfortunately, both commercially and in most homes, modern bakers have abandoned this ancient process over the past 150 years in favor of the faster, yet less flavorful, dry yeast that most of us are more familiar with. Many home bakers and artisanal bakeries however are beginning to rediscover the art of baking with sourdough. Though it is possible to use this ancient method of baking bread with modern, hybridized, mass produced wheat, we have found that the ancient process of leavening with sourdough pairs perfectly with our ancient grains. It is much better suited for use with our organic einkorn, Kamut and spelt, as well as with our hard wheats, both white and red.
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