Why natural leaven?
A natural leaven ("to rise") refers to the way in which the bread is made, specifically without the use of commercial yeast. A sourdough culture and wild yeast water are two different ways of leavening bread (a quick google search of "wild yeast water" will yield examples). I primarily use a sourdough culture I have cultivated over the past couple of years in my breads. Commercial yeast on the other hand has been selected for in laboratories since the mid-21st century for its ability to quickly and efficiently leaven bread. However, what commercial yeast lacks is the diversity of microbes that a sourdough culture inherently possesses. A sourdough culture contains not only wild yeast (to leaven) but also lactic acid bacteria, among other types of bacteria. These bacteria produce the signature tang of sourdough as well as nutritious compounds for us to consume. The length of time required for a sourdough culture to leaven bread is also of importance. Most commercially yeasted bread undergo fermentation times of only a couple hours. Sourdough on the other hand usually requires at least 6-8 hours for the same type of bread.
Whole-grains are important.
Thanks to modern innovation it is easier than ever to mill grain into flour at home. Much like freshly-ground coffee beans make better coffee, so does freshly-milled grain make better bread. Mixing this flour into my recipes adds a whole new dimension of flavor and nutrition. Once you smell the aromas of freshly-milled flour, store bought whole wheat smells bland! This concept may be demonstrated by the fact that whole grain kernels keep for years and years when stored properly, whereas flour will go rancid within a couple weeks unless handled properly. This is because of the healthy vitamins and oils that reside in the bran and germ of a wheat grain--these are commonly sifted out to yield "white flour" that is more shelf stable.
Fermentation is key!
Baking naturally leavened bread is a microscopic wonder. A sourdough culture is a symbiotic culture of natural yeasts and bacteria; these microscopic organisms feed on the components in flour making it more digestible and nutritious for us. To me, baking sourdough bread is akin to making wine or beer--part science, part human intuition. These are natural fermentation processes that have been harnessed by people around the world to produce uniquely nourishing food.
Tips & Tricks
STORAGE: You have a couple different options when storing naturally leavened bread. To maintain a crisp crust, place the cut side of the loaf down onto a cutting board, with a tea towel draped over the loaf. Placing the loaf in a sealed plastic bag or sealed bread box will soften the crust over time (which some people may prefer). However, if in a sealed compartment, please pay attention to the moisture content within container. If it begins condensing or fogging up, remove bread immediately and allow to dry cut side down on a cutting board. Any moisture trapped in a container with the bread invites mold to grow.
STALE BREAD: Real bread is a fresh product. For best enjoyment, consume within 5 days. The bread itself will last much longer if properly cared for--the acidity formed in the sourdough process acts as a natural preservative! After it begins losing moisture, you could use it to make croutons, breadcrumbs, bread pudding (savory or sweet), panzanella, french toast, etc. My favorite way to use slightly stale bread is to simply grill it in a pan with some olive oil or butter. A trick for re-hydrating a whole/half loaf that has lost its crispness: spray crust with water or run the loaf underneath the tap for a quick second--just enough to moisten the crust; put whole loaf into preheated oven (350 F) for 10-15 minutes or until crisp again.
FREEZER, NOT FRIDGE: Its been proven that the refrigerator will actually stale the bread faster. If you want to save bread for a later date, simply place in a sealed container/ziploc bag and freeze! Slicing before freezing makes it easy to grab slices to toast. Whole loaves may be frozen too. Slices may be directly toasted, whole loaves may need to thaw at room temperature before being baked again.
TO SLICE, OR NOT?: Slicing bread will make a loaf of bread stale faster. I do not have the resources nor the time to hand-slice everyone's bread individually. Commercial bread slicers are prohibitively expensive in this stage of the business. Inexpensive bread knives may be purchased online or at a grocery store (try a roast slicer from Smart&Final). However! If you genuinely need aid in regards to slicing your bread (for example: arthritis, joint problems, etc), please email me informing me of your situation--I will be happy to work with you to find an appropriate solution!