We have already established that the starting point to making good bread is the quality of the flour used, and that it is essential for it to be stone-ground, whereby all the inherent goodness of the grain remains completely intact. Thereafter, there are myriad ways to prepare the grains from which artisanal bread is made. The three basic ingredients: stone-ground flour, water, and salt, can be meticulously manipulated in many different ways to create a range of very different breads. From the handling of the dough, to the amount of hydration employed, to the time allowed for proper fermentation to take place - each play a huge role in the end product.
It is during the fermentation or ‘natural leavening’ process however, where a whole lot of the magic happens! This is rarely discussed, but it should be, because when dough is allowed to undergo the biochemical process of fermentation, the goodness of the grain is literally unlocked and made readily available for digestion and ultimate nutrition.
As with so many things in our modern society, the foundation on which good food and in this case bread is made, has been essentially disregarded. Thanks to fast acting yeasts and chemical additives, rising times have been substantially reduced from what should be hours and even days to mere minutes. After all, time is money. Because of this lack of fermentation, the vitality of the grain essentially stays dormant, and therefore there is no energetic value in it. Whatever goodness, if any, that remains in the refined white flour used in commercial bakeries, it is certainly not released using modern baking techniques.
It has become evident in recent times that gluten overload in the diet can have a negative impact on one’s health over time. But contrary to the current credence of the mainstream, the devil is not in the wheat, but rather in the way in which it is milled and then prepared in commercial bakeries. In order for commercial breads to rise, a vast amount of gluten is added to the dough, and because there is no process of fermentation, this gluten is not given any time to break down naturally.
In stark contrast, the enzymatic activity present during the fermentation of artisanal breads made from stone-ground flour is astounding. During this process gluten is naturally transformed into digestible and necessary amino acids and the acidity and lengthy fermentation also affect the phytic acids present in the grains, allowing for increased vitamin and mineral absorbency. Some of the carbohydrates present in the dough convert to carbon dioxide, causing bubbles to form; and alcohol, which contributes to the robust, heavenly flavours of these breads.
So real bread is not just a homogenous lump of baked dough, it is something entirely more complex. But it seems that those things that are really important in life, those things that ultimately bring us optimal health and well-being – well, they are simply left out in this crazy world in which we live. And bad bread is merely another metaphor for the folly of man.
The Banting/anti gluten fads have however given artisan bakers the opportunity not only to engage, but through the unwavering passion for their craft and the diligence which is required, they are spreading the message, one delicious loaf at a time, that bread can be good for you. Perhaps by reclaiming that time in human history when bread was made with integrity, we will quiet the din of our diet obsessed world.