Break-ing Bread

Herd About It?
by Ana Grarian

Not a deed would he do,
Not a word would he utter,
Till he’s weighed its relation
To plain bread and butter.

James Russell Lowell, American poet 1819-1891

Baking bread is a spiritual endeavor. Making bread dough takes time and does not respond well to being hurried along. You are actually raising (farming) colonies of yeast. Given the right amounts of flour, water, sugar and heat, the yeast grow, fermentation occurs, enzymes are released which break down the starches into the sugar on which the yeasts feed. A beautiful cycle of life which eventually allows us in. Mmmm. Warm Bread fresh from the oven.
Making bread from scratch is a timely process. The ingredients are mixed together at the right temperature and kneaded until the dough develops the right elastcity and then is left to rise in a warm spot until it doubles in size. Then it is punched down and put into pans (or shaped on a baking sheet) and allowed to raise in a warm spot again before being placed into the hot oven. Methods for a quicker or slower rising bring distinct characteristics to the bread.
Bread is a product and a representation of our culture. For centuries bakers and homemaker’s took pride in making warm loaves of goodness. Holidays called for loaves of a certain shape with special ingredients. Eventually sweet loaves became cakes. The bread we ate indicated our economic status with the poorest eating coarse bread and the gentry having bread from more finely ground flours and other costly ingredients.

But then came the industrial revolution. The currency of bread became a product that could be easily and quickly reproduced. The process became automated and the product needed a long shelf life. The “bottom line” became saving time and cost and thereby maximizing profit. Food scientists and plant breeders worked together to develop a wheat that was affordable and high yielding. It could be refined to a white flour that resisted oxidation and lasted for months. But along with the brown color and chewy texture we lost something more. About 75% of the thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and calcium.The introduction of high speed mixing, enzymes and other additives might also be the cause of the spike in wheat allergies seen over the last half century.
Research shows that slow fermentation in the bread dough enhances the nutrition in bread, making the nutrients more available to the body, lowering the glycemic index and neutralizing the portion of the gluten harmful to people with wheat allergies.

Artisan bakers using organic ingredients that bakers and homemakers used for centuries, are making bread that is healthier for us. Isn’t it ironic that today it costs more to eat dark grain rich breads that once were thought beneath us?