September 22, 2014

wood-fired oven progress...

A few weeks ago, Nate was the "Special Feature" at our local farmers market. It's a really big market with lots of people coming through each week. It was a great way to spread the word about our bakery coming to town and to educate folks about sourdough. He baked a few loaves for samples and even gave out some of his starter to a lucky few. People were really excited about it and we got a nice mailing list going so we can update everyone on our progress.

Here's the progression of the oven, up until yesterday.

A pre-trailer pile of steel.

A lot of cutting and welding later... 

Springs under the oven platform for extra cushion. 

(2) custom made 5200# torsion axles. 

The trailer is finished. Now, for the bricks.

Insulation and refractory tiles.

A nifty mortar gun.

The hearth!

The hearth - nice and flat.

The side walls begin.

Cutting the wedge bricks.

Wedge bricks in place. Now it's starting to look like an oven!

In this oven design, there is what is called a "reduction arch" which is basically a lower arch than the larger ceiling arch. The role of the reduction arch is to create a bowl for smoke that burns (secondary combustion) when the oven reaches a higher temperature. When this happens, very little smoke should exit the chimney.

Walls are finished. Now, it's time for the arch.

This is a mock-up of the 49 inch arch span. It's a fairly flat arch. This is supposed to distribute the heat from the ceiling more evenly and keep steam closer to the skin of the baking dough.

I'm ever grateful that Nate is willing to spend most of his time building the foundation for our new business. And even more grateful that he's such an excellent builder/engineer/stonemason. It's not easy doing it all alone. It's a lot of pressure, and working long hours away from home can be lonely. Some nights he doesn't get home until after Zander's in bed, which is saying something because he's a tough one to get to sleep, that one. Anyway, I'm sure I don't say it nearly enough - Thank you, Nate! 

September 15, 2014

why sourdough?

Our journey into discovering sourdough has been an interesting one, and our decision to form a business around it involves more than just baking and selling a delicious, crusty loaf of bread. For us, it's all about health. 

I'll let Nate continue in his own words...

My entre’ into bread baking started with a bread machine and a desire to make good bread for my family. A little over 6 years ago, Kristen, and I were just getting started with our adventures in sustainable farming. We wanted to live more self-sufficiently and bread became one of those things I thought we should make ourselves. I've had more than my fair share of failures along the way, but I always tried again, no matter how discouraged I felt.

I learned from a farmer friend that sourdough was the healthiest bread we could eat and was excited to find that our local grocery store baked it fresh daily. I didn't understand then that it wasn't real sourdough. Did you know that there are no actual cultures in most store-bought sourdough bread, and that they add ingredients like Fumaric Acid and Tartaric Acid to give the bread that “sour” flavor?
A few months later, another farmer friend gave me a sample of his sourdough starter. I had heard that the whole process of making sourdough was slow and tedious and that it can take days to properly ferment the dough. I wasn’t sure how I would fit that into our already busy farming days, but I took it on as a challenge and dove right in.

In the beginning, I made all the usual mistakes. I even killed my starter a couple of times (at least I thought I did) and eventually I learned how to start a new culture by myself. By re-starting my starter, I began to have a greater respect for the microbes that grew in my flour and water mixture. After a while, that starter became like another farm animal that I would instinctively feed and take care of. That’s the thing about baking with a sourdough culture; it really is like having another pet. 

The only ingredients I was using were flour, water, salt and maybe some seeds. It was amazing to me that such simple ingredients could make a loaf of bread with such flavor. Why was it necessary for the grocery store bakery to put all those ingredients into their so-called “sourdough?” It became clear to me that like any industrialized food product, mass-production comes at the expense of nutrition and integrity.   

When I started fermenting the dough for longer periods of time, I started to notice that an annoying scalp/skin condition wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been my entire life. I always understood that condition to be your everyday, embarrassing case of dandruff and something that was just my lot in life. I had never really put it together that perhaps it was something I was eating that caused it.

I began researching the science of sourdough and how it might be possible that a certain type of bread could be the remedy for my lifelong skin issues. What I learned about those microbes really excited me. Just like the kind of farming we were interested in, sourdough was this beautiful symbiotic mix of life. It was all so miraculous! All I had to do was (in the spirit of Joel Salatin) be the choreographer for these microbes and allow them to express their bacteria-ness or yeast-ness.

Indeed, those sourdough cultures were making all the difference in the dough. Given enough time and the right conditions to do their work, those microbes transform the dough from something somewhat indigestible, high glycemic and even allergenic, to something nutritious, easily assimilated and even healing. Suddenly, taking all that time to make a loaf of sourdough was worth every minute, hour and day it took. From then on, I could never bake another loaf of conventional baker’s yeast bread again. 

I bake sourdough bread because it’s really the only bread I can eat without having a negative reaction. I have learned that instead of having a 'wheat sensitivity', I am sensitive to improperly prepared  wheat. The difference between commercial bread and properly fermented sourdough is like night and day for me, and for many others.

Here are five health benefits of sourdough you may not know:

1.    Sourdough cultures literally “pre-digest” the constituents of gluten proteins found in wheat and convert them into amino acids available for our body’s immediate use. The result is bread that can even be tolerated by some (not all) people with a gluten intolerance. An Italian study from 2010 entitled, “Safety for Patients With Celiac Disease of Baked Goods Made of Wheat Flour Hydrolyzed During Food Processing” found that subjects with celiac disease could eat sourdough products without any of the usual digestive problems associated with celiac sprue. While this was not a large study, it does show a lot of promise for the reintroduction of wheat into the diets of some people who felt they had no choice but to be “gluten-free.”

2.    Because of the lactic and acetic acid production by the bacteria and wild yeast and their corresponding enzymes, sourdough bread has a much longer shelf life than conventional bread that does not use preservatives. These organic acids act as natural mold inhibitors.

3.    Sourdough bread has B vitamins produced by the wild yeast and lactobacillus. Even B12, normally associated with meat and dairy products, is produced by the wild yeast.

4.    Unlike conventional bread and gluten-free bread, properly fermented sourdough is considered a low-glycemic food. The enzymes created by the activity of wild yeast and lactobacillus consume excess glucose in the flour as well as convert starches into complex sugars and then to simple sugars for these microbes to feed on. This is important for diabetics and for the majority of the world’s population who suffer from “candida overgrowth” and other secondary candida issues such as dandruff, athlete’s foot, yeast infections, thrush, poor digestion and even cancer. All of these issues can be linked to candida overgrowth in the gut and throughout the body.

5.    Phytic acid present in grains and legumes is greatly reduced by fermenting dough with sourdough cultures. Phytates are responsible for binding minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous which can lead to deficiencies of these minerals. Phytic acid can also chelate niacin which can lead to a condition called pellagra. In sourdough, the phytates can be reduced by nearly two-thirds, nearly twice as much as conventionally yeasted breads.

Baking sourdough bread has become a passion for me, as well as being my own personal path to health. I'm really excited to start a business that enables me to share all I know about it, as well as sharing some delicious bread.

September 8, 2014

on to the next big thing...

We still haven't found the right farm, but we're moving forward with the other half of our dream.

We've been looking for a place where we can start a wood-fired bakery in our town, and we've found a cute little shop. We wanted to find a place to rent, as opposed to buying, so we can be sure it works for us and so that we can move the business to a farm someday. The place needs some fixing up and it's pretty small, but we think it's just what we need to get started. It's actually an old ice cream shop - the kind where you walk up to the window to order.

Aint she cute?

As you know, Nate's been baking sourdough bread for years. This will be a traditional sourdough bakery, and we'll explain more about the health benefits of sourdough and why we bake this way in another post. The reasons may surprise you.

Nate has begun building a wood-fired oven which will sit outside of the bakery. It's going to be a serious production oven. In order to have the capacity to hold lots of heat and the ability to bake multiple batches of bread, it's going to need to be heavy. The oven and the trailer combined will weigh approximately 8500lbs when it's all said and done. Hours and hours, even years of research have gone into this oven and it's not something we want to ever be faced with leaving behind, especially when we don't feel that this shop is it's final destination.

Nate's solution to this is to build the oven on a trailer. The sheer weight of the thing has required him to build the trailer it will sit on from scratch. It wont be a "portable" oven per se, because of the weight, but it will give us the option to move it to another location when the time comes.

Ready for the insulation and bricks!

We're grateful that Nate has previous knowledge and experience in building an oven and trailers, though this one will be an entirely different animal with it's own learning curve. There's a good bit of stress around that, but ultimately, the stress is all about money. The cost of the oven/trailer and the renovations necessary to get the building ready for inspection are going to be a lot. We'll be putting all we have into this venture and while it's all very exciting, it's also a little unsettling.

We're going to need help.

Kickstarter project coming soon...