Bread has been a staple of the human diet for at least ten-thousand years—with unleavened breads, like what we know today as pita bread and tortillas, likely being made as long ago as thirty-thousand years.
For many of us, this is a staggering amount of time, one that boggles the mind.
In fact, bread and grain production is considered one of the major factors to the rise of civilization as we know it. That’s a pretty big deal. An invention that changes the course of an entire species is nothing to sneeze at.
Today, however, we take bread for granted. It’s ubiquitous, found everywhere, thrown out, considered just the side to a nice dinner or the thing that keeps the peanut butter off our hands as we eat a sandwich.
Worse yet, what many of us consider bread—the fluffy, white, fairly tasteless stuff found in bags at the supermarket—is riddled with corn syrup, azodicarbonamide (an additive used in plastic production), and preservatives. In the end, it’s hard to say if there is enough bread in these breads, once you consider all the additives, to really be bread at all.
How Real Bread is Made
All the bread we make at Brandenburg Bakery is hand-crafted and made in much the same way as what our grandparents, and their grandparents, would have enjoyed all those years ago.
Leavened bread—breads that rise, as opposed to flatbreads—are created through a process much like beer, wine, and cheese, known as fermentation.
A baker will create a dough out of baking flour, water, possibly a pinch of salt, and a certain amount of yeast, and in our case at Brandenburg Bakery, an additional yeast that makes our delicious sourdough (more on that later!).
Carefully mixing and shaping these components into a perfect little feeding ground for the real workhorses of bread-making, the yeast, a baker then waits for the little beasties to do their work. Much like beer and other fermented foods, bread is only possible due to microscopic organisms, these yeasts, doing what they do best—eating and releasing byproducts we want, like small amounts of alcohol and the CO2 bubbles that give bread its airy and fluffy texture.
Yeasts are little machines, pulling in sugars—like the sugars that are in all starches like our flour—and converting them into a nutritious and flavorful combination of proteins and alcohols.
Of course, our ancestors had no idea what a yeast was, only that when dough is created in the correct manner, inedible grains were converted into edible bread. It could have been magic or the blessings of their gods turning flour into bread. In fact, we knew very little about this process—one we successfully harnessed for thousands of years—until the invention of the microscope let us look inside our food and drink as they were made, lifting the veil on these tiny yeasts who are responsible for so much of our success as people.
This makes it even more amazing to think that almost every civilization on earth discovered fermentation and its use to make bread, often separately from other civilizations, and has resulted in all the styles of bread we have today.
The process isn’t very complex, but requires a steady hand and a good sense of measurement and timing. An expert baker will produce perfect bread, waiting just long enough for the fermentation—the name for what our little yeasts are doing, converting those sugars into something we want to eat—to make the dough flavorful, but not long enough for the yeasts to consume all their food and die off.
This part of bread-making might take a few hours, and the baker has to stay on top of the dough, folding it, shaping it, keeping our tiny friends inside feeding and fermenting.
Once the dough has been fermented, folded, and shaped, it needs to be proofed.
Proofing is where the dough is allowed to ferment a bit longer in a temperature controlled environment in its final shape. This last step before baking is very important, as it’s where much of the flavor and the internal structure of the bread comes from. A well done proof will give us the perfect bread, with all the flavors and wonderful textures we want with it.
And, at long last, the dough is baked into bread.
This last step not only converts the soft dough into something edible, but also solidifies all the work that came before—the last of the yeast is destroyed, the latticework of gluten (a recently, and incorrectly, maligned protein we’ve been eating without problem for longer than civilization has existed) that gives bread its solidity is strengthened, and a nice crust is formed on the outside.
Baking needs to be controlled, timed, and watched with precision. A baker will score the dough before baking, leaving the small “dents” or patterns on top of the bread that both serve to beautify the finished product and keep the bread from popping like a balloon during the first few minutes of baking.
All of this requires care, and results in a wonderful bread, fresh and soft and ready for you to eat.
All of our regular breads at Brandenburg Bakery are sourdoughs.
Sourdough bread uses an additional bit of nature’s finest food machines, Lactobacillus. These little guys add flavor and break down the chains of complex starches, making for a natural sweetness that doesn’t require any added sugar. This helps keep the glycemic index down, making sourdough bread a better choice for diabetics than plain white bread (and especially supermarket bought bread-in-a-bag, which tends to have corn syrup and/or sugar added).
A sourdough, whole-grain bread is as close to what our ancestors long ago ate as you can get, and is nutritious enough to be a food, not just a side-dish or extra.
How Mass-Produced “Bread” is Made
What many of us considered bread for the last half-century, culminating with the recent explosion of chemical-laden pseudo-breads that are sold in every supermarket in America, is actually a heavily processed product that uses tricks and chemical compounds to produce something very bread-like, but nothing like real bread at all. It’s all designed for speed and bulk, with flavor and nutrition thrown aside for the profits gained by churning out bag after bag of mass-produced bread.
It starts from the very beginning: the ingredients for these pseudo-breads are grown and harvested for bulk, designed to grow faster, yield more, and are chosen for profit versus taste. Like a good beer or fine wine, the grains used in bread-making have a great effect on the end result—both flavor and nutrition.
The grains are milled with an industrial process that often kills off the all-important enzymes and discards much of the grains in the process—the germ and bran, important parts of grains that humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years to digest. Again, these modified processes used to make these breads are geared towards speed, not quality. The resulting flour is known as "high gluten" flour, being made from wheat that has been modified to produce more proteins.
The wheat used in these BSOs (Bread Shaped Objects) aren’t of the quality and freshness a respectable bakery, like us here at Brandenburg Bakery, would use.
And, finally, all those stages mentioned above—fermentation, proofing, and baking—are rushed and “enhanced” via chemicals and tricks, leading to what we know today as the flavorless and nutrition-less plain white bread. The nutrition is so impacted by these processes, you’ll find most brands of bread in the supermarket add minerals and vitamins into their mixture to compensate, in the form of mysterious chemical ingredients.
The Benefits of Real Bread
We at Brandenburg Bakery take fresh bread seriously. Errol is in the kitchen so early, even the roosters haven’t begun to stir yet. It takes time to prepare a day’s worth of bread, and since Brandenburg’s bread isn’t laced with hard to pronounce chemicals, the it needs to be made fresh every morning.
The sourdough breads we make are easier to digest and affect a diabetic’s blood sugar levels less than store-bought breads.
Sourdough, and fresh-made real bread, contain vitamins and minerals naturally, and are an important part of any diet. The standard white bread found in a supermarket, and even the “whole grain” breads found on the same isle, often have extra ingredients added just to give it some nutritional value.
The lack of chemical compounds thrown into the mix means real bread is healthier no matter how you slice it—see what I did there? There is no place for corn syrup in bread, no need to add powders and liquids from some industrial bottle in a factory, no reason for bread to last for months on a shelf due to microbes not seeing the store-bought bread as food (since it isn’t…). Fresh, real bread is an actual food, and can sustain life without any ingredients that can’t be grown and milled in a small garden and processed with hand-tools and stone wheels.
And it's important to note, our bread is made from the same sorts of wheat and ingredients humans have eaten for most of our history. Our bodies are primed and ready for these breads, which have evolved right along side us. The recent spate of real gluten allergies, as well as the thousands of people duped into thinking their particular problem is related to gluten in some way, can be linked back to the fact we are no longer eating what we've alway eaten. We, like anything on Earth, have changed in certain ways over thousands of years, and our bodies are programmed to accept certain things—and reject others, like the high gluten flour and mysterious chemical compounds in supermarket bread.
The next time you’re in the bread isle at your local supermarket, just walk on by and leave the factory breads on the shelf. Brandenburg Bakery has you covered with affordable and delicious bread, whole-grain and healthy, fresh made from scratch every morning, just the way we have enjoyed bread for thousands of years!