Making the levain: Many breads are made with levain, a natural starter. A starter is a culture of wild yeast cells, bacteria and acid. In order to make the starter, flour is mixed with warm water and a pinch of salt, covered with a damp towel and kept at an ambient temperature. The starter is fed flour, water and salt daily and after a few days a bubbly froth will start to form. When this happens, starter has developed. Once the starter reaches maturity (the correct balance of yeast, bacteria and acid) it is used to prepare the levain, an ingredient that acts as natural leavener, providing taste and texture.
Preparation of dough: When the starter is ready and has matured into levain, the ingredients of the bread (flour, water, salt and a certain percentage of levain!) are kneaded together to form dough.
Proofing: Proofing is essentially the process of fermentation, when the naturally occurring yeast of the levain enables the dough to rise. After the dough is sufficiently proofed, it is divided into pieces of the proper size and shaped. We always shape our dough by hand. The shaped loaves are sometime placed in cane proofing baskets or on baker’s linen. The basket and the linen serve two purposes: a) to provide the loaves with shape; b) to help wick excess moisture away from the crust of the loaves.
Rising: After the dough is shaped, it will continue to rise, sometimes for several hours, before baking.
Baking: Once the shaped loaves have properly risen, they are ready to bake. The loaves are first scored with a knife (to allow them to expand fully in the oven), and then placed into a stone-lined oven that has been injected with steam. Some of our breads are baked for as long as an hour, or until a thick, dark crust has formed and the crumb of the bread is properly set.
Cooling and Ripening: Once baked, the bread must be allowed to cool and ripen before it is fit to serve. Some breads, like the baguette, are ready to eat with an hour. Others, like our whole wheat sourdough, are better enjoyed on the second day, when the flavor and texture of the bread have fully developed.