We love the glow of the oven and the daily sourdough that warms and scents the little kitchen of the little cottage; the humble luxury and honesty of real bread. We love too the difference we feel since we subbed out store-bought for authentically home-baked; the relative levity and improved gut-health afforded us by the pet sourdough starter we keep in the fridge and lovingly feed with organic flour and filtered water.
Many of us have caught onto the sourdough benefits – the naturally brilliant, rich and ripe bacteria that give this most un-messed-about-with of breads its customary slightly sour tang have been shown to help improve gut health, quite markedly, and for those who have long suffered with gluten and wheat intolerances, the long fermentation process has also been shown to make it far more easily digestible and tolerable to those with previous ‘bread issues’.
You will doubtless have seen a big rise in products in your local supermarket, all with the ‘sourdough’ tag, and this is, sadly, when things start to get a little less transparent. Melissa Sharp, author and founder of the brilliant Modern Baker – a Mecca for all things authentically sourdough – agrees, “Because there is no legal definition for sourdough, and putting the s-word on-pack means bigger profits, supermarket sourdough, with very few exceptions, is not the real thing and does not contain the healthy qualities of a natural, long fermented sourdough bread. They are made quickly, usually with added commercial yeasts, using a variety of powders and liquids that are mainly there to create a flavour. The best way of giving your family delicious, healthy bread is to learn to make it at home, just from flour, salt and water’.”
Our daily bread used to be necessary for life – our natural, long-fermented loaves, made with stone-ground flour and the wild yeast that is all around us – sustained us, and the act of making it, was as natural as breathing. Since the making of our bread moved from our homes to our superstores, much has changed. Where long-fermenting of bread breaks down much of the gluten in the dough – essentially ‘pre-digesting’ it for us – commercial baking often sees the addition of extra gluten as a shortcut to spending the appropriate amount of time on a loaf. And we are feeling the effects.
“The nutritional qualities of bread and cakes are continually diminishing despite society’s realisation of the consequences, yet it needn’t be that way. And that’s what Modern Baker is here to address,” says Melissa Sharp. Modern Baker is a bustling bakery and café in Oxford where authenticity, nutrition, naturality and deliciousness find symbiosis. The business was conceived after Melissa was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and realised that she needed to take complete control of her health. “Switching to a healthy, whole food diet to aid a serious illness and then seeing the difference it made to the whole of me is what got me thinking about healthy food as a career,” says Sharp. “Thousands of hours of dreaming and scheming later, the idea of healthy baking as that business became a reality.” Indeed – we should all be able to make, bake and have our cakes, and eat them, heartily and whole.
We’re really proud to be featuring recipes from Modern Baker: A New Way To Bake here at The Balance Plan, over in our EAT section. Beginning, naturally, with their sourdough starter, and an invitation to take a first step towards baking your own natural, authentic, nourishing and delicious daily bread, easier on the digestion and brimming with beneficial bacteria.
With love, Paul x
Modern Baker: A New Way To Bake by Melissa Sharp with Lindsay Stark is out now
(Ebury Press, RRP £26) and Modern Baker’s range of healthy baked goods are now available in Selfridges stores (London, Birmingham, Manchester Trafford and Manchester Exchange)