Canada Wide Media Limited


City Bites 
February/March 2006
By Madeleine Greey

Taking Time for Real Bread

A flock of Artisan Bread Makers are Tending their secret , slow brew of fermented dough

Great bread is about artistry and flavour. It’s the ultimate slow food, for it takes time and patience to make a crusty baguette, an irregularly shaped ciabatta or a flour-dusted walnut-and-cranberry boule. The antithesis of Wonderbread, really good bread is handcrafted and contains high quality, carefully nurtured ingredients. Sometimes that means pure alchemy with just three ingredients: flour, water and salt.

Regretfully , fakers abound. Sorry bread that is so-called “artisanal” but tastes like cotton.

Shasha Navazesh is a passionate Toronto baker who feels a bread lover’s pain. He wants to raise the bar on bread quality and as president of the fledgling 34-member Artisan Bakers Quality Alliance (ABQA), Navazesh wants to stamp every authentic, artisanal loaf with a seal of approval.

“Our core value is consumer health,” says Navazesh, “with an emphasis on craftsmanship. When you buy ABQA bread, you are buying bread with heart in it.”

Heart, and a guarantee: That ABQA seal promises no chemical additives or preservatives; no added fats, oil or sugar; and no genetically modified ingredients. In other words, organic with an underlying principle: long fermentation.

All ABQA breads use what’s known in the trade as a starter. Artisanal bakers have numerous types of starters up their sleeves- with exotic names like biga, sponge or poolish- all containing proportions of flour, water and yeast. Another starter is the classic sourdough, made from a simple mixture of fermented flour and water, which over time captures wild yeasts and bacteria that leaven and flavour the bread.

Starters have been around since the first leavened breads of ancient Egypt. Commercial yeasts ( think Fleishman’s active dried yeast) were introduced in the 1800s. Most commercial breads rely on large amounts of these tiny, tan pellets to create a fast rising dough, with no time for starters or long ferments.

Starters are finicky and can be as high maintenance as a live pet. Sourdough starters need daily feedings ( “refreshments” in baker lingo) of bread and water to stay alive. Miss a scheduled feeding and bread won’t rise.

No matter the starter, the main ingredient is time. It’s a bubbly point that bakers squabble over when trying to define artisanal bread. Most will agree that artisanal implies tradition and hand crafting, but the ABQA goes one step further, insisting not only on a starter, but defining the time required to make final dough. ABQA insists on a minimum four-hour final rise.

“Bread needs a slow rise to create adequate lactic acid,” explains Navazesh. “Lactic acid makes bread more nutritional and digestible. Plus, it increases a bread’s shelf life without preservatives or chemicals.”

One of the biggest problems holding back more bakers from joining the ABQA is the ticking of the clock. During those long and precious hours necessary for creation, a baker does nothing. But the ingredients get to work. The end result is a loaf with rich, grainy flavour and a subtle tang. Conversely, quickly made breads can have a pronounced, fermented flavour masking the taste of wheat and reducing the breads complexity.

Steve Gibson, co-owner and operator of Fred’s Breads, says most of his breads require at least 24 hours, from start to finish. “We use pure ingredients and a large portion of the work is done by hand”, says Gibson. “To me, this is what traditional bread means. It comes through in the taste.”

Gibson’s breads are all made from an organic sourdough starter that was created by co-owner Andrea Damon-Gibson 12 years ago and has been fed daily ever since. (Navazesh, meanwhile, keeps one of the most prized starters dormant in a freezer bank in Ottawa.)

Perhaps more than any other baker in town, Linda Haynes of Ace Bakery has changed the way Torontonians really taste their bread. Seal or no ABQA seal, Ace Bakery calls its bread artisanal. “ To me, artisanal bread means using a natural starter, relying on a slow ferment, giving rising dough lots of rest, hand-shaping, baking in a hearth oven…All of this results in a crisp crust, a crumb that has open structure ( gaping holes) and a subtlety of flavours,” says Haynes.

It all started at Ace with a baguette, one of the most difficult breads to bake. Husband and co-owner Martin Connell set out to bake it in the family’s Caledon kitchen in 1982. Soon he and Linda were smitten by bread baking.

One of the biggest problems holding back more bakers from joining the ABQA is the ticking of the clock. During those long and precious hours necessary for creation, a baker does nothing. But the ingredients get to work. The end result is a loaf with rich, grainy flavour and a subtle tang. Conversely, quickly made breads can have a pronounced, fermented flavour masking the taste of wheat and reducing the breads complexity.

Steve Gibson, co-owner and operator of Fred’s Breads, says most of his breads require at least 24 hours, from start to finish. “We use pure ingredients and a large portion of the work is done by hand”, says Gibson. “To me, this is what traditional bread means. It comes through in the taste.”

Gibson’s breads are all made from an organic sourdough starter that was created by co-owner Andrea Damon-Gibson 12 years ago and has been fed daily ever since. (Navazesh, meanwhile, keeps one of the most prized starters dormant in a freezer bank in Ottawa.)

Perhaps more than any other baker in town, Linda Haynes of Ace Bakery has changed the way Torontonians really taste their bread. Seal or no ABQA seal, Ace Bakery calls its bread artisanal. “ To me, artisanal bread means using a natural starter, relying on a slow ferment, giving rising dough lots of rest, hand-shaping, baking in a hearth oven…All of this results in a crisp crust, a crumb that has open structure ( gaping holes) and a subtlety of flavours,” says Haynes.

- See more at: http://www.shashabread.com/media/news-articles#sthash.7MLmTFII.dpuf