Many Cayman foodies already rely on Saucha Conscious Living to deliver nutritious vegan lunches and bottles of home-brewed Kombucha to their homes or offices. Now the company has added a new delicacy to its culinary offerings: sourdough bread. And there’s already a wait list to buy the stuff.
“What’s so special about a loaf of bread?” you may well ask.
Freshly baked sourdough has about as much in common with those spongy, sliced grocery store sandwich breads as a wedge of artisanal cave-aged Comte does with Babybel. Celebrated for its thick, crunchy bronze crust and tangy, chewy dough flecked with air bubbles, sourdough is unique in both taste and texture. Even the process to make it is different, as the dough is folded rather than kneaded.
Somehow, it is the result of just two ingredients – flour and water – which ferment into an ecosystem of wild yeasts and friendly lactic acid bacteria. The latter is what gives the bread its distinctive sour flavor and bubbles.
Sourdough’s soaring popularity in recent years fits into the wider culinary craze for all things heritage – reviving long-forgotten ingredients and wholesome recipes. It is, in fact, the oldest known form of leavened bread, traceable back to ancient Egypt. Through a happy accident, bakers realized they could conserve a little dough from each bake to propagate the next. By contrast, the use of commercial baker’s yeast as a leavening agent has been around for less than 150 years, according to Michael Gaenzle’s “Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology.”
Before you rush home to create your own batch, be warned that sourdough baking is a time-consuming and unpredictable task. The dough is normally mixed, shaped and baked over the course of two or even three days.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” admits Britta Bush, chef and founder of Saucha Conscious Living. She creates her leaven on a Friday evening, leaving it for 12 hours overnight; carries out the various stages of mixing, folding, resting and shaping through Saturday; and leaves it in the proofing basket for another night before finally baking on Sunday morning for 45-50 minutes. This slow development helps tease out more complex, nuanced flavors.
It was Bush’s “mild obsession” with fermentation that led her to tackle sourdough. She has been producing Kombucha, a popular fermented tea, for a number of years and regularly makes jars of sauerkraut and kimchi. In part, it is the alchemy that captivates: how a simple, natural ingredient will transform and develop a unique flavor profile over time, thanks to some helpful microorganisms.
Fermented produce also offers a bevy of health benefits. Lactic acid allows the nutrients in flour to be more readily absorbed by the body, and slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream, avoiding spikes in blood-sugar levels. Many gluten-intolerant people claim they can eat sourdough without issue. It is also high in B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics, while free from the preservatives, emulsifiers, sugars and improvers found in packaged bread.
All that aside, what beats the sheer sensory pleasure of fresh-from-the-oven bread? “The best bit is the crackling sound the crust makes when it comes out of the oven,” Bush confirms.
Starting from scratch
After sourcing an original ‘mother’ starter from a baker in Oregon and poring over baking bible “Flour, Salt, Water, Yeast” by Ken Forkish, she began months of experimentation. “I’ve essentially been studying sourdough all summer long,” she says.
She took a recipe from thekitchn.com as her base, tweaking timings and flour ratios, scribbling notes in an A5 journal. Surprisingly, the method doesn’t require a long list of tools; simply a handheld dough whisk and pastry scraper, and a heavy-based, lidded deep dish such as a Le Creuset Dutch Oven to bake the loaf in.
In her West Bay kitchen, Bush now has three live cultures, each bringing a slightly different characteristic to the bread. These must be fed daily with flour and spring water – rather like pets – and according to sourdough lore, “You have to name your starter.” Hers is called James Brown.
Posting photos of her baking on Instagram, Bush was taken aback by the deluge of inquiries and orders. “There’s already a wait list for bread!” she laughs. Next, her plan is to scale up production and broaden the range to include alternative flours, such as rye and spelt, as well as vegan sourdough cinnamon rolls.
With pizzas, ice-cream and doughnuts among the sourdough-based goodies already doing a roaring trade in restaurants overseas, this may just be the start of Cayman’s sour revolution.
Bush is currently producing 12-20 loaves per week and trying out a rotation order system whereby once a request is placed, you’ll receive a loaf within a week. As her baking is still sporadic, customers can also be randomly notified when there is a loaf that day.