Romancing the Grain
Locally Leavened Breads bakes in the traditional manner, using natural ingredients and leavening instead of commercial yeast. Your gut will thank you.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY EVA RENDLE
Greg Moring is on his fourth career, but you’d never know it. From the way he bakes bread, you’d think he’d been doing it his entire life. I meet him at his bakery space in Ballard, greeted by the smell of cinnamon and other spices. The space used to be a barbecue restaurant, but Greg now shares it with a catering company. Some of the original decorations remain on the walls, giving the kitchen an eclectic feel. Warm light filters in through street-facing windows, and everything seems dusted in a fine layer of flour. Owner of Locally Leavened Breads, Greg has been selling his artisanal bread at farmers markets throughout Seattle since May 2015.
Greg’s diverse resume spans a 15-year run in the film industry, a brief stint creating canvas for sailboats, and careers as an electrician and massage therapist. Then, he stumbled upon baking.
“This sort of romantic idea, with the grain, the wood, the fire, and all that — that’s what got me started,” Greg says. His father was a doctor in the Army, so his family traveled all over the world. During his teenage years, they lived in Germany. “The food, especially the bread, really stuck with me. And when I came back to America, nobody had bread like that.” His father began baking bread in a club called “The Crusty Loafers” after he retired and instilled a love for bread-making in Greg. Years later, he began experimenting with his own recipes.
“I was inspired by my father, but I wanted to make something more rustic,” he says. He started out baking in a wood-fired oven, eschewing modern recipes for a more traditional approach, using only flour, water, salt, and yeast. “The big important thing for me was to be able to do sourdough breads the way they used to make them.” His company name, Locally Leavened Breads, comes from that approach. He sources almost all of his ingredients from Northwest producers and uses local sourdough starter, or leavening.
Greg keeps two starters in his commercial refrigerator — one made from white flour and one from rye. They sit in large plastic containers and look like thick pancake batter. Large bubbles on their surfaces are a reminder that the starters are, in fact, alive. Sourdough starter is made by combining flour and water and leaving the mixture out to pick up yeast spores from the air and ferment. Greg uses a 25-year-old starter — living cultures that can be reused again and again — from a massage client.
Greg begins his days around nine in the morning, when he does a premix with flour and water to fire up his starter. Around 4:30 in the afternoon he mixes in the rest of the ingredients to create the dough. Rather than knead the dough, he stretches and folds it three times, once every 30 minutes, and then moves it to the refrigerator. The dough stays in the refrigerator for 14 hours, before he removes it, cuts and shapes it into neat, round loaves, and proofs them in small baskets for about two hours. After proofing they’re ready to bake, and Greg gradually fills a wall of metal racks with rows of golden-brown, crusty bread. He bakes his loaves the night before he takes them to market.
Traditionally, all sourdough bread was made using leavening instead of commercial yeast. One of the byproducts of that fermentation is lactic acid, which gives the bread its characteristic sour taste. With the invention of commercial yeast and other chemical leavening agents that can take bread from mix to bake in just a few hours, traditional baking methods went out of style. Today, most bakeries use commercial yeast and add lactic acid later to produce their sourdough bread. But in prioritizing efficiency, we may have created unintended health consequences for ourselves.
“When you go from mix to bake in four to five hours, the flour doesn’t have a chance to develop because everything’s so sped up,” Greg says. “So when you eat it, your stomach has to do a lot of that work.”
On top of that, many people are sensitive to commercial yeast; preparing bread the traditional way solves both of those problems. The long fermentation allows the grains to be fully broken down, and the leavening contains wild yeast that your body is already accustomed to. If you’re eating a local sourdough, your digestive system is already used to those yeast spores because they’re everywhere.
“For me, the payoff is at the market when people say to me, ‘I haven’t eaten bread in years because I have gluten problems, but I’m able to eat your bread,’” Greg says.
For now, Greg sells his bread at the Ballard Farmers Market. He sells white, whole wheat, rye, rosemary, kalamata olive, walnut raisin, German Bauern Brot (farmer bread), asiago cheese garlic black pepper, a mini baguette, frozen pizza dough, and focaccia with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, and Kalamata olives He also sells sourdough starter for those interested in trying their hand at baking.
As interest in his bread grows, he’s considered the idea of a brick-and-mortar bakery, but the integrity of his products comes first. “The key thing is to keep the quality of the bread the same,” he says. “The techniques that so many people are doing have more to do with running an industry than creating artisanal bread. I’m more interested in making good bread, and that’s a long process.”
Eva Rendle is a journalist and photographer based in Seattle. See more of her work at evarendle.com or follow her on Instagram, @evarendle.