New Mexicans know the value of locally made food products and we treasure the edible gifts we are given from this bountiful Land of Enchantment. Though we are nationally recognized for growing Hatch chiles, beans, blue corn and piñon nuts, we aren’t necessarily known for developing high-quality breads.
Thanks to Wild Leaven Bakery, that is changing. Partners in life and business, Andre Kempton and Jessica Foumena Kempton, started the bakery as a Taos Farmers Market vendor in 2012. They opened a retail location in Taos in 2016 and have accrued 20 regional retail outlets over the last 10 years.
Though you have likely seen their breads in a refrigerated case at your favorite grocery store, you can now find their freshly baked goods in Santa Fe. On December 8, they sprouted a new retail location in the heart of downtown Santa Fe at 130 N. Guadalupe.
In this cute grab-and-go location that also includes a production kitchen but no tables for dining in, customers can pick-up a variety of full or half loaves of their signature, square-style sourdough breads, along with assorted pastries and other simple delicacies. The single most distinguishing factor of Wild Leaven breads is that they are made with an artisan sourdough that is fermented for 24 hours. Additionally, they work with farmers and ranchers in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado to source their heritage and heirloom grains as well as organic and local ingredients which make their products stand out.
About this intricate baking process, Andre Kempton says, “The 24-hour fermentation creates natural preservatives like alcohol, lactic acid and different acids that help preserve the life of the bread. The fermentation process is the key to our mission. A long fermentation breaks down the gluten, and the carbohydrates and the micro-organisms are predigesting the bread for you. This is why many gluten-intolerant people can eat Wild Leaven Bakery breads.”
Wild Leaven’s bread menu includes 10 varieties of huge or half loaves of sourdough – the original ($18), quinoa and sunflower ($20); rye, molasses and fennel ($18); buckwheat and millet (gluten-free and vegan) ($32); 100% heirloom rye ($22); heirloom spelt ($28); sprouted rye ($20); über sprouted rye ($26); roasted walnut ($8); and chile n’ cheese ($7 and up). Because the loaves are so large and there are only two of us, I buy half a loaf, which is available for half-price. Loaves come unsliced, but they will happily slice the loaf on request.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the sourdough, and quinoa and sunflower loaves, which are two of the most popular. Both provide an easy way to start the day as a simple slice of toast and butter. If I want something more substantial, I add mashed avocado, microgreens and sprinkle red chile flakes and dukkah or Everything Bagel spice. My husband prefers to eat his toast topped with a fried egg and ham.
If you are more interested in the sweeter side, Wild Leaven has an array of pastries that quickly sell out. This includes a scone ($5) that is so good it is worthy of a new name because this scone is life-changing. It’s crusty on the outside and tender on the inside and will likely make you turn your nose up at the traditionally dry English scones. Try the pecan chile bar ($5) or cinnamon swirl ($5) – which is their version of a cinnamon roll.
Andre Kempton also bakes up a variety of French pastries that use laminated dough, where you fold the dough with butter over and over so it creates super thin layers. The selection includes a light and airy croissant ($4), chocolate croissant ($5), ham and cheese croissant ($6.50) and green chile cheese croissant ($6.50), but don’t expect these to be typical French croissants. These are better because they are fermented for 12-15 hours, which is the Wild Leaven way.
If you need a snack when you go to the bakery – and I highly recommend you go hungry, they offer a daily soup with a side of bread ($7) and an extraordinary homemade chai ($5.50) that took Andre Kempton a few weeks to perfect. A combination of organic ingredients including local honey, fresh grated ginger and turmeric, cardamom, ground clove, pastured whole milk and black peppercorns simmer with black tea for a distinctive and craveworthy chai.
Jessica Foumena Kempton says, “I love chai and I wanted us to have a special drink to offer exclusively at the Santa Fe store. So Andre took the recipe he makes me at home and added a bit more spice here and there to come up with this.”
“It is well-balanced and juggles a lot of different flavors,” Andre Kempton adds. “When you have the best ingredients, it doesn’t take much to make something great. I love that people are coming in for the chai now.”
As for what’s in store for 2022, Andre Kempton says, “We have developed two new sourdough breads – French baguette and country loaf. We are using 30% fresh stone-milled, northern New Mexico organic heirloom Sonora wheat and 70% organic, high-quality bread flour. These breads enjoy 36-hour fermentation at a cooler, 40 degree temperature.”
When I asked him about the name Wild Leaven, he recounts, “When I was creating the business in 2012 and thinking about a name, I was fascinated with the sourdough process and the wild yeast that is all around us. Wild yeast is the champion of the bread making process. It’s almost like we are corralling and manipulating it to do what we want, but it is the wild yeast that makes this bread possible.
“Wild Leaven is an ode to these wild yeast and bacteria – they make the bread rise with (carbon dioxide), they give flavor with the acid and alcohol they release. They also make the flour digestible. Grains are so smart they have developed anti-nutrients that are defense mechanisms so the animals won’t eat their seeds. Fermentation breaks down the process and makes the nutrients available to the host,” Andre proudly concludes.
Wild Leaven Bakery is more than just a bakery – it’s a philosophy and Andre Kempton and Jessica Foumena Kempton are dedicated to their mission of creating wholesome products using high-quality, organic and regionally and locally sourced ingredients. With the warm welcome Wild Leaven is receiving, Santa Feans are clearly hungry for this new addition.