It’s the Flour

(and not much more)

If I haven’t met you in person, then you haven’t been given the opportunity to hear my flour spiel. You haven’t been able to start out interested, only to have that interest slowly shift to bewilderment (“She’s still talking!”) then edge its way to wanting to break my gaze but there’s only the two of us and you know I’d notice. I do eventually stop talking. In fairness to me, asking about the flour I use is a loaded question. One whose answer includes some western Washington wheat-growing history, a little information about the Breadlab, finally to the flour itself, flour that comes from thoughtfully-grown wheat on both sides of the Cascades and carefully-milled next door to the Breadlab in Burlington. Most of the flour I use comes from this mill.

To save of us all some time, I bring to you the words of Cairnspring Mills regarding their process in producing such beautiful products. Read away!

From Field to Flour

Whidbey Island Wheat Test Plot photo:Admin

Bakers made nutritious and delicious flours for thousands of years prior to the invention of the industrial flour mill. We are going back to the old ways of milling, but with a modern twist. Cairnspring Mills has reimagined the supply chain that turns wheat into flour: the land, the farmer and the customer. Here’s how we make that happen:


Select only the best varietals.

We test every varietal of wheat used in our products for flavor and suitability to our soils, not just for yield or protein—the primary measure of quality in commodity grains. For example, our Organic Expresso flour is known to have terrific disease resistance, which is especially important in wetter climates such as ours. It also produces a dark, rich crust and a rustic, earthy crumb that is so useful in hearth loaves—it’s become our standard bearer for Organic Bread Flour. Another varietal with tremendous flavor, color and resilience is our Skagit 1109 flour, bred naturally by our neighboring Skagit County-based WSU Bread Lab to thrive in local soils.Text


Buy directly from farmers committed to soil health.

Most of our farmers come out of our personal network; so personal they even casually swing by the mill for coffee and a piece of toast. These are friends we trust—we know their reputation as people. Our farmers are contractually prohibited from using glyphosate as a harvest aid, and from using neonicotinoid-coated seeds due to their documented harmful effects on humans, pollinators, and wildlife. We also pay our farmers a premium over the prices they get in the commodity markets because we want to ensure they are more than fairly compensated for the superior product they grow for us.


Commit to completely-traceable, identity-preserved grains.

We store our wheat locally in small-scale grain silos. Each varietal is stored separately, and our wheat is never blended with commodity wheat or any other wheat we didn’t buy directly from the grower. This commitment to identity preservation and traceability does come with tradeoffs. Whatever we take off the fields at harvest time needs to sustain our customers until the following harvest. If we get a spike in demand, we can’t call a commodity grain broker to replenish our silos. But we believe this is a worthwhile tradeoff because it is core to the unique flavors and quality baked goods, we are able to generate with our flours.


Utilize stone-milling technology.

We use stone mills, rather than just relying on technology that is standard for industrial flour mills. Stone-milling requires more attention and craft and our customers tell us it creates a flour with superior texture. In addition, all our flours preserve more of the bran and the germ. The germ is particularly important, because it is where many of the nutrients, antioxidants, oils and flavors are stored. Industrial mills remove this germ in order to create a shelf-stable product. Although it reduces shelf life, we preserve this germ to retain its nutritional advantages.


Create clean flour, without treatments, added enrichment or stabilizers

Our flours are not artificially enriched or treated. We don’t add dough stabilizers or conditioners such as enzymes, ascorbic acid, mononitrate, or malted barley. None of our flours are bromated or bleached.

From Carinspring Mills

Cookie Tip

For me, the perfect chocolate chip cookie has a crisp exterior and a chewy, melt-in-your-mouth interior. I get that result when I use cold butter in the mix and a hotter oven for the bake. Cut up a stick of butter from the fridge into 10-16 pieces. Keep that butter cold just until you’re ready to add. As with EVERY baked good you make, don’t over mix. It’s ok to have some lumps. In fact, finish mixing the dough by hand, kneading the last bits together like you would bread, but only for a few turns. With a colder dough, you’ll need a hotter oven. Most recipes will prescribe 350ºF for baking cookies, but I take mine up to 375ºF and I often use the convection setting. The last thing I do is to drop the sheet tray onto the counter hot from the oven. This compacts the hot dough in a lovely way. Try out these tips next time and see what happens. Who knows? You might hit on perfection!

Mark Your Calendar

February 12, 2021 marks my first bread delivery point outside the 21 Acres Farm Market. I am baking in my WSDA Cottage Food Licensed space and will begin taking orders for Valentine’s weekend. Orders will open on Sunday of each week and will close Tuesday evenings at 5:00PM for Friday pickup and Wednesday evenings at 5:00PM for Saturday pickup. All sales will be online through my Square Store. The Square Store that I set up. I won’t be surprised at hiccups in the system, but hope that you all will pardon me when it does. The end goal is to get bread into the hands of those who want it. I’m keeping it simple this first weekend with just one kind of loaf and one kind of cookie. I plan to include two to three breads, bagels and more. Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, using the beautiful flours of the PNW in breads, pastries and sweets, not just in teaching, but in a commercial enterprise. So, here’s to new beginnings! Hope to see you in Woodinville!

Starter

Ancient, unencumbered and untamed, are the wild yeast spores that attach to stalks of wheat, float about my kitchen, are found on my baker hands. The energy to convert flour and water into a crackling-crusted, creamy-crumbed loaf of bread is a thing of wonder and pure joy. This energy lives in a jar on my counter.

Sourdough starter is a mixture of wild yeast and lactic bacteria, enabling the rise and flavor of naturally-fermented breads, bagels and biscuits. This yeast is ancient, with unique terroir characteristics. It works slowly, manipulated with temperature and types of flour. A baker knows her starter like a parent knows a child; knows when it’s happy, hungry or just seeming off. I think of my starter more like a beloved pet rather than a child, caring for it with food, attention and exercise. Anyone can nurture a sourdough starter of their own, starting with only flour and water.

Over the course of seven to fourteen days, a mixture of flour and water will gradually ferment, becoming a new little powerhouse. Once a starter is ready to work, I give it a name. Bob is my longtime companion, a starter I grew almost twenty years ago. I chose the name Bob to give homage to the Bill Murray classic What About Bob? and because a test of a starter’s virility is the float test: taking a small amount of starter and seeing if it will float in water…float in water like a little fishing bob? Yeah, I know. I do have a second starter as well. Since I teach classes on sourdough bread making, I may choose to develop a new starter for the class as show-and-tell. I did this in April 2020, my first Zoom sourdough class. I named the starter Agnes. So while Agnes and Bob are, for all intents and purposes, the same, I maintain them individually, choosing whichever looks the most active for any given project.

There are many thoughts and opinions on the best way to create a starter. The simplest, letting flour and water ferment together over a period of days, is outlined below. You will need to choose a time of day to routinely check up on your project: either to observe or feed. Just a little commitment.  The instructions may seem daunting at first glance but just do one-day-at-a-time, good advice for all of life. On Day 3, you will begin discarding some of the developing starter. Do this or you will exponentially end up with a bathtub full of the stuff! When the starter has matured, the discard can be saved in the fridge and used for waffles or pancakes, or as an added ingredient to biscuits or muffins or cookies or more. For the flour mix mentioned, I use approximately 75% all-purpose flour plus 25% whole grain rye. You can use just all-purpose or combine with whole wheat flour. See my previous post on Baker’s Math.

Day 1: Place clean jar on scale and measure 100 grams of flour mix (about ¾ cup + 1½  tablespoons, spooned into cup and gently leveled). Add 115 grams (about ½ cup) lukewarm water. If your kitchen is very cold, use warmer water but not hot. Mix thoroughly. Your mix will be like thick pancake batter. It will taste like wheaty paste. Cover loosely with the lid.

Day 2:  At the same time of day, come back to your starter and stir. Taste the mix and see if you notice any flavors developing. Has the consistency or texture changed at all?

Day 3: Return to your jar at the appointed time. Hopefully, you will detect signs of early fermentation: little bubbles, slight acidic smell. Even if not much seems to be happening, we will start feeding the starter. Feeding your starter around the same time each day will help train it to ferment in a predictable way. Feeding: Remove 75 grams of starter to a new jar. Add 100 grams of flour mix and 115 grams of water. Mix thoroughly. Compost the leftover.

Day 4:  Repeat Day 3.

Day 5:  On this day we will start feeding twice a day. At your usual time of feeding, remove 75 grams of starter to a clean jar. Add 100 grams flour mix, plus 115 grams of water. Mix thoroughly, loosely lid and let rest for 12 hours. Compost leftover. 12 hours later, repeat the feeding using another clean jar.

Day 6:  Repeat Day 5

Day 7 to 14:  If your starter doesn’t seem super active at this point, continue the feeding schedule for another day or two. Not all flours or kitchens are the same so results will vary. If your starter seems lively, begin this altered feeding.  Remove 50 grams of starter to a clean jar and add 100 grams of flour mix plus 100 grams of water. Stir well, cover loosely and rest. Repeat after 12 hours. At this point in the process your starter will be lively enough to begin saving discard if you want to. I keep a quart jar in my fridge and after feeding, scrape the remaining “old” starter into it. I return to the fridge and save to use in all manner of recipes.

Day 15 & Beyond: At this point your starter should be ready to bake bread. Maintaining your starter can feel like a chore but things can be done to simplify your process. Since I bake a lot and want my starter to be strong, ready and not too sour, I maintain a liquid starter, feeding twice daily.

Maintenance: At each feeding, I spoon10-12 grams of starter into a clean jar and add 3-4 times that amount of water and flour. If the room is warm I’ll use more flour/water to give the yeast more to eat. Yeast eat faster in warm conditions. If I miss my usual feeding time in the morning, I’ll feed the starter less flour/water since it doesn’t have to wait as long for the evening feed. I put a rubberband around my jar at the topmost point of the newly fed starter. This allows me to see at a quick glance how the starter is rising or falling. If your starter is peaking before the 12 or 24 hour mark, use more flour or less water and adjust the ambient temperature if you. On very warm days, use cold water when feeding. After you feed your starter for a while, you’ll get to know the quantities that work for you and may choose not to weigh but just eye-ball the ingredients.

Occasional Baker: If you don’t bake often, you can keep your happy starter in the fridge. Feed your starter at the normal time, then let sit at room temperature until you see activity begin: bubbles, increasing in size, nice smell etc. At this point, place your starter in the fridge until you need to use it, feeding it every week. You’ll get the most consistent bread results if you take starter from fridge 2 days before baking and feed it twice a day to get it up and running. There are folks who bake directly from the fridge starter and are happy with their results. You can always try that method for yourself.

If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at sourdough, now’s your chance! Grow a little countertop pet of your own and let me know how it goes and what you’ve named your little one. Cheers!

Baker’s Math

At least I didn’t title this: Baker’s Chemistry! Yes, there is math in baking. However, rather than flat images on paper of pies or pizzas, bakers can practice math concepts like fractions with actual, delicious baked goods. For bread making, math is essential, and delicious math is the easiest to comprehend.

Baking recipes are called formulas and are ratios of the ingredients to each other. I’m not a mathematician, so I can’t with confidence say all, but much, if not most, of math is about ratios between things. Bakers need to understand the percentages of the ingredients in a formula. With Baker’s Math, the flour in a formula is always the 100%, with the remaining ingredient percentages based on the total weight of the flour. Feeling dizzy yet? Has dry mouth set in? Here’s an example using the Country Loaf I’ve included in past PCC Classes:

Ingredient Weight in grams Baker’s percentage

High extraction Yecora Rojo flour                        800 grams            80%

Whole grain Expresso wheat flour                       200 grams            20%

Water (ºF?)                                                               750 grams            75%

Levain                                                                        200 grams            20%

Sea salt                                                                      20 grams               2%

The total flour here is 1000 grams, making 2 nice sized loaves. The amount of Yecora Rojo flour is 80% of the total flour being used. The amount of whole grain flour is 20% of the total flour being used. This applies to the amounts of water, levain and salt as well. If I wanted to make just one loaf, I would halve the ingredient weights but those percentages would remain the same. These same percentages will apply to a bakery making 100s of loaves. You can, by all means, bake bread with just one type of flour which would eliminate the pesky adding together of the high extraction + whole grain flours. I usually always bake with combinations of flour for flavor and performance. I also use Baker’s Math in the care and feeding of my sourdough starter. Baker’s Math is essential when recipe testing, tweaking percentages of liquid in a formula. I always measure by weight using grams. Grams give me nice whole numbers which halve or increase quantities easily.

While there are several factors involved in successful bread baking, using weights and baker’s percentages will get you very close to making the same loaves of bread each time you bake. If you don’t have a scale, I encourage you to get one. Then armed with scale, paper and pencil, you can create your own delicious bread formulas!

 

 

3/4 Through

2020. I have nothing new to add to the fray of articles, news stories, blog posts, Facebook entries or Instagram feeds concerning this current year. How quickly life can change. How quickly what was normal can vanish. How creative and resilient we can be when faced with unseen challenges.

As a cooking & baking instructor, usually working in close proximity with students of all ages, my work life came to an abrupt halt, even before the State mandated shutdown. As with so many of us, I had hours of free time, piles of papers to process, projects waiting for attention, but with the unknowns and stress brought by the virus, I found I had little attention span, little initiative to start or finish anything.

The Civil Rights events sparked in May, brought study and focus away from Covid19. I immersed myself in reading, sifting, learning, something I knew would be ongoing. My always homeschooled son began online highschool in July, something I thought would be easier on me (I hear the collective “Hah!” from all you Zoom-school parents), and though I’m very involved at this point, there is a desired and reachable goal that I’m happy to help him achieve. Finally, I went from no work to all work. July and August were full of kids camps: in person at Whisk and via Zoom with PCC. Getting up & presentable to leave the house or be on camera didn’t mattter-I had to get up & be presentable!

September’s arrival is another restart. We know more of what to expect from school; the garden is on autopilot, only needing water and for produce to be picked; I have a few classes coming up; and I’m applying for my Cottage Food License Permit, using my homespace as a tiny bakery! I have a few more labels to produce, need to finish the floor plan, dot a few i’s then the application is done. I’ll be inspected and hopefully will pass. I’ll keep you updated for sure!

I think this year qualifies as catastrophic, but even so, I don’t want to wish it over as fast as possible. I want to treasure this time with my son; I want to soak up the last days of late summer; I want to keep making beautiful bread, continue feeling awe when I lift the lids off those 475ºF dutch ovens; connect as much as I can with my sisters & parents. I hope things improve. I hope you can recover. I hope our country can heal. I hope I can be a part of it.

It Was A Very Good Year

2018 has been and gone but The Tiny Kitchen had a great time! A year full of new connections with students, colleagues, venues and food. Here are some of my favorites:

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The Bread Lab

The first time I heard The Bread Lab’s Dr. Steve Jones speak was in 2014 near Coupeville with a gathering of bakers for Whidbey Island Bread. I had to fight back tears when he spoke of the wheat-growing history on Whidbey Island alone, not to mention all of western Washington and Oregon. Dr. Jones takes his job as a public servant seriously. He has a program now funded in perpetuity, free of uncertainty from University ups & downs, but sweeps floors, makes lunch all while working alongside celebrity bakers and big name philanthropists.

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Dr. Steve Jones leading a tour after prepping our lunch

Dr. Jones IS The Bread Lab, Washington State University Extension’s plant breeding program, with the focus on grains: wheat, barley, buckwheat and other small grains. The official mission of The Bread Lab reads:

Our Mission: The programs of the Bread Lab work to breed and develop publicly available varieties of grains and other crops that will benefit farmers, processors, and end-users while enhancing access to affordable and nutritious food for all members of our communities.

Dr. Jones, senior scientific assistant Steve Lyon, managing director Kim Binczewski, doctoral thesis students, test bakers and chefs work with farmers, millers and malters to grow the best grains in Walla Walla, Winthrop, the Skagit Valley (sorry the alliteration ends there) and all over the Northwest Region for disease resistance, production levels, flavor and baking performance. They are working to re-establish the west side of the Cascades as a viable grain-growing region, giving potato, bulb and other farmers something to grow in that off-season field resulting in a money-making crop, rather than simply fodder or compost.

As you walk the hall from lab, past milling room, kitchen and King Arthur Baking School classroom, the wall is lined with WSU plant-breeding firsts, photos, plaques and grain samples. Skagit 1109 is one of the most exciting to me.

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Skagit 1109

This wheat isn’t a single seed, but more like a collection of seeds, never hybridized. This grain will adapt to wherever it is grown, giving a different end product, one unique to that region. 1109 grown by either Dan Barber in New York or Dave Hedlin in the Skagit Valley won’t give up the same flour, but one that truly tastes of terroir. Even year to year within the same region growing conditions can result in a different end product. 2017 1109 grown in the Willamette Valley was a flour with 9-10% protein. 2018 resulted in a much stronger flour, with protein levels at 11-13% (remember 15% is really high). What I find most fascinating about this grain is that it was never evaluated, never intended for use as a typical white flour. Most other wheat grain is grown for its use as white flour first, with whole grain attributes second if considered at all. Skagit 1109 is kind of like magic.

Just through the storage room at the end of the hall, there is another room, smaller but wall to wall, most of the floor space taken as well, with seeds. Small jars to 40 pound bags, seeds with names, usually of the breeder, sometimes the given varietal name, all in storage. History in jars. Life in jars.

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The seed room

There has been much written about The Bread Lab and I’ll leave a few links. Dr. Jones is passionate about his purpose, and as with any visionary, infectious. Whether attending a class with the Bread Bakers Guild of America, attending the Grain Gathering, reading another article in praise of The Bread Lab, or simply baking with Skagit 1109, Yecora Rojo, Club Pastry Flour or another flour supported by The Lab, I’m inspired to do better, be better, bake better, to serve others the way Dr. Jones does. How lucky we are to have this place in our backyard.

Bread is Broken

The Man Who Could Make Everyones Bread Taste Better

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Seeds

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A different kind of Disneyland

My Kind of Road Trip

We got away from The Tiny for a couple of days early September. Driving south to Portland is an easy few-hour trip that pays countless dividends. Goals: gas masks, hipster coffee, estate-grown olive oil, hotel-swimming pools, and regionally milled flour. We added some Willamette Valley wines, Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Community Plate, Providore Fine Foods, Powell’s, a couple of free museum entries and outlet mall shopping for my ever-growing son, sales tax-free. Doesn’t that sound great??

The olive trees at Red Ridge Farm were inspiring. Red Ridge produces olive oil, half estate-grown olives, half from California. IMG_5318They have a limited edition, available-onsite-only, 100% estate-grown oil that, yes, I brought home. The oils were pretty peppery but begging to be added as a finish to creamy pastas, buttery lettuces and for Yecora Rojo bread dipping. After years of local & regional food goals, I can now boast of olive oil in the pantry-cheers!

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Oregon Olives

Picking up flour and whole grains from Camas Country Mill in Eugene was my main focus of the trip. A stop at the mill was followed by a stop at the bakery: homey, sweet and every bit real food. Getting to chat with head baker Ryan and owner Tom was icing on this locally milled cake! Having Camas Country Mill in Oregon and it’s cousin, IMG_5327

Cairnspring Mills in Burlington Washington are revolutionary. Regional mills used to dot the map across the US, now long since replaced by international corporate ADMs and ConAgras, processing grain from across the globe. These 2 small, independent grain mills both west of the Cascades are supporting smaller farms growing area specific grains, all supported by WSU’s The Bread Lab. Increasing numbers of bakers are working to include these local grains in their products. Grain Ambassador and Grand Central Bakery head baker, Mel Darbyshire is an outspoken champion, leader and teacher for bakers everywhere. She and others from coast to coast are leading the way to rebuild local grain economies.

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Ryan/Camas Country Bakery and Mel/Grand Central Bakery at The Bread Lab. (Bread Baker’s Guild of America: In-House Milling & Baking class)

Ken’s Artisan Bakery was what I hoped it would be. I picked up Tara Jenson’s new book, A Baker’s Year at Powell’s and encourage you all to do the same. Coava Coffee was super minimalist cool.

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Really good coffee.

We went there because of Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee. And while the first army surplus store didn’t provide, Junior was able to make a purchase at the second stop-phew! For us, a few days plus a billion stops makes a short trip feel long, mentally & emotionally refreshing. It didn’t hurt that the sun was shining and the skies were blue. Happy travels everyone!

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Waiting for our lunch order at the Red Hills Market

Grow Your Own

Western Washington appears to be drying out; at least this week! With the break from rain, I am prepping garden beds-turning soil, adding compost, devising guards against marauding gangs of chickens. I’m deciding what will be planted where AND I’m starting the warmer weather seeds.

While I only have a 1/4-acre lot, and that with only a few areas unshaded enough for growing food, I can grow a lot in raised beds dotted around the property. I even take advantage of the easement along our unsidewalked roadway. I have permanent plantings of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb and nettle; as well as thyme, rosemary, chives, parsley and sorrel. Around these I grow lettuces, radish, cucumbers, pumpkins (Jr. insists!), green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, tomatillos, carrots and beets. Sometimes I have Sugar Snap or English peas.

I always start my squashes, both summer & winter, and my green & dried beans indoors to get a head start on harvest yum. Often I’ll start the first round of the beautiful Fortex, a French filet bean, indoors then do a stagger planting when the soil warms outside. The most indulgent crop I grow are the dried beans. I found a few pole varieties and with any limited horizontal space, going vertical is always best. Last year I grew 2 kinds: Borlotto Gaston, a speckled egg PNW version of Borlotto Lamon from Italy, and Annie Jackson, a lovely white & burgundy bean of Russian origin.

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Home grown

What makes this feel indulgent is that for a raised bed of plants, I get about 1 quart of dried beans at harvest. That’s maybe 2 meals. Time, effort, seed cost, water cost for 2 meals. Not much of an actual accounting ROI, but the emotional return: keeping alive heirloom varieties, growing such basic food, a plant-based protein myself, supporting a fantastic seed company, preparing a special meal using my limited crop, these add up to immeasurable returns for my psyche and my soul.

I always encourage students to at least have herb plants on hand. Stepping outside to snip some rosemary or thyme, bringing those cuttings back into the kitchen can make a world of difference in taste, but can also lift your mood. Any time we can connect physically to where our food comes from instantly makes our food real, even if that just includes a tiny sprig of something delicious.