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.
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.
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.
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.
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. They 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!
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,
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Spring has been cool so far. The grass still grows, the limbs still leaf, everything is turning more and more green, but it’s chilly! For some indoor activity, check out the classes page for current offerings into June. We’ve added a few more knife skills classes for adults, and a couple of weekend offerings for kids.
My students and I made quite a bit of food in 2017! Between classes at 21 Acres, PCC and here at The Tiny, students & I rolled pounds of pasta, scooped scores of squash, formed crackers and cookies, hand pies and sushi; we’ve made Tagines & cheesecakes, donuts & soups. We’ve cracked countless eggs, cried over onions, and shared many laughs.
The highlights for me were seeing what my young students created during our Independence Kitchen classes: I provided ingredients and guidelines and they made what they wanted. Of the end results, some were delicious, some were curious, and some really didn’t work at all. I loved being able to make pizza in the wood-fired oven on the 21 Acres farm with the Cultivating Cooks 301 crew. The perfect summer sunshine,
the farm-to-table, the table-on the farm, and the very fun group of people combined with delicious fired-in-seconds pizza was something I was lucky to participate in. Making pasta with a group of co-workers was a blast, as was last-minute substituting for a European New Year’s Eve Feast class. Working with sourdough and a small group of breadmakers in a 2-day workshop gave many teachable moments, like how quickly a room can cool down, putting the brakes on fermentation! I loved introducing kids & their grownups to Pommes Dauphinois, open-faced fruit tarts, and pumpkin cheesecake. There are things tried that I won’t repeat; the standout: attempting pie dough with 8-16 year olds, on a 90+ degree day, in a work space without air conditioning. As one student put it, “My dough is like frosting!” Yeah, that’s not good.
Working with both kids & adults lets me see people as people. Humans young & old have confidence or hesitancy to try new tasks. People are outgoing or shy, talkative or not. Often, kids are the most open, most hilarious, most insightful people I meet. I love meeting them all.
For all of you who have taken classes this year: thank you! I look forward to 2018, to new classes, new faces, new groups, but to you returning friends as well. Wishing you all the best!
Long days full of light, gardens full of color, being outdoors more than in, I love summer! Our Independence Kitchen classes produced unique and tasty foods from young cooks. Ingredients were provided, along with guidance, but the students had to work in teams to produce salads, entrees, and desserts.
At 21 Acres, our Cultivating Cooks 301 students produced beautiful pizzas that we were lucky enough to bake in the wood-fired oven on the farm. A not-too-hot evening, spent entirely outdoors with a great group of people. Top that with in-season, local & delicious ingredients and I felt the luckiest of all I know!
Our PNW August temperatures have soared into the 80s, 90s, even pushing 100F! Too hot for me, for the garden, and I think, bakers everywhere! I have the garden dotted with patio umbrellas and shade fabric, hoping the rhubarb will bounce back for another Spring, and the pole beans will continue to produce their beautiful foot-long french filets. The raspberries have finished but what a season they provided! We will soon have tomatoes and zucchini and carrots too.
I hope this summer finds you well. Now then, enough computer time-I need to get back outside! Cheers!
One of the downsides of teaching cooking or baking classes is that we all get super busy and forget to take pictures! Our two soup workshops were a big success, with a couple of students heading straight home to recreate the minestrone and/or breadsticks for their families. Yay! Working in groups takes much of the daunting away from the Unsure and gives the Very Sure another opportunity for patience and sharing. (It also means fewer dishes to wash!) Creating something like grilled cheese let those confident kids steam ahead, a welcome release. All in all, the food’s been tasty, the measuring’s been accurate, and the camaraderie pleasant. This week we begin our 4-week series on Most Things Cake. The seemingly insurmountable task for me has been deciding what cake and why. So much deliciousness to choose from! Cheers!
New. New is good. New is necessary. Trying new things, extending comfort zones, stretching usual limits, all move us, inch by inch, toward learning and growth. The Tiny Kitchen is new. It is here for me and you, a place to learn, grow, connect, about food, its issues, tastes, and techniques of preparation. What shall we cook today?
[This article was originally published at In My Tiny Kitchen, Lisa’s musings from her home kitchen. We’re posting it again here.]
I have found a chocolate cake that I love. I have a simpler chocolate cake, an any day, make-on-a-whim chocolate cake that is really good, but this new one? It is very good. I found the recipe a few years ago on The Faux Martha, made the cake as written, in collaboration with my baker niece, Annie, for Spouse’s birthday. I collaborated with Ann because this cake uses an Italian Buttercream, a Salted Caramel Italian Buttercream. Planning a dinner party for 20 allowed me few extra neurons to devote to something I had never made before, something that sounded so-daunting. Annie, a caramel pro, produced a beautiful product with which we filled the cake before finishing with ganache. Despite the rave reviews and Annie’s reassurances to the contrary, that intimidating buttercream left the recipe to sit unceremoniously disheveled, piled in with all the Others on the shelf directly behind my office chair.
A few months ago, for reasons I can’t fully remember, the cake returned to my consciousness. Planning a baby shower for a dessert-loving co-worker, I knew I had to make this cake. This time I reduced the sugar a bit and used fresh-ground, whole grain einkorn flour. Einkorn, with its naturally lower gluten levels, produces an excellent pastry flour. Though any finished product might be a tad more dense, not sifting away the ground germ & bran keeps the protein levels high. Low gluten, high protein. Einkorn is crazy. I made a few iterations then my niece Betsey came over with her camera for Cake Day. Here’s what went down.
A basic butter cake using natural cocoa powder, but with half & half rather than just milk.
I wanted a 6-inch by 6-inch square finished cake, so used a 12-inch square for baking. One recipe yielded four 3/4-inch layers. I reduced baking time, watching the oven closely, to account for the increased surface area.
The buttercream will have its own post, but while the cake baked, I made the caramel, ensuring time for some cooling before adding it to the whipped butter. I did find that if the caramel had cooled a bit too much, the buttercream became Toffee Buttercream, also delicious.
The ganache frosting is enriched with egg yolk and a small amount of butter, cooled, then whipped for a matter of seconds to incorporate a bit of air. If it goes grainy, you can rewarm, recool, rewhip.
Finally, the layers were filled with buttercream, each pressing into the last. I chilled the cake, then finished with the ganache frosting.
I’ll leave you to use the recipe linked at The Faux Martha. If you want to try Einkorn flour, I used it ounce for ounce as the recipe is written. Enjoy!
All photos by Betsey Wilson