I first experienced the movement of farmers and bakers getting together to re-create a local grain economy in Skowhegan, Maine. Now a few months later at a workshop entitled “Bread Baking with Locally Grown Grains,” I’ve gained some insight into what baking bread with local grains is all about.
Our well-researched and passionate guide on the day would be Stefan Senders, an anthropologist turned artisan baker who started Wide Awake Bakery with David McInnis in Trumansburg, NY. The attendees were a range of home bakers and baker-entrepreneurs looking to pull back the curtain on the challenges of baking bread with locally grown grains and milled wheat.
Baking Bread with Local Grains
So how do you bake bread with local grains, especially if you’re running a bakery?
Answer: You do it gradually and patiently.
Anyone who has purchased flour from the store knows that it’s not going to be the freshest you can get, but it is going to be consistent. From what I’ve gleaned so far, baking with local flour is like adding an additional dance step in the already well-choreographed rhythm and flow of a bakery. There isn’t one thing you can point to that will give you success, but rather multiple axes of consideration (like protein level & extraction rates) that you must adapt to your baking style and methods.
Incorporating locally grown grains takes time, research and observation. That’s why Stefan suggests starting with small amounts, say adding 5% to your next batch, then carefully observe the results and flavors. Once your satisfied and confidence grows, increase the percentage depending on your recipe. Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Then start today! Head over to Farmer Ground Flour and give it a go.
The Aesthetics of Artisan Bread
Early on Stefan pointed out that “many Americans associate a soft crust with freshness” which is entirely wrong and the result of “wonder bread” syndrome. A lot of the bread in stores is just processed flour and sugars disguised as bread. It’s not fermented, allowed to thrive or inspired to develop its true nature. Real artisan breads sprung to life inside a wood-fired oven are so much more magical than this.
Good bread, like wine, like beer, is always fermented – Stefan Senders
There is much to learn from the appearance of a fresh-baked loaf. Stefan talked a good deal about the caramelization of the loaf and how it should be darker on the ridge and lighter towards the slash. Then looking deeper into the slash, noticing the threads of gluten that are pulling and tearing based on the way the loaf was scored. These words poured over me like cool, clear water. I love this kind of deep appreciation for food.
Challenges aside, there are many advantages to baking with local grains. Benefits like:[list icon=”check”]
- Growing and supporting a local grain economy
- Increasing the nourishment of foods grown locally
- Building regional resiliency
And much of this can be achieved practically anywhere on the planet with active education of the community. Something that Stefan continuously advocates for. Using local grains swings the pendulum further back into one of humanity’s oldest professions (No, not prostitution).
The Culture of Artisan Bread
This workshop delivered more than just tips on baking bread with local grains. It is part of a larger conversation that many parts of the world are having about the “culture of bread” and the ways in which farmers and bakers are getting together to create opportunities locally. Bakers like Stefan are connecting folks to the many gifts that artisan bread brings: it brings delight, beauty, and nourishment. For him the soulful gesture of sharing his craft with others is the reward. Bakers can be so metaphysical. Again, what’s not to love. Add your voice to the conversation below.
Links included in this post:[list icon=”star”]
- Wide Awake Bakery
- Organic Growers’ Research and Information-Sharing Network (ogrin.org)
- Farmer Ground Flour
Se you next time… in the journey!