Have you thought about using heirloom wheat in your bread or grinding your own flour? Every now and then, I run across an article that suggests old-time wheat and grains are healthier for us. I’m still researching that, but I did get a chance a while back to bake a couple of loaves with freshly milled, organic heirloom Sonora flour.
The taste? Remarkable–much richer, and with a deeper aroma than any of the flours I’ve used so far.
Grown and milled within seventy-five miles of our home in San Francisco, this flour is organic, local and heirloom, all rolled into one. Last spring, when we visited Eatwell Farm, we were fortunate to get to watch the miller process the wheat.
An all-organic community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, Eatwell offers guided tours for a nominal fee. Our guide, Emily, already knew that I’m a whole wheat sourdough baker, and that seeing the mill in action was one of the reasons we trekked over the hill from San Francisco to visit the farm. At the end of our tour, she kindly offered a one-and-a-half pound bag of the flour to try. Was I excited? Do puppies slobber? I almost did.
How the wheat is ground
What a treat to watch the wheat go from luscious, fat wheat berries to fresh-ground flour. At Eatwell, the miller starts with fresh-picked organic wheat berries like these, grown and threshed on the farm.
First, she measures the berries into a stainless steel tray like this one.
Then she pours them into the hopper of the electric stone mill you see in the photograph below. I know that mill looks freaky dirty. It’s old and well used! But from its enclosed grinding stones flowed pristine flour.
The electric mill grinds the berries between two stone disks and quickly spits out soft, milled flour, like this.
As you can see, they grind the flour in an open-air shed. Like much of the farm, this shed serves multiple purposes. Here, each week they sort and box the fresh-picked vegetables and fruits headed to their CSA customers. Here, too, they host events, like their tomato sauce parties, or their upcoming annual pumpkin party.
Once milled, the whole grain flour goes into one-and-a-half pound bags like this one. The miller inks in the date by hand. It feels good to buy goods from a small concern that does everything by hand, doesn’t it?
Two loaves baked with our gifted heirloom flour
Eatwell milled the flour I brought home a few days before our visit. I didn’t get around to using it until mid-July. Still, my nose sniffed out the difference in freshness the moment I opened the bag. Delightfully fragrant, it smelled slightly sweet. Curious, I dipped my (just-washed) finger in and tasted it–yes, faintly sweet. My store-bought flour never tastes or smells like that. It’s, well, dull in comparison.
Following the recipe and procedure I’ve used since June, and which gives consistently good loaves, I baked one loaf one day, and the other the next.
The first boule came out a little dryer, rougher and more crunchy on the outside than usual.
I could think of nothing I had done differently, so at first thought the flour caused a more dense, grainy loaf. For sure, when I kneaded the dough, I got a much rougher ball.
Below, you can see an image of the dough ball. Now, that’s not the dough ball that made this loaf, as I failed to photograph the process the first day. This ball is from the second loaf, but looks just as the first one did.
There’s no baby-bottom smooth surface here, for sure! That’s what we aim for when we make bread dough. Instead, as you can see, it is quite grainy. Thankfully, we were nicely surprised when we cut open that first loaf.
See how moist and full of holes! The knife blade transferred flour from the top of the loaf to the slices, so they seem a bit dusty. That didn’t bother us a bit. The flavor was terrific. Getting a good crumb, despite the exterior appearance, made me wonder if perhaps I had added more steaming water to the oven when first I slid the loaf in, which could have caused that extra crusty top.
Second loaf looks as good as it tastes
Except for its richer, nutty flavor–A good exception, wouldn’t you say?–the second loaf turned out very like the loaves I bake with commercial whole wheat flour.
See how moist and tender it is, with all those wonderful gas-bubble holes. Sure, I’d like even bigger ones, but I’m still not getting them with my regular flour either, and boy, does butter melt into those holes nicely when we warm it in the toaster oven.
We ate this bread like cookies
The three-year-old, who loves bread almost as much as I do, asked repeatedly for “More bread, YayYay, please!” We had to stop ourselves from eating too much. We gobbled it like cookies, or chocolate.
Am I ready to invest money and counter space in a home mill? Nope. Not that I wouldn’t like to. I’m just now in the beginning stages of researching mills and the reasons we might want to grind our own flour. It’s one more step after all, and this process already requires a good deal of time.
But I loved the taste of this bread so much that I sometimes dream about where in the kitchen I might put a mill of my own. Luckily, until then, I can order Sonora flour from Eatwell, or from several other sources around the web.
Lest this sounds like a commercial for Eatwell Farm, I just want you all to know that, while I accepted the bag of flour with gratitude, had my experience been less than satisfactory, I’d have shared that here too.
What are you baking this week?
Before you go, I’d love to hear from you. Have you tried baking with heirloom grains? You are welcome to share a link in the comments below to one of your whole grain, real food recipes. Or perhaps you’ve already researched and written about heirloom wheat and would like to share a link to your article.